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Understand: Proper Recycling || Why straws, other small plastic items can't be recycled

SAN ANTONIO – Why can't straws be recycled? And what are the rules for other plastics?

“Not just straws but all disposable plastics -- they sit in the landfill just about forever,” said Josephine Valencia, assistant director of San Antonio Waste Management. “Almost every item's recyclable in some form or another, but really the question is, ‘Is it acceptable in our program?’”

It's not that straws or small plastic items aren't recyclable, it's whether or not they’re able to be processed. Valencia said if you throw straws into your San Antonio recycling bin, they will end up in the dump for a very long time.

“We believe that it could be up to 500 years or more before it will actually break down,” Valencia said.

So why aren't straws and other plastics able to be processed? Valencia said it's because they are too light and get blown away or simply just too small.

“The recycling facility is set up to capture materials of a certain size, such as bottles and cans,” Valencia said. “So the little straws and battle caps, even tiny pieces of shredded paper, tend to fall through the cracks, and machinery tends to get stuck.”

Valencia said anything smaller than 2 inches can fall through machinery and damage it. Local businesses, such as the San Antonio Zoo, have decided to do away with straws and use eco-friendly biodegradable paper products to help lessen the amount of waste that goes out into the environment.

Valencia said paper straws or biodegradable objects can't be recycled, so don't put them in your blue bins, but those items can be composted, so put them in your green carts.

Any plastic bigger than 2 inches or Styrofoam objects, such as egg crates, plastic trays and cups, can be recycled. Plastic bags can also be recycled as long as you bunch several clean bags into a big bag. Single plastic bags can get tangled in machinery.

For all the do's and don’ts of what can and can’t be recycled through San Antonio Waste Management, check this list.

Remember, these rules apply to only residents who live in San Antonio. If you live outside the city but in the county, or any other surrounding city, make sure to check with your local waste management system to see what you can put into your recycling and trash bins.

This story on recycling came after one of our viewers asked the following: “I’m curious about the recycling process. Where does it get separated? What actually happens to the things we put in our recycling bins?”

We hope this story on recycling do's and don'ts helped answer that question.

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