Separating Household Garbage – The Guide You Didn’t Know You Needed

Separating Household Garbage – The Guide You Didn’t Know You Needed

As a resident of the United States, you are required to separate your trash before dumping it into the waste collection bin.

The cause for such regulations around waste segregation is in the numbers. While America accounts for a mere 4% of the world’s population, it generates a staggering 12% of global municipal solid waste. The numbers are on the rise ever since China stopped accepting America’s trash.

You’re on the right track if you’re thinking “the environment is doomed.”

To prevent that doom, waste segregation is a skill you must master. It might sound laborious and time-consuming, but separating household garbage in the U.S. will seem like a breeze once you follow our simplified guide.

The Two Types of Waste and How You Should Separate Them

Before diving straight into your trashcan, let us have a run-through of what you’re supposed to be looking for.

Waste, anywhere in the world, is divided into two primary categories — wet and dry. You can’t go ahead with the specific procedures for separating household garbage in the U. S. unless you can identify and split up the two.

Once you have grasped the difference, bagging your trash into bins will be relatively simple.

1. If It’s Moist and Squishy – Wet Waste

Whatever is organic and biodegradable is wet waste. Meaning these items can be composted without a hitch. You can do it yourself, or let your waste collectors take care of it. Either way, wet waste is not a threat to the environment.

Organic waste is always assigned to green bins in the U. S. When you dispose of wet waste, ensure only the organic item is discarded. For instance, if you are throwing away a spoiled can of tuna, only the tuna goes into the bin, not the can.

Clean out your green trash cans daily, to avoid accumulating foul smells. If you let it sit for too long, this waste will attract insects and other pests. 

What Goes Into The Green Bins?

Let us take a detailed look into what qualifies as organic waste:

  • Food
  • Flowers, fallen leaves, dead plants, soil, and other yard waste
  • Dust (from sweeping, vacuum cleaners, etc.)
  • Kitchen waste
  • Animal waste (bedding, cat litter, etc.)
  • Human waste and refuse (vomit, excreta, blood, etc.) – the majority of this will obviously go in your toilet
  • Soiled biodegradable diapers and sanitary products
  • Dirty or wet paper (food packaging, toilet paper, napkins, towels)
  • Pure cotton balls and other organic materials (no blended fabric)

2. Just About Everything Else – Dry Waste

By definition, everything non-biodegradable that doesn’t go into your green trash bins is your dry waste items. As you can imagine, it is a massive category. One that can’t be simply thrown into a single bin. That’s why you’ll need three.

Dry waste is broadly separated into recyclable, non-recyclable, and toxic items which are assigned blue, black, and red bins, respectively. Let’s glance over what each category entails. After that, we’ll learn how you should discard such waste.

What Goes Into The Blue Bins?

Of all the waste you create, only recyclable items have the potential to break the vicious cycle of garbage pollution. From your recycling bin, they can make their way back to someone else’s home.

Some pointers before you sort through your blue bins:

  • Never put any organic content into these bins. Even a minuscule contamination risk can get the whole pile rejected at recycling centers. Remember the tuna can example? That aluminum can will be accepted for recycling only if it’s completely clean and dry. So, do your part before you toss such items in the bin.
  • Look for the recycle symbol on items (especially plastic and glass). If it doesn’t have one, it can’t be recycled. No use putting it in.
  • Don’t put in anything too small (like tabs of cans, shreds of plastic, plastic straws, etc.). These items get stuck and jam the machinery. If released into the atmosphere, they break down into micro plastic, which is even more hazardous.
  • Never put your recyclables into plastic bags. Waste items ought to be free inside the bin.
  • Don’t include any tangling items like ropes, wires, pipes, or hoses. They wrap around recycling equipment easily.
  • Clothing or textile items are a no-go. Donate, sell, or reuse them instead.

Now you need to recognize what is recyclable and what isn’t. Here are the most common subsections to classify your recyclable items into:

  • Paper and Cardboard – Unrumpled, clean, and whole pieces. No glossy paper, napkins, receipts, carbon paper, or paper with adhesives.
  • Plastics – The plastic resin type indicated by the small inverted triangle is the key indicator. Follow community recycling program guidelines to identify the type. Snack packages, single-use plastics, saran wrap, black plastic, polystyrene foam items, and loose plastic bags are not recyclable.
  • Tin/Aluminum/Steel/Copper/Brass/Bronze – Can, jars, and other containers within a reasonable size.
  • Glass – Check if you are required to separate them by color. Acceptance of glass in recycling programs varies by state jurisdiction. No long-neck bottles, lightbulbs, mirrors, ceramics, or sheet glass.

What Goes Into The Black Bins?

While separating household garbage in the U. S, know that black bin always equals trash. These are the unsalvageable items that will end up in landfills.

Your black bin should only be filled with trash that is:

  • Non-biodegradable
  • Non-recyclable
  • Non-toxic

The basic instinct is to chuck every miscellaneous waste item that you cannot place in other categories into your black bins. That’s the problem. By doing so, you end up contributing the most towards the global waste crisis, despite trying not to.

The equation is simple. More items in black bins equal more trash in landfills, which means more land and water pollution. There is only one way to avoid this. Be extremely cautious and selective about what you discard as trash. Especially plastic, since it does not break down in landfills.

Always pause and ask yourself these three questions before you purchase something that can potentially become trash:

  • Can I buy what I need without the additional packaging?
  • Can I reuse or repurpose it?
  • Is there a middle ground I can reach that allows me to declutter my house without filling up landfills?

Embarking on a zero-waste lifestyle is the only way to salvage the situation now.

What Goes Into The Red Bins?

High alert! Red is for hazardous household waste items that contain reactive chemicals. It’s illegal to put these items into any of the other three bins.

A fire, explosion, or poisoning—nothing is out of the question with hazardous waste. That’s how dangerous these substances can be for the workers and warehouses handling your trash.

Under all circumstances, follow these guidelines while filling up your red bins:

  • Sometimes hazardous waste (like an old TV) can be too big to fit inside a bin. So don’t try. The “red bin” concept is only theoretical. Just keep these items separate from your other trash in a safe space.
  • Make sure the items are separate from each other as well. Since they are reactive, you can never be too sure.
  • Be on the lookout for E-Waste recycling drives. You can call your city office to check for options to donate unwanted electronic items.
  • Check with your local solid waste agency to find out more about household hazardous waste management options in your area. Information on specific days for toxic waste collection as well as local businesses that accept these items is valuable.

For a rough idea as to what is considered toxic household waste:

  • Electronic appliances
  • Medicine (along with its packaging)
  • Batteries, lamps, and ink cartridges
  • Automotive products (antifreeze, fluids, motor oil, oil filters, gasoline, polish, and waxes)
  • Fluorescent lightbulbs
  • Paint products (oil-based, latex, aerosol/spray paints, caulk, wood preservative, and wood stain)
  • Mercury-containing devices (thermometers and thermostats)
  • Garden chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, and insecticides)
  • Syringes, needles, and lancets
  • Swimming pool chemicals
  • Cleaning substances and other household chemicals (toilet bowl cleaner, shower/tile cleaner, carpet cleaner, rust remover, etc.)

There you have it. If you do it methodically, separating household garbage in the U.S. is extremely easy.

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