After eating, it's time for cleanup, and being the steward of the environment you are, you throw the cardboard box into the recycling bin. Except that box isn't recyclable — the residual grease and leftover food bits embedded in the cardboard mean the material can't be broken down properly.
A pizza box is just one of the items mentioned in a recent social media campaign by the local nonprofit Debris Free Oceans about the items that can — and cannot — go into residential recycling bins across Miami-Dade County. Other items that aren't actually recyclable are Solo cups, plastic hummus and yogurt containers, and disposable cutlery, to name a few.
"We didn't realize how impactful the information could be and how confused our community was," says Caiti Waks, president and cofounder of Debris Free Oceans.
Recycling policies differ from one municipality to another. Part of the discrepancy comes from the various recycling contractors and which items each contractor can sell.
"One thing people forget is that recycling is a for-profit business," Waks says. "They're not taking your product to recycle for the good of the Earth. Sure, that's a positive sort of end result and that's great, but if the product they're taking is unsellable, they will go out of business."
Gayle Love, senior division director for Miami-Dade's Public Works and Waste Management, puts it like this: "The only way an item is recycled is if someone wants to buy it and use it to make a new item."
Love says Miami-Dade collects recycling from about 350,000 households and also requires commercial and multifamily residential buildings to offer recycling receptacles for their tenants.
"There's a lot of solid waste that's generated here in Miami-Dade County," she says.
In South Florida, Miami-Dade had the lowest percentage of solid waste recycled last year — only 16 percent — according to data from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. (That includes all recycling in Miami-Dade, not just that overseen by the county.) Broward and Palm Beach Counties had recycling rates of 29 and 41 percent, respectively.