Commentary: Do's and don'ts of Philly recycling

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Keep apprised of what can and cannot be recycled in Philadelphia.

Here's a historical fact about our city that you may not know: Philadelphia established one of the first curbside recycling programs in the country in the early 1980s.

Over the last 30 years, America has gotten used to the ease and convenience of curbside recycling, and anyone can tell you why you should recycle: It's good for the environment, for the economy, and for your own community. However, we all still make simple and well-meaning mistakes that have real consequences. These mistakes can make materials less valuable or cause them to lose their value entirely, and hours of manpower are lost at recycling plants because workers must remove non-recyclable items that get caught in machinery. It can become a worker safety issue too.

That's why the Philadelphia Streets Department, Recyclebank, and Keep Philadelphia Beautiful teamed up to celebrate this year's America Recycles Day with a public service announcement aimed at reminding Philadelphians of some major recycling do's and don'ts. You can view it here: www.philadelphiastreets.com/recycling.

What can you do to ensure that you're not only recycling as often as you can, but that you're also recycling correctly?

First, keep plastic bags out of your curbside recycling! Confusing, right? While most household plastics are recyclable, plastic bags have to be recycled separately. They cause problems in the machinery at recycling facilities and pose hazards to recycling workers. However, you can take your plastic bags to be recycled properly at participating stores, such as CVS or Walmart.

Remember to keep food and liquids out of your blue bin, and to rinse out containers and bottles as thoroughly as possible. Liquids and food particles can contaminate other items in your recycling bin, which means those materials oftentimes have to be landfilled rather than recycled into new products.

Keep apprised of what can and cannot be recycled in Philadelphia. (Cartons? Yes! Styrofoam? No!) Find the full list of accepted items at philadelphiastreets.com. Follow the Streets Department at facebook.com/StreetsDepartment and join the conversation on twitter at @PhilaStreets, @PhilaRecycling, and @PhilaCleanSts.

And remember, you don't need a city-issued blue bin to recycle - any hard-sided container 32 gallons or less is permissible as long as it's marked "Recycling." Once you have your bin ready to go, make sure you and your neighbors are taking advantage of the Philadelphia Recycling Rewards program; learn more and sign up at phillyrecyclingpays.com.

Spend some time thinking about what happens to your recyclables after your bin gets picked up - and what you can do to improve recycling. Maybe that means carrying an empty bottle another block or two, rinsing out jars to get rid of food remnants, or removing newspaper from its plastic sleeve. If you're already recycling like a pro, think about changes you can make in your daily routine to reduce consumption and reuse materials more. Join us in pledging to recycle often and recycle right.

Carlton Williams is Philadelphia's deputy streets commissioner. carlton.williams@phila.gov

Denise Diorio McVeigh is a senior account manager at Recyclebank. dmcveigh@recyclebank.com

Michelle Feldman is director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful. michelle@keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org