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Earth Day: Recycling tips in south Washington County

Earth Day is today, and since the first Earth Day in 1970 there has been much progress in recycling items that can be processed and reused.

Minnesotans have an impressive record of recycling at 41 percent, according to, but there is room to improve.

Twin Cities metropolitan area residents recycle nearly 1 million pounds of paper each day, but one-third of what is thrown away at home is recyclable through curbside programs.

The most common error people make when they recycle is placing shredded paper inside plastic trash bags, according to workers at Tennis Sanitation based in St. Paul Park.

Plastic bags wrap around the machinery that packages recycled material.

Instead, put shredded paper inside brown paper bags.

Also, plastic bags from grocery or department stores can only be recycled if they are dropped off at grocery stores or stores that collect them. Don't put them in recycle bins for pickup by trash haulers.

Those bags are taken to a business that employs disabled people who bale the bags and sell them, according to Cindy Schlomka-Knauff, who works in the Tennis office.

The Washington County Environmental Center in Woodbury also accepts plastic grocery bags.

Plastic bottle caps can't be recycled. Leave the rings on the bottles if you need to, according to Adam Frederick, Washington County environmental program coordinator.

Anything that has touched food, such as pizza boxes, can't be recycled.

How about gallon plastic bags?

"No, it's still a bag," Schlomka-Knauff said.

Items to be recycled, including hazardous material, can be taken to the Washington County Environmental Center at no charge. Residents are asked to show a driver's license as proof of residency.

"We also take recycling from businesses and churches," Frederick said.

The center will accept any chemical, he said and all things connected with cars, including antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid and gas in cans. Cans will be emptied and returned to residents, according to Frederick.

Anything connected to a computer will be accepted by the center along with television sets and monitors. The material is sent to a La Crosse, Wisconsin firm that dismantles and recovers plastic, glass, copper wiring and lead.

Cellphones and anything else with a rechargeable battery needs to be recycled, he said.

The most common items that people bring to the center that can go into household trash are microwave ovens.

"They don't understand there are no computers inside microwaves," he said.

In 2010, the center collected 1.6 million pounds, or $64,000 worth of television sets, according to Frederick.

The center is funded by proceeds from the sale of recyclable items and also by a county environmental charge as an incentive to generate less garbage.

The center has a free product room that offers paint, deck stains, cleaning products, all opened and inspected, and a "last chance" rack of books.

There is also a cabinet of items that are hazardous but were commonly used by consumers in the past such as charcoal lighter fluid without safety caps.

If you go

The Washington County Environmental Center is located at 4039 Cottage Grove Drive in Woodbury, just off of Bailey Road.

Hours are noon to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

For more information on what the center accepts, go to or call (651) 430-6655.