Guest commentary: Making a difference

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Americans use about 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, and most of them are thrown away. As fifth-grade students at Strawberry Park Elementary, we would like to see more recycling in our community. Every resident in Steamboat Springs has the opportunity to recycle.

Single streaming is a recycling term that means you can mix almost all of your recyclables in one bin. Single streaming can include No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, glass and any type of paper fibers. To find out if a plastic is a No. 1 or No. 2, look on the bottom of the container. Keep in mind that just because it has a No. 1 or No. 2 doesn't mean that it can be recycled. It must have a neck that tapers toward the top.

You can recycle all newsprint except for neon. All colors of sticky notes are recyclable. One misconception of recycling involves large appliances, printer cartridges and batteries. These items cannot be mixed with single streamed items. If you have a large appliance, like a washing machine, call Waste Management and arrange for them to pick it up. Printer cartridges can be dropped off at our school or you can take them to an office supply store. Household batteries can be taken to City Hall, and car batteries can be taken to NAPA Auto Parts.

Unbelievable. A glass bottle takes one million years to biodegrade. Think about it - if bottles keep entering the landfill, they could fill up the whole thing. That would never happen if all of the recyclables were recycled. Plastic bottles could be recycled, but instead, people throw them in the garbage. The bottles eventually end up at the landfill, where they will stay forever because plastic never biodegrades. All of the materials that are recyclable (including cans, which take 50 to 100 years to biodegrade) are worth recycling.

Contamination has a lot to do with recycling. All of the materials that are single streamed are put into huge bails and sent for processing. If more than 5 percent of the bails contain things that are not recyclable, the entire load is considered contaminated and is sent to the landfill to rot. All of the recycling efforts are put to waste, literally.

Another thing to be aware of is that all of the containers need to be rinsed out before they go into the recycling bin. If the recyclables are not clean, they will attract bugs and rodents. Not only should you recycle, but you also should recycle properly.

You can recycle lots of things, but there are some things that can't be recycled. I've known people to recycle bottle caps. They are not the kind of plastic that you can recycle. They contaminate the load. Neon paper (except for sticky notes) cannot be recycled. There is too much neon ink in the paper.

Next, don't recycle ceramics. If magazines or catalogs are more than an inch thick and the pages are glued together, do not recycle them. But if the pages are stapled together, please recycle. Yogurt containers are not recyclable because the plastic isn't a true No. 1 or No. 2 - it doesn't have a neck.

Finally, the wax cardboard used for a variety of milk cartons is not recyclable, but remember, cereal boxes ARE recyclable.

Our recycling motto is, "If you don't know, ask or don't recycle it." You make a big difference in the recycling world, so step up and recycle now.

Marley Loomis, Ben Wharton and Erik Sobeck are fifth-graders in Chris Elliott's class at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

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