Recycling Refresher with CA’s Environmental Program Manager

October 27, 2022

Guest post by Natalie Yee, CA Environmental Program Manager


Paper, plastic, metal, cardboard, glass – there are so many types of materials out there! But at the end of its lifecycle, where does it go: trash, recycling or compost? 

With National Recycling Day coming up on November 15, we decided it was the perfect time for a refresher on common household items♻️.

While CA doesn’t handle Columbia’s recycling, we are big fans of being “waste wise” and Howard County’s work to achieve a recycling goal of 75% by 2030. A lot of people may not realize that certain items can actually cause contamination at recycling facilities, so we wanted to discuss some common culprits!

Polystyrene (Styrofoam™)

Place in the: Trash

Do NOT place in the: Recycling or compost

Polystyrene is not a commonly accepted form of plastic, including in Howard County. The market for this type of plastic is limited and not easily profitable. Plus, the material easily flies away when collected, which makes it difficult to be implemented in curbside pick ups.


Plastic bags

Place in: Trash or special container at big name grocery stores

Do NOT place in the: Recycling or compost

Plastic bags and other plastic film cannot go in the normal curbside recycling because they require a special way to be recycled. Plastic bags can also jam the sorting machines at the recycling facilities. Depending on the facility, these bags may need to be removed by hand, and operations need to come to a complete stop in order to remove the bags safely while personnel are on the machines.

However, a number of grocery and retail stores will accept plastic bags and send them to a specialized facility to be recycled (Giant, Safeway, Wegmans, Target, Walmart, etc.). Embracing reusable bags is also a great way to reduce the amount of plastic bags you have.                     



Place in the: Trash, the Alpha Ridge Landfill, or a participating retail store (depending on the battery type)

Do NOT place in the: Recycling or compost

Most common batteries such as AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V are made of alkaline. Howard County advises placing these in household trash or bring them to a store that participates in a take-back program, including Home Depot, IKEA, Lowes, My Organic Market (MOMs), REI Columbia and Staples.

Most other batteries such as lithium or rechargeable batteries need to be brought to the landfill for proper disposal because of the potentially harmful materials inside.

Remember, do not place batteries of any kind in the recycling! Batteries are known to cause fires at recycling centers.


Frozen food packaging

Place in the: Trash

Do NOT place in the: Recycling or compost

Frozen food packaging, including the boxes, are often coated with a layer of plastic to withstand the conditions of the freezer. They are mixed material items and are therefore not recyclable or compostable unfortunately.

Greasy pizza boxes or other food-contaminated fibers

Place in the: Trash or compost (facility, NOT backyard)

Do NOT place in the: Recycling

Grease is not cleaned off at recycling centers, and it can contaminate the other materials that it is bundled with.

If you find that part of the pizza box is truly not greasy (like the top of the box has been untouched), then that part of it can be recycled. Otherwise, it’s best not to take chances and potentially contaminate the recycling.


When in doubt, throw it out

One of the most important things to remember is that only things that you’re sure belong in the recycling should be recycled. “Wishcycling” — throwing something into the recycling in the hopes that it will be accepted — can cause issues at the recycling facility.

Recycling centers sort and bundle different materials, and only a certain level of contamination is acceptable. The more “hope” we throw in the recycling, the bigger the possibility the bundle is considered contaminated and the whole load is rejected. When in doubt, throw it out! 

5 basic rules of recycling:

  1. Reduce, reuse, recycle, in that order.
  2. Clean material is best.
  3. Keep items loose.
  4. Check local guidelines.
  5. When in doubt, throw it out.


CA’s recycling efforts

While CA doesn’t handle Columbia’s recycling, we actively work to manage our waste in a sustainable manner.

From scrap metal recovery to plant material mulching and composting, CA is committed to reusing resources and diverting materials away from landfills. These efforts help to reduce CA’s indirect greenhouse gas emissions associated with raw material production and landfill disposal.

CA also provides recycling stations throughout our facilities and in open space (including fishing line recycling stations and dog waste receptacles) to help members of the community manage their waste in an environmentally friendly manner. Your diligence in recycling ONLY 100% recyclable items is so important to the effectiveness of that mission. Our team members do our best to discard of any contaminants found in our recycling bins before bringing it to CA’s maintenance facility. However, those contaminants – often dog poop bags and food – can spoil an entire load. That’s why we appreciate everyone doing your part to help us recycle properly!


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