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The Recyclist: 'Hey, can I recycle this?'

March 3, 2010 |  7:12 am

I know all the obvious things that can go into the recycling bin: junk mail, cans, bottles and the like. But many times my husband or I hold up an object -- a pizza box, a Styrofoam container, the cellophane-y bag that used to be full of potato chips, a cardboard soy milk carton, and ask: "Trash or recycling?" And, if we just can't decide, "Should we just put it in recycling just to be on the safe side?"

Which is why The Recyclist is beginning a new series of posts called, appropriately enough, "Hey, can I recycle this?"

Lisa Harris, the recycling specialist for the city of Long Beach, has kindly agreed to put up with my pestering questions -- and yours -- about curbside recycling.

First up: polystyrene, more commonly known by a trademarked name, Styrofoam.

The city of Long Beach recently began accepting clean Styrofoam containers in its recycling bins, including cups, plates, egg cartons, and those clamshell containers used for restaurant leftovers or takeout.

What does "clean" mean, you ask?

"Don't spend all day scrubbing them down," Harris said, "but you want them to be relatively clean." She advises plunging them into hot soapy water and then rinsing. 

In case you were wondering, Long Beach cannot recycle packing peanuts. Why? Because those little  suckers fall through the baling equipment. Harris says you can turn in clean polystyrene peanuts at most UPS, FedEx or Mail Boxes Etc. stores.

Please leave a comment if you have a recycling query for Harris, and I will endeavor to get your questions answered for future posts.

There is, alas, one big fat caveat: Harris can only address recycling within the city of Long Beach. Other cities have their own regulations, which are typically outlined on city sanitation department websites, like this one for the city of Los Angeles. Most also have a customer service hotline you can call to ask, "Hey, can I recycle this?"

-- Rene Lynch

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Photo credit: The polystyrene leftovers from a recent breakfast, drying on my dish rack.