Battery recycling

Hey-- recycling goddess-- I'm confused.I was told you can put old batteries ’cept LiOns and grocery store plastic bags in the ginormous recycling bin we take to the curb. Now Republic is 2x-ing their cost because they say China complains about contaminated crap including batteries and Wally-world bags. So can we or can't we recycle the bags and batts?

Thanks! David

Dear David,

First, why do you have grocery store plastic bags?!?! (you knew I was going to ask, right?) Moving on…

Recycling flattery will get you everywhere, except for on a slow boat to China. Short answer first, no plastic bags or batteries should go in your curbside recycling bin.

Find a drop-off location for your plastic bags (better yet, quit taking them from the store!!!).  Batteries have never been accepted, but can be recycled – read more. 

To put things in perspective, Johnson County is closing all of their public Recycle Spots, effective July 31. This partially due to China and partially due to contamination by the public. They have found everything from a wedding cake to car bumpers to dog poop in their recycling bins.

Recently, 40 percent of their recycling bins have had to go to the landfill due to this contamination. Now, curbside recycling service is the only option for Johnson County residents.

A little more about the China situation.

At the end of 2017, China announced that they would no longer accept 24 types of materials, including recycled plastics. Here’s my very general timeline of what has happened:

  • In the late 80’s-early 90’s, China began buying recycled plastics from other countries. They were on a mission to become the world’s top manufacturer and could process the material into goods.

  • At the same time, remember how you use to sort your recyclables, separating plastic from glass from paper from metal, etc.? The materials they were getting were a lot cleaner back in the day.

  • In the 00’s, single-stream recycling was introduced. What a convenience – everything can go in one bin! Except that the quality of materials decreased dramatically.

  • China continues to buy the material, but their own environment and the health of their citizens starts to decline.

  • And now China doesn’t want our dirty, grimy materials anymore. In fact, the materials that they will accept may only have a 0.5% contamination rate.

  • As a result, recycling rates go up because service providers don’t have buyers for the materials.

Now you now.

Piece out,


Renee Sweany is NUVO's green living advice blogger.

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