Column: Being a recycling-smart shopper

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 17, 2002

How do we find recycled products at the store? Just about everything we purchase has a box, bag, jar or wrapper. What choices can we make to reduce waste and recycle? Many containers today are made from paperboard packaging such as cereal and laundry boxes. The recycled standard today is &uot;100 percent recycled paperboard.&uot; This means that the package is made from 100 percent recycled paper. More than 60 manufacturers currently use this symbol provided by the 100 percent Recycled Paperboard Alliance. Other companies use the same materials, but do not necessarily use a symbol or label to that effect. This paperboard is recyclable and you can put it in the recycling bin for collection.

The Rock-Tenn plant in St. Paul recycles 1,000 tons of paper a day into 100 percent recycled paperboard cereal boxes and other containers for General Mills and other companies. You may have noticed one of their plants while driving to St. Cloud along I-94. They manufacture 15 different grades of paper and they have been recycling since 1908.

Egg cartons are often made from recycled newsprint. Egg cartons are a different type of paper product altogether. Companies manufacturing egg cartons place recycled newsprint in a pulp machine with water and pour liquid pulp into molds. The egg cartons are not recyclable after their use because the paper fibres have become so short they have little value in making new paper products again. They can be composted in your backyard compost pile, garden or flower bed.

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The use of plastic containers for packaging has expanded rapidly in recent years. We see soda, milk, juice, water, ketchup, jam and other containers that were formerly glass now using plastic. Plastic is shatter proof, lighter than glass (reduced shipping costs) and allows manufacturers more flexibility to use custom shapes and colors. It is important to note that the triangle recycling symbol with the number on it only identifies the resin type used in production. It does not necessarily mean the container can be recycled or has recycled content. Be a good consumer and read the label. Most plastic containers we purchase are made from PET or HDPE. The PET containers usually have a number one recycling symbol and the HDPE usually have a number two. These numbers indicate the type of resin used to make them. About 35 percent of recovered HDPE containers are made back into bottles. About 19 percent go into pipe, and about 19 percent go into the manufacturing of plastic lumber and lawn and garden products or children’s outdoor toys. Some plastic is unfit for anything except disposal because of contamination (a #4 lid left on a #2 container). When plastic is melted down and made into another container, the mix must be pure or there will be imperfections and discoloring of the end products.

So, when we start watching our buying habits at the store, we will be looking for symbols that indicate the &uot;recycled content&uot; or a label that tells us that the item can be recycled later. Anything outside of these parameters leaves us with an unwanted item that we pay the garbage man to haul away. It also pressures the manufacturing firms that produce these containers and packaging into thinking about consumer demand and how to best sell their products. Unfortunately, in recent years, marketing a product has been based on &uot;how well it looks&uot; as the purchasing preference of the buying public, and not recycled content or the ability to recycle at the end of its useful life.

For more information about how to reduce waste, go to the Office of Environmental Assistance web site at For information about our county recycling and solid waste programs go to the county web page at

Randy Tuchtenhagen is Freeborn County’s solid waste officer.