Got Questions? Ask the Green Geek.

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Wondering what to do with all that plastic cutlery you get when ordering takeout? We’ll tell you. And we have some follow-up answers to last month’s questions on household batteries. 

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Pima County FYI has a monthly column featuring questions and answers on all things green. Our own Green Geek gets assistance on answering your questions from the sustainability experts in Pima County’s Office of Sustainability and Conservation. Send your questions to And look for the column the second Friday of each month.

Hi, Green Geek,

Any idea what to do with all the single use utensils we are getting with the take out meals? I must have 2 dozen little plastic bags with plastic knife/fork or spork with napkin.



Hi, Christina,

You probably are not alone with this plastic predicament! Nowadays, tossing in that to-go cutlery set is habitual and we are left with this plastic burden. 

So what can you do with your pile up? Find a comfy place to harvest the napkins in those packets and put them to use. Everything else, unfortunately, cannot be recycled. See my discussion below as to why. 

Fortunately, there are very creative minds out there that have come up with wonderful DIY craft ideas you can explore. Check out these plastic spoon craft ideas on! Another great site for recycled crafts ideas is Thrifty Fun

Now to talk more about this burden we have. 

Besides the nuisance of these packets piling up, we are given plastic that is unknown. The utensils are not individually labeled as #1, #2, #3, etc. plastic and therefore we do not know the appropriate disposal action. The most common type of plastic used, however, is #6 plastic (polystyrene) in the form of rigid plastic, which is not accepted in most recycling programs due to being considered as a source of contaminants and jamming up recycling machinery. Talk about a burden! 

With these utensils not being recyclable, these pesky plastics remain in our environment for a VERY long time. Scientists use 500 – 1,000 years as a time span to emphasize just how long they stick around! 

As a little side science lesson, scientists are able to make such conclusions by conducting respirometry tests to determine how (or if) plastics biodegrade. The material of interest is combined with soil and microorganisms, air is circulated into the mixture, and the production of CO2 is monitored. When it comes to plastic, well, no CO2 is produced because the microorganisms do not recognize plastic as food. Therefore, scientists can say with confidence that plastics are not biodegradable. They can photograde and be broken down by the sun’s UV radiation, but the plastic still remains. 


It is up to us to bring an end to this plastic pollution! Together, I’m confident we can! Let’s be more proactive in telling restaurants not to toss in those cutlery packets in our to-go orders. In addition to that, let’s purchase and strategically place our own camping cutlery sets in our cars, at work, and even in our purses! Americans throw out more than 3 billion batteries per year.Local hardware stores recycle rechargeable and lithium batteries, but not single-use alkaline batteries. Battery Solutions is a battery recycling company that recycles all batteries however! Even though alkaline batteries were deemed safe to throw out in 1996 through the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act (“Battery Act”), disposed batteries that find their way into our landfills still pose a threat to human and environmental health.

Green GeekAvoid idling near schoolchildren. Turn off your engine while waiting to pick up your child after school. Many anti-idling programs focus on schools so many may have resources available, such as a comfortable waiting location for caregivers.Instead of using drive-thru windows, park your vehicle and walk into coffee shops, restaurants, banks and pharmacies. If you’re waiting for someone in a parking lot in warm weather, park in the shade if available and open the windows to catch a cross breeze.Reduce windshield defrost time in the winter months by securing a sunshade or towels on the outside of the windshield overnight.Old habits can be hard to break. Place a decal or sticker on the edge of your windshield to remind yourself to not idle when you don’t need to. If you’re looking to purchase a vehicle, opt for one that is hybrid or has stop-start technology. Both automatically turn off the engine when they are not moving. Fully electric vehicles are another great option, since they produce no tailpipe emissions. If idling is necessary, try to keep it to no more than 5 minutes at a time.Green Geek

And now, about those batteries …

A recent column by our Green Geek generated some follow-up questions on battery disposal. Here they are:

Why not require anyone who sells batteries to have a collection box?

I agree! I would be wonderful if those stores that sold batteries could recycle them as well, but that is unfortunately not the case. As the County is here to serve its residents, until there is widespread demand and support for this and other sustainable measures, we will unfortunately not see movement towards passing ‘green mandates.’ Also, per the Battery Act of 1996, batteries can be thrown away in your trash (which makes all environmentalists twinge).  

Does the “Battery Store” accept batteries for recycling?

If you are speaking of Batteries Plus Bulbs, the only batteries they accept for recycling are rechargeable batteries. When I called around hardware stores a few months back, I received the resounding response that alkaline batteries are disposable in your household trash.

Do the County facilities, managed by Waste Management, have battery drop offs?

We do not. Pima County operations contract out third-party vendors for their internal recycling needs. When it comes to the recycling needs of incorporated County residents, the City of Tucson is in charge of this. Even if someone was to look up this information on the County website, it takes you straight to the City of Tucson.

Here are the 2021 locations and dates the City provides for hazardous waste drop-off events, including e-waste.

Is there a way to package batteries so they can be included with our recycling pick up?

Unfortunately, not, as legally, batteries can be thrown away (and is what you will be told to do). 

What about overlap with the cities within Pima County?

This is a matter of who falls under incorporated versus unincorporated Pima County, and is again managed by the City of Tucson. Green Valley, for example, is in unincorporated Pima County; thus, the Green Valley Council would be the ones making decisions about recycling vendor contracts.

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