Recycling is becoming easier and easier for many communities, especially those with single-stream recycling programs that enable consumers to toss all recyclable materials into a single bin. However, it’s still important to know the recycling basics so everyone can recycle more and better:
Recycle paper products correctly
Even though something’s made out of paper doesn’t mean you can just toss it into the bin. Much of what people throw in the recycling bin is not properly prepared for recycling. For example, paper products with other materials glued, stapled, or otherwise fastened to them. Remove anything NOT paper, such as those sticky adhesive blobs used to adhere credit cards and other products to paper.
Magazines, newspapers, paper bags, cardboard boxes, flyers, and similar all-paper products are generally fine as is. If you shred, shred paper products carefully – try to avoid shredding all products together if some pieces include heavy coatings, fasteners, and other things that don’t recycle. Shred clean, uncoated papers such as most documents, office and school papers, and other standard letter-size papers separately, pack the shreds in paper bags, and recycle.
Recycle those flimsy shopping bags in the store, NOT the recycling bin!
Many communities are beginning to ban those ubiquitous plastic shopping bags. Fortunately, they are recyclable, but it’s HOW you recycle them that’s key. Do NOT throw them in with the rest of your curbside recycling pickup. That flimsy plastic film floats around on the sorting conveyor belts (ever see any of those bags floating across the road?) and gets stuck in the recycling machinery, jamming it up. Instead, take them back to the store where they can be recycled properly. Or reuse them yourself – they’re still good as shopping bags and can be used for a variety of other, creative purposes.
Know the difference between garbage and recyclable materials
If something seems like garbage, chances are it is. That includes almost everything stinky, such as food scraps, dirty food wrappers and napkins, used paper and plastic dinnerware, and containers with food remnants in them.
That doesn’t mean you should throw out stuff like food scraps and dirty food paper products – they make excellent compost (along with yard waste such as clippings, raked leaves, and dead plants). Once you’ve separated out the easy stuff — clean recyclable materials and composting garbage — you may find yourself still throwing out dirty food cans, peanut butter and mayonnaise jars, and other food and beverage containers. Instead of tossing them, consider cleaning them out. In most cases, it’s as easy as running them through your dishwasher when you’re doing a load of dishes.
There are even some food packages that can be recycled with a little simple preparation. For example, that big pizza box from your delivery service. Just tear off the cheesy cover, toss the oily insert, and recycle the rest. That’s still a lot of cardboard that can be recycled. You’ll be surprised at how much more you can recycle with very little extra effort.
Here are two lists worth printing out and sticking on your refrigerator to help you be a better recycler:
- Publications: newspapers, magazines, phonebooks, etc.
- Junk mail and office paper
- Paper towel and toilet paper tubes
- Plastic containers up to 2 gallons
- Food and beverage cartons (milk, juice, and broth boxes)
- Metal cans and aluminum foil
- Glass food and beverage containers
DON’T try to recycle:
- Frozen food boxes
- Contaminated packaging (items covered in grease or oil, paint, etc.)
- Scrap metal
- Textiles (clothing, furniture covers, etc.)
- Non-container glass
- Hazardous household waste
- Hybrids (bubble-wrap envelopes, foil-lined food bags, etc.)
- Non-container plastics (toys, hangars, furniture, etc.)
Hybrid packaging containing significant amounts of different materials (e.g., plastic, foil, and paper used in one package)