Today the Times begins a three-part series on the state of recycling in Northeast Ohio. Recycling is not new. Over the years, families have learned the importance of reusing, reclaiming and reprocessing materials to cut down on waste and help Mother Earth become healthier.

But as soon as we learn the newest and most accepted practices, the rules change. One of the goals of the Times reporters was to find out what is triggering the changes and how residents can adapt their practices at home.

We learned that China was eager to take our recyclables in past years, but that changed in 2013 when the country began to demand materials with very low contamination levels.

Northeast Ohio’s past as a giant in making steel also rooted the area in recycling metals early on. Both Cleveland and Chicago had the first aluminum recycling plants in the nation. The practice of collecting scrap metal for steel and aluminum plants was an early business and continues today.

The 1969 fire in the Cuyahoga River set the stage for the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972. Restrictions on dumping, burning and other practices to deal with waste slowly forced Ohioans to change their habits. Then came curbside recycling in the 1990s with separate bags and then single stream for more efficiency in pickups.

We explore why single-use plastic bags need to be dropped in a collection bin at your neighborhood grocery or retail store, not in the recycle bin at home. It’s not because they cannot be recycled, they can. And we take you to the places that give those bags new life.

Glass is another material that has caused confusion. The material made of sand, limestone and soda ash can be recycled over and over again. But some collection companies won’t accept glass today. We explain why and talk to the experts about the factories that do indeed turn old glass into new containers.

There are places to dispose and sometimes recycle hazardous waste (like paint), batteries and even those old computers sitting in your basement. For paper, cans, plastic, glass, we sort out the different practices and explain the changes.

What has not changed is the need to recycle and not use materials that cannot be given a second chance at life.

Even small acts make a difference. Rather than toss that plastic soda bottle in the trash can at the mall, take it home and put it in your recycling bin.

We are making some progress, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rate of recycling in the U.S. went from 7 percent in the 1960s to about 34 percent today. Plastic recycling is about 9 percent today compared to 1 percent in the 1970s. Glass recycling went from about 1 percent 50 years ago to about 26 percent today.

We throw away a lot of aluminum, about 2.7 million tons, but only about half makes it to the recycling plants.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Though not always easy or convenient, experts say these are steps everyone should be taking for a sustainable environment. Working together as a regional community is the only path that will keep the Earth safe for future generations. Are you ready to do your part?

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