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Tips on how to recycle in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Plastics #1, #2, & #5

Recycling plastics #1, #2, & #5

Why do you only accept #1,#2 and #5 plastics? Other programs take them all!

Don’t be fooled into thinking that all (or even most) of the plastic collected by those programs is actually recycled!  There are very few domestic (U.S.) markets for plastics numbered 3 through 7.  China, one of the principal foreign markets for U.S. plastics, has recently undertaken measures to stem the influx of non-recyclable and contaminated materials hitting their shores.  At least for now, “the markets for #’s 3-7 plastics have dried up!” Read more…


China’s Operation Green Fence is having a tremendous impact on the U.S. recycling industry, leaving shippers of recovered plastics and paper in particular scrambling for end markets for their product.  The initiative has made checking in-bound containers of recyclables for non-recyclable waste a top priority for Chinese custom officials looking to cut the influx of trash and contaminants from foreign sources including the U.S.  According to one major U.S. materials broker, “Markets for #3-#7 plastics have dried up. …Many processors that (now) accept #’s 1-7 will simply sort the 1's and 2's out of the mix and be forced to dispose of the 3-7's as there are currently few alternatives. PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) markets remain strong but we have seen a slip in these prices as well in the last few days.”

Forcing U.S. industry to limit the production of non-marketable plastics or develop on-shore markets for the products they produce would not be a bad thing.  The bulk of post consumer plastics #3-7 collected in this country have always gone oversees, primarily to third world countries where environmental controls and worker safety standards are far inferior to those in the U.S. ( If you are interested in doing some research, the web is full of articles about oversees waterways and villages strewn with plastic “trash” and pollution, and unprotected workers-even children- attempting to melt or pelletize plastics to sell. You will find some great links at the end of this article.)  In addition,  it is widely known that plastic debris is threatening the world’s oceans, birds and wildlife. If you are interested in learning more about plastic pollution and the impact it has on our oceans - check out the link below. (We can only guess that some percentage of that plastic debris is coming from the U.S. One researcher who took samples from the Pacific gyre estimated that a million Taco Bell bags were floating in a small area of ocean.)

Unfortunately, the current trend nationwide toward “single stream” collection is making recycling a “brainless” activity for many consumers.  People who are instructed to throw “all plastics,” and everything else into one recycling bin may never realize how much of it (an estimated 30% or more) ends up in a landfill.   With single stream, even those who care about such things are discouraged from taking responsibility for their purchasing choices and may feel increasingly less of a need to hold manufacturers accountable for wasteful packaging and marketing practices.   This is certainly the story with plastics.  People who are mislead into believing that it is all getting “recycled” are likely to buy more and thereby produce more waste, all the while taking pride in their bulging recycling bin!

GJ CRI, made a commitment a long time ago to concentrate on providing material to domestic markets in an effort to generate local (USA) jobs and to insure the ethical end use of the material we collect.  To do so meant that we had to maintain a higher standard, limiting what we collect to those materials for which there are domestic markets.  This also meant educating our recycling participants and enlisting their cooperation in sorting their material to give us recyclable items.  This has required a bit more work on our part and on the part of the participants…but that work has paid off.  Not only do our participants know what can and cannot really be recycled, our program is also not impacted by this inevitable failure of questionable end markets.

GJ CRI wants to thank all those thousands of participants out there that have believed in our mission through the years and taken our educational efforts to heart.  Our materials (your recyclables!) continue to be sought out by domestic markets.  While overseas brokers contact us with requests to send our material their way, we continue to support domestic mills and manufacturers.  Keep up the good work, Grand Junction!

Related articles:

Jerry Powell. “Operation Green Fence is deeply affecting export markets.” Resource Recycling (2013): Web. (12 Apr. 2013)

Kerri Jansen. “China getting tough on contamination.” Waste & Recycling News. (2013) Web (6 May 2013)

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Aerosol and paint cans

Recycle aerosol and paint cans

Are aerosol cans recyclable?

Yes!  Just make sure they are completely empty!  Put them with your other steel cans.

Can I recycle old paint cans?

Paint cans are recyclable as long as only a trace of paint remains and it is completely dried.

If the can still contains paint, you may take it to the Hazardous Waste Facility at the Mesa County Landfill for recycling.  Here’s another trick:  Pour the remaining paint onto an old piece of plastic.  Once the paint has dried completely, role up the plastic and place it in your normal trash.  When the can has dried out you can recycle it.

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What happens to my material after it’s collected at the curb?

Your sorted material is emptied into different compartments on one of our specially designed trailers.  After picking up several thousand pounds of material by hand each day, our hard working crews bring it back to the facility where they offload and combine it with like material collected at the public drop off.  In the mornings we have “plastics parties” around the conveyor belts:  The same people who pick up your material help sort plastics from steel and aluminum and discard trash that ended up in the mix. Plastic is further separated by type to meet specific market specifications.

The material is then baled and stored until sufficient quantity is on hand to fill a shipping truck.* We then arrange for truckers to arrive at the facility and load their trucks with material for delivery to mills and markets.  The mills and markets process the material:  Glass is palletized into specific colors; aluminum and steel are melted; paper is shredded for insulation or washed and processed into clean newsprint, and; cardboard is ground into new fiber.  The recovered raw materials are then either used by the mill or sold to manufacturers for transformation into new products.

Successful recycling is a labor intensive process and one that requires the assistance of local residents to achieve. You help complete the loop when you purchase products that are made using recycled materials.

* Glass is sorted by color at the curb when collected.  It is then kept in a storage “bunker” and loaded into dump trucks for transport to Miller/Coors Bottling Company in Wheat Ridge, CO.

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Why do we have to separate our recyclables when other cities have co-mingled pick up?

The clean, sorted material you set at the curb for pick up can be easily and cost-effectively recycled.  Your pre-sorting efforts ensure that the material collected is marketable and will be recycled rather than discarded or used for less beneficial, one-time applications.  Pre-sorting reduces the risk of on-the-job injuries to recycling workers who otherwise might have to handle a large volume of broken glass, can lids or unsanitary items.  The labor and time involved in sorting volumes of materials can be financially prohibitive for all but the largest and most heavily funded recycling programs.

Major cities and large national companies with lots of financial backing have what are called “single stream” programs. These programs allow all of the materials to be mixed together for collection and often then compact it into bales for transport to a MRF (material recovery facility), sometimes located several hundred miles away.  At the MRF the bales are broken open and the now compacted material must be sorted into marketable categories.

Mixing and processing materials in this fashion leads to a great deal of cross contamination. Anywhere from 6% to 30% of recyclables collected by single stream programs is landfilled because of the high contamination rates.

The other issue is the end use of material that is recovered. Paper mills recycle paper, not glass, and steel mills don’t want plastic in their mix. Mills cannot deal with the unexpected maintenance and down time that result from cross-contamination.  For example, glass, steel, plastic bags and laundry detergent cause problems for paper mills by clogging up and damaging equipment. Mills can refuse contaminated material or simply pass the added costs of transportation, de-contamination or trash-disposal back to the recycling program, making collection less economically feasible.

Curbside recycling customers in the City of Grand Junction are asked to sort materials into five categories:

1. Glass

2. Paper

3. Corrugated cardboard

4. Chipboard

5. Steel (tin) and aluminum cans with #1, #2 & #5 Plastic containers (small household   containers only.)

We’ve always kept our steel and aluminum separate. I’ve heard we can mix them together with our plastics now. Is this true?

Yes, you can now co-mingle plastics #1, #2, and #5 with your steel and aluminum cans. Over the years we have upgraded and fine tuned our container sorting process and equipment; allowing for plastics and metals to be mixed together. Plastics are sorted out of the mix by hand and a series of magnets, blowers and conveyor belts assist with the separation of steel and aluminum cans.

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Why do we need to keep phone books separate?

We ask that our customers keep phone books separate so that we can market our paper products to multiple mills. Each mill has different specifications for how many phone books are allowed in the paper mix they purchase.

The individual specifications depend on the end product the mills produce. For example a mill that makes newspaper stock might allow only 36 phone books for every ton. So we actually count how many individual phone books are tossed into each of our paper bales.

The number changes depending on the mill.

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Do magazines go with newspaper?

Yes, you can mix newspaper, office paper, junk mail (please open it to remove sheets of sticky labels and plastic credit cards, etc.), magazines, catalogs and shredded paper together.  You can put your phone book on top of the mix so that we can easily separate it out.

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Do brown paper bags go with my newspaper or should I put them with my corrugated cardboard?


Brown paper bags should be placed with your corrugated cardboard.  Because they have not been bleached and retain good fiber content they can easily be recycled by cardboard mills.  A sack of sacks works well.

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Why do we have to break down our cardboard boxes?

Breaking down your boxes saves time, energy and space. It also reduces the risk of on-the-job injuries to our employees, resulting from struggling with unbroken boxes at the curb.  We collect materials in specially designed trailers with multiple compartments. This allows materials to be kept separate from each other.

Unbroken, cardboard boxes take up a lot of room. With over a hundred households on a typical route the space allotted on the trailer for cardboard would quickly fill up without your cooperation and the additional time spent at each stop would limit the number of households we could effectively handle.

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Why doesn’t GJ CRI accept glossy corrugated cardboard?

The gloss on cardboard contains additives like plastic and clay which are detrimental to the process of making new corrugated cardboard. These products are considered undesirable by the cardboard mills. Transportation costs and mill specifications prohibit us from collecting glossy corrugated cardboard.

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My container has a chasing arrow symbol on it. Doesn’t that mean it can be recycled?

The chasing arrow symbol is the universal sign for recycling. Although most products which have the symbol are indeed recyclable there is no guarantee that a market exists. For example paper juice and milk cartons are marked with the chasing arrows and can technically be recycled. However, the vast majority of paper and cardboard mills consider them to be a contamination.

There are a small number of specialized mills who recycle only these cartons. However, the cost of collecting, sorting, storing and shipping to these mills is often not cost effective for most curbside programs. Most plastics are also marked with the chasing arrows symbol and a number 1 through 7.  The number is actually a code which identifies the chemical compounds of a particular plastic.

Not all plastics are made with the same compounds. Due to safety and environmental regulations in the USA most plastics recyclers choose to recycle only #1, #2 and #5 plastics.

The majority of the mills willing to process these other types of plastics are often located in third world countries, where there are insufficient protections for workers, no child labor laws and little to no environmental regulations. We choose to recycle our plastics responsibly and only ship to domestic mills.

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Why don’t you accept plastic bags? Some of them are #2 HDPE. Where can I recycle them?

We only accept solid plastic containers numbers #1, #2, and #5. Our equipment is not designed to process plastic bags- they get caught in and wrapped around conveyor belt pulleys and other equipment.  Plastic bags photo degrade very quickly so they must be kept dry and out of the sun. They are also very light weight so we would literally need to collect and store millions of them to acquire enough to meet market requirements.

You can recycle your plastic shopping bags at City Market, Wal-Mart, Albertsons or other local grocery stores.  Remember to be sure and remove your receipts. Plastic bags are typically down cycled rather than recycled meaning they aren’t turned back into new bags. Rather they end up as plastic lumber, floor mats, and low-grade textiles.

Recycling plastic bags does very little to reduce the need for virgin materials. Therefore the best way for us to reduce our plastic bag footprint is to switch to a reusable alternative.

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Where can I recycle Styrofoam peanuts and beads?

Styrofoam is very difficult to recycle. However it can often be reused by shipping stores.  See our Hard to Recycle Guide for a list of local stores who will accept clean peanuts and beads for reuse.

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I’ve heard that glass gets sent to the landfill, not recycled. Is that true?

When different colors of glass are mixed together the glass is no longer marketable and becomes basically worthless. In too many instances mixed glass is marketed as “landfill cover” and buried, giving recycling programs a bad reputation.

Some programs have also begun marketing their mixed glass as road base or in other experimental programs. This is a shame because glass can be recycled indefinitely. We sort our glass by color and then market it to processors who are actually producing new bottles.

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Can I recycle window glass?

The short answer is NO.

Making new bottles from recycled glass is a tricky process that requires a certain recipe. Window glass does not melt at the same temperature that jars and bottles do and therefore can not be added to the mix.

We take special care to ensure that the glass we collect will be recycled into new jars and bottles and we couldn’t do it without your help. So please don’t place broken dishes, vases, mirrors, and picture or window glass in with your recycling.

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