Ask Betty: Less in the landfill


Many gable-topped cardboard containers can't be recycled. File photo. Many gable-topped cardboard containers can’t be recycled. File photo.

Teri Kent runs Charlottesville’s Better World Betty, a non-profit organization and online resource for locals looking to shrink their impact on the environment. Every month, Betty —Kent’s ’50s-housewife-meets-earth-goddess alter ego—answers the most burning eco-questions from our readers about energy use, water, waste and recycling, transportation, and green buying.

Q: Can I recycle orange juice and milk cartons? I’ve heard if the inside is shiny then it’s not recyclable.

A: Gable-top and aseptic cartons that do not require refrigeration all include layers of polyethylene plastic (as well as aluminum in some cases). A group of companies who make the cartons have formed the Carton Council and are working with paper mills to help them adopt technologies that will allow us to recycle these cartons, but currently, they are not recyclable in city bins nor at McIntire Recycling Center (same goes for paper cups with the shiny inside coating). You can find out more at

Q: What about the plastic bags that are inside cereal boxes? Are they recyclable?

A: Anne Bedarf, Senior Manager at local nonprofit GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition, said any of these types of bags are recyclable, but only if you put them in the proper stream, and only if they are clean and dry. Putting plastic bags in your curbside container or in the drop-off recycling bins at McIntire Center causes problems with the recycling facilities that handle them, as they wrap around sorting equipment.

However, many retailers accept #2 and #4 flexible plastics, including bags, at in-store drop-off points. Check out GreenBlue’s online locater tool to find stores:

And a note on the “plastic number” you find on bags and other items: Just because a plastic has chasing arrows and a number does not mean that the plastic is accepted for recycling. That label, called the “Resin Identification Code,” was never meant to be consumer communication. In fact, the chasing arrows will be changed over to triangles over time.

Q: I just helped my parents downsize their home and we “inherited” a bunch of paint, pesticides, oils, etc. What can I do with it?

A: Betty is glad you asked. Just think: One quart of oil can contaminate 250,000 gallons of water, so it’s important to keep hazardous material away from your daily waste stream and store it safely until you can properly dispose of it.

The good news? Household hazardous waste disposal days offered free by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority are coming soon. The next collection events are 2-6pm Friday, September 27 and 9am-2pm Saturday, September 28 at the RSWA’s Material Utilization Center in Ivy. Visit rswa.avenue. org/materialuctr.htm for directions and details on what you can drop off.

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