Most Honorable Umbra, Knower of All Green Things:

Am I unwittingly hampering the recycling process by twisting that lime wedge into my bottle of beer? The dang things are tough to get back out!

Humbly yours,
Jill Brooks

Dearest Jill,

Please be assured that I thoroughly investigated your problem. I started with Personal Solutions. I have a pile of limes I keep down here to fend off scurvy, and I spent some time sticking them in beer bottles to determine the best removal option. Trying to create sufficient vacuum suction with my mouth did not work. Two other methods, however, met with frequent success: sticking a chopstick down the neck and dragging out the lime, and twisting the lime in the “Watson and Crick Twist,” a clothes-wringing type of motion, before inserting it into the bottle. The Watson and Crick makes the lime almost straight, facilitating subsequent egress from the bottle. Please experiment at home or use this concern to reinvigorate bar talk.

As for Industry Solutions: The folks at the glass-sorting plant I spoke with were concerned about my sanity, but they didn’t seem to care about your lime. When you recycle your beer, the bottle is picked up curbside by a hauling company, which brings it to a glass-cleaning plant, which then ships it to a glass-manufacturing plant, where it begins a new life. A “contaminant,” as your lime would be called, is either picked out at pickup or removed during the cleaning. The only kinds of contaminants that are worrisome are those that, when melted down and incorporated into a new “glass” product, would somehow lower its quality — we’re talking about things like window glass, ceramic jars, or metal. Like if you were to somehow get a fork stuck in your beer bottle, it might disfigure and weaken future post-recycled bottles.

At the cleaning plant I consulted, bottles are sorted by color, crushed, vacuumed, and then run across vibrating beds (!) and over various screens. After all this and more, the glass, now called “cullet,” is shipped to the manufacturer, which melts it down in 1600- to 1700-degree ovens. Bye-bye lime. Too much organic debris in the cullet can discolor new glass, but your little lime won’t do much damage. Maybe you can make up for the lime by absentmindedly peeling off the bottle label. Or you could drink your beer in a glass.

Glassy eyed,
Umbra