It started when my son was 3 months old. He had just started going to daycare when he came home with his handprint on a paper plate. It was the cutest craft made from recyclable materials ever. It’s currently taped inside his baby book, where it will stay forever.
As my children continue to go to daycare or do projects for virtual school, they make crafts with recycled and recyclable materials. Toilet paper roll caterpillars, paper plate fish, and popsicle stick ornaments decorate our house. While I save and display many of the crafts, I also regularly dispose of some so that our house doesn’t one day explode from an overflow of toilet paper rolls.
The Lifespan of Recycled Crafts
Recycled crafts are great activities to do with kids. You can make decorations and gifts or games and toys. It’s amazing what you can make just by going through your recycling bin. I used to be a regular at Michael’s and JOANN Fabrics, but not anymore! (Just kidding—I sometimes need to go out to get hot glue!) But seriously, my recycling bin and junk drawer usually have all the supplies I need to create something for my kids that’ll occupy them for at least 15 minutes. Maybe longer if I’m lucky—like a few days or weeks. Or until the recycled crafts become like their other toys—strewn all over the floor in a pile waiting to be tripped over in the middle of the night. That’s when I know it’s time.
After making several recycled crafts during quarantine, I began to wonder how to properly dispose of them. If a craft is made from recyclable materials, can’t you just throw it in your recycle bin and move on? Or if it’s covered in tape, glue, paint, and glitter, does it go in the trash?
Zero Waste DC to the Rescue
The DC Department of Public Works reveals what goes where and why on its incredible Zero Waste DC website. The website has an interactive tool you can use to find out what materials go into which bin—recycling or trash. If you’re curious about a material that’s not listed in the tool, you can request it to be added. You can also find out what to do with special waste and find resources to learn about reducing and reusing.
Since the crafts I wanted to recycle (or trash) are made from both recyclable and non-recycled materials that are not listed on the Zero Waste DC website, I reached out to the staff at DC DPW for help.
DC DPW loves recycled crafts.
“Reuse is great,” says Annie White, Office of Waste Division Manager. “Using existing materials instead of buying new ones is great.” While she admits that many crafts made from recycled materials eventually go into the trash bin and not the recycling bin, she reminds me that using recycled materials helps the environment. By reusing materials, you’re reducing the need for manufactured materials. You’re also taking one less trip out in your car.
Howard Lee, Office of Waste Diversion Analyst, offers wonderful advice on choosing crafts that last. He suggests trying “to do things that are reusable for quite some time, that has value for you.” As an example, he mentioned that his very first craft was a Christmas wreath with a wire hanger and a trash bag. “My great aunt still uses that wreath today,” he says. “We can use it every year!” I love his tip and the story!
A little tape or glue in the recycling bin is OK. Use your best judgment.
Initially, I thought that peeling every bit of tape off cardboard was the only way to recycle it. I was wrong! A small amount of any kind of tape or glue on a recyclable material is OK. It just can’t be covering the entire object. Reggie Sanders, a Public Information Officer for the DC DPW confirms that “if the craft is covered in glue, or is mostly glue, please do not recycle. The type of glue does not matter from a recycling perspective.” He also says, “Small amounts of tape also are fine. The type of tape doesn’t matter. If it is a significant amount of tape or is covered in tape, the tape needs to be removed for it to go in the recycling bin.”
If your recycled craft project is covered in glue, glitter, or paint, it can’t be recycled. Just throw the entire craft in the trash. And make sure that what you do put in the recycle bin is empty and dry—anything wet or sticky could hinder the recycling process.
DC DPW suggests dismantling crafts if you used a mix of materials.
While a little tape or glue on a recyclable material doesn’t mean it can’t be recycled, it’s important to remove non-recyclable materials before you recycle. Otherwise, the entire craft should be thrown in the trash. Some common materials that should be disposed of in the trash and not in the recycling bin include pipe cleaners, ribbon, and tissue paper. Annie says, “Ribbons can get tangled in the equipment. [And] tissue paper has shorter fibers and isn’t as good for making new paper, so it doesn’t add value to making new paper.” Good to know! Annie also says “Flexible plastics like wraps, films, and zip lock bags should be kept out of the recycling bin.”
DC DPW supports recycling efforts at home, school, and work.
When I asked Annie, Howard, and Reggie for what advice they would give parents about recycling at home, I was touched by their response. Howard says, “Part of our campaign is what can be recycled at home can be recycled at school and at work. Our big message is that wherever you are—work, home, or school—you can still recycle it.” I love this. You may be compelled to recycle at school and work because there are other people holding you accountable. We all must keep ourselves accountable at home.
I was also impressed to learn that DC DPW provides presentations about the recycling program available for residents. Howard says, “We can provide presentations and we have signs that you can print out on the website.” In fact, they will do virtual presentations! Feel free to reach out to the DC DPW and schedule a presentation for a mom group, a playdate, or a neighborhood gathering!
You and your family can learn more about proper waste disposal by playing the DC Waste Sorting Game together! This multi-level digital experience is a great way to test your knowledge of what goes where, with a very fun payoff at the end.
Keep calm and craft on—and help DC reduce, reuse, recycle!
On reusing materials and recycling, Annie says, “It’s a simple act that you can do every day that you can help make DC a cleaner, greener city. It helps reduce emissions that cause climate change. It’s an action that we can do every day. It’s a great act that helps our community locally and globally.” So carry on making recycled crafts. Consider the activity good for the environment and your community. It’s also a wonderful way to help your children learn about reducing waste, reusing materials, and caring about the planet.