When it comes to recycling, some objects can just be baffling. Some have parts that can be recycled and parts that can be composted and parts that need to be tossed.
We asked Suzanne Tresko, recycling coordinator for the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System, about what to do with various items. She says that when in doubt, throw it away.
“Don’t panic,” Tresko says. “No one is going to come and get you if you do it wrong.”
Since every Spokane house now gets a Big Blue bin for recycling along with their garbage bins, Tresko says people think the process has become far easier. (Households can also opt to have a "Clean Green" bin for food scraps and yard debris for composting.)
Yes, items need to be washed out before they are placed in the recycle bin, but Tresko says a little bit of residue is OK – it doesn’t have to be perfect. Also, if an item is going to take you more than 10 minutes to wash out, Tresko says it’s better to throw it in the garbage than waste all of that water and energy. Basically, just do your best.
Here are a few specific items we asked about. Test yourself, and find answers below. And, if you're not within Spokane city limits, check with your waste service for any specific rules.
BOTTLE CAPS. Some places online say these are recyclable but need to be contained in a larger metal item like a can.
ANSWER: No, throw them out. Caps to plastic or glass bottles are so small they fall through the sorting equipment during the recycling process and end up getting swept up and disposed during facility maintenance.
SODA CANS. Easy, or a trick?
ANSWER: Yes. Both aluminum and steel (“tinned”) cans are recyclable in Spokane County programs. The lids are difficult to capture in the sorting process (they fall through the equipment) but if you leave a little part of them attached to the can when you open it, it won’t fall through the equipment.
COFFEE BEANS BAGS. One of these is papery but plastic-y on the inside, the other is all plastic-y, and both have the wires at the top.
ANSWER: No, throw them out. The papery coffee bags are not recyclable or compostable. The shiny lining is plastic-based. One exception is Roast House coffee, whose bags uses a compostable lining — but tear off the label and the wire top before putting it in your Clean Green cart for composting.
COFFEE CUP. The top is marked No. 6, bottom is standard paper cup.
ANSWER: Probably not. The lid is too small to be captured by the sorting process and falls through the equipment. If the cup is lined with a plastic coating, it is not recyclable or compostable — throw it out. But if it is clearly labeled as a compostable cup, you can put it in your Clean Green cart.
BROKEN COMPUTER MOUSE. Electronics can't go in the blue bin, but are they recyclable elsewhere?
ANSWER: Look into your options. If it’s still useable, sell it or give it away. Mice are not recyclable in Big Blue, but some private recyclers will take mice for recycling, but do call first. Look up a full range of items, from aerosol cans to yard waste, on the A-Z index here.
JUICE CARTON AND CAP. Rinsed out fairly well.
ANSWER: No. These cartons, called “gable top” containers are not recyclable or compostable, and the lids are too small. Throw them out. There are plants in other parts of the country that can separate and recover the paper fiber from the plastic coating, but not close enough to Spokane.
TOILET PAPER PACKAGING. Empty paper tubes, plastic wrapping marked No. 4
ANSWER: Yes and No. The paper tubes are recyclable, as well as any other paper tubes. The plastic wrap, no — throw it out.
WRAPPING PAPER. Shiny and used, but no ribbons or bows.
ANSWER: Yes. As long as the wrapping paper is unembellished — no sparkles, flocking, bow, ribbons or other non-paper adornments — it's recyclable.