Recycling Rules and Options

In writing a book about a family living inside an asteroid, I thought about how their daily lives were spent. One factor that became clear early on was that they must recycle and reuse just about everything. In a way this is like living in an Old West frontier town. Food was “canned” in reusable glass jars; old fabric found new uses in quilts, wiping rags, and smaller clothes; and tin cans became flower pots and storage areas. After all, these people knew that new items or replenishing their supplies meant a rare and expensive trip to the distant town. Another reason was that they probably didn’t want the trash to build up behind their homes. Our modern world could learn from such ideas.

I am an ardent recycler but it has become harder and more selective over the years. More than ten years ago, we took our bags of paper, cans, aluminum, newspapers to a central unit in a small town and dumped them in big bins. High school students fulfilled their community hour requirements by working there. The recycling center wanted it sorted and I didn’t care if it was in bags because I emptied the bags into the bin.

Fast forward to now. For the last ten years I’ve set up five separate “trash” cans in order to sort all my recycling and then just put each individual bag in the recycling bin for pickup. I figured the recycling people would be glad not to have to sort it themselves. I couldn’t have been more wrong.


The Recycle Porter County Facebook page has been posting do’s and don’ts and I’ve learned just how far off I’ve been. A video that they posted explained a lot about why they have restrictions on what is acceptable and not. Unfortunately, because the information has come in bits and bytes over several weeks, I became more confused than ever until I sorted through and pulled together all the information. So for those of you who want to know more, here is a condensed version of how to recycle in Porter and Lake County, Indiana.

Things to recycle at your curb (from the Indiana Waste Service page):

Paper: This includes just about most things you can think of including telephone directories, corrugated cardboard, office paper, and paperboard. No shredded paper though. Also make sure the boxes and magazines are clean. This means don’t put in that greasy pizza box or paint splattered newspaper.

Plastic: Bottles and containers only with the symbols of 1 through 5 in the recycling triangle are accepted. They must be rinsed out and clean. However, no K-cups, bottle tops or lids because they are all too small. Surprisingly so are pill containers.

Metal: Only aluminum or tin cans and steel. Don’t add the cut off or peeled off lids. This creates a hazard for the workers.

Glass: Brown, green and clear glass bottles are welcomed. The Center wants you to leave the caps on because the caps roll around in the machinery and jam it up. They also want the bottles rinsed out and cleaned. This means no sheet, broken, or window glass.

They suggest that you put everything in paper bags or dump them directly into the enclosed recycling containers. Big machines do all the sorting so no need to keep them grouped together.

Don’t rules for curbside pickup

No batteries, Styrofoam, plastic grocery bags, toys, or any form of electronics. No hangers, light bulbs, or ceramics. No plastic packing material from Amazon or anyone else.

recycling 2

Other Options for Recycling

Plastic grocery bags are easy. Most grocery stores have a drop-off box right inside their doors for old bags. In addition, you can add any clean cellophane wrappers like the plastic around toilet paper or Kleenex boxes. You can even add Saran wrap as long as it is clean. Also consider switching to reusable fabric or paper bags, which are recyclable, so you can stop using plastic bags.

Most lightbulbs can be dropped off at Home Depot, Lowes, and maybe even Menards for recycling, along with those rechargeable batteries that power tools use.

The Valparaiso Compost Site takes fluorescent bulbs and many electronics like TVs, computers, and disc players. They also take smoke detectors, batteries, and printer cartridges. You can drop them off at the same time as when you are getting rid of your branches from all the recent windstorms. Batteries can also be dropped off at all of these locations. Printer cartridges can also be taken to Staples or Home Depot and you can earn a small amount of cash rebates (given monthly) for each one.

Unusual Options for Recycling

Wands for Wildlife will accept old mascara wands to help with cleaning up animals. In truth I never thought about this one. However, more information is available here.

Pill containers can go to  Matthew 25 Ministries but you have to go to mail them in. So save up a bunch and then send a package to the address given at the website.

CDs, DVDs and their cases can all go to the CD Recycling Center of America. Just go to their website and print out a mailing label. Of course if you are into arts and crafts, check out Pinterest for a number of artsy ways to reuse these plastic discs.

Locally, Opportunity Enterprises welcomes donations of a number of objects including buttons, keys, beads, old CDs and DVDs, magazines, phonograph records, and more. Check them out at this page.

I hope this list helps you recycle better. So often people want to do the right thing and help the Earth. We should start thinking about our home as an isolated place with limited resources even though we are billions of people instead of a few. The billions will cause more damage if we as caretakers of the Earth don’t change our mindset. We can’t continue trashing it up. Like the frontier people, in space or otherwise, we need to recycle and reuse what we have and be smarter about how much we throw away.


Chainmail Without the Attitude

“Save the pop-top tabs, please. I have a friend who is making chainmail out of them.”

The mundane woman across from me rolled her eyes before grudgingly agreeing. The reaction irritated me. This same acquaintance has no problem happily donating old t-shirts to my granny-style rag rug projects. She might even use a wood pallet for herb gardening in her backyard. So what made the pop tabs so different that the project merited her distain? The fandom “nerd” factor, of course.

Renaissance cosplay on a budget

“Knitting” chainmail, whether you use O rings or pop tabs, is a time-consuming effort lasting months while you collect the raw materials and put the nearly endless metal bits together. However, cosplayers and the Faire-oriented are rewarded with something that looks pretty cool and often fits them better than off-the-rack armor. The effort takes a year of construction but is preferable to the $100+ price tag of buying one.

Recycle and Upcycle

In addition, I really like the idea of upscaling the pop tops into clothes. Something about it strikes me as an idea that a true Renaissance man would be proud of. After all, they didn’t have that much in terms of materials back then (as compared to now), so they didn’t waste things. Use and reuse was simply part of the lifestyle back then.Either way, recycling and upcycling most of our possessions is what the world needs today, no matter what the project or the nerd factor.

Don’t get me wrong. If you can afford to do so, buy the chainmail shirts, jewelry pieces, leather corsets, or silky shirts, whatever you want to accent your costume, from the professionals. The community needs to support all the artisans and craftsmen who help us celebrate our fun and crazy world, particularly since their market is usually limited to fandom folks. Their beautiful things often look better, making them well worth the price tag.

So dear mundane folk, climb off of your modern day high horse and grab some pliers. It’s time to knit some clothes.

If you are interested in any of the upcycling projects mentioned above, here are some how-to websites to get you started.

Chainmail Projects
“Genuine chainmaille from pop tabs” from the instructables website:

“How to Create Chainmail from Pop Taps” from the wikiHow website:

Rag Rug Projects
There are many options. These are just two that I found offering different methods. A third method is to get a large crochet hook and simply crochet the rug using the pulled t-shirt strips. You can also search the Internet for making the same type of rugs out of old bedsheets. However, if the sheet is a solid color that is not barfy, consider making a Renfest style shirt out of the light cotton, particularly if the fabric is queen or king size.

“Make a braided t-shirt rug” from instructables

“Make Rag Rug from Old T-shirts” from A Piece of Rainbow

Pallet Gardens
“Creating a Pallet Garden” by Growing a Greener World: