Food is a major source of contamination in recycling. 20 to 30 percent of the labor put into recycling involves making sure no contaminants are mixed in with whatever the plant is trying to recycle. Pizza boxes can’t be recycled, not because the paper fibers are too short, but because they can’t be separated from the grease and oils that drip off the pizza. For metals, and glass, contamination isn’t much of an issue since the recycling process involves using heat to sort everything out by density. However, food on plastic can be unsanatary. Plastics sit around for a month before being recycled, so it is likely that they will grow mold on them.
It is necessary to rinse and clean the food off of things before you recycle them so that the containers don’t attract ants and rats and other critters. If you don’t wash containers at home, they have to be separately cleaned by workers at recycling facilities, so it’s helpful to clean them yourself.
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