Consumer Guide: What Can And Can't We Recycle?

Have you ever walked up to a trash bin only to find 3 different slots— compost, general waste, recycling— and thought, "Oh sh!t. I guess I'll just put it in general waste?"

I'm definitely confident about tossing my plastic bottle into the recycling. But—oh, wait, cap off or cap on? Do I take the wrapper off? Will they still be able to recycle it if there is a little water left in there? If you've ever found yourself quadruple questioning yourself at the trash bin, fear no more! Read on to understand the do's and don'ts of recycling.

With advances in technology, we're fortunate that we're able to recycle more than ever. Waste Management claims we recycle only 49% of the cans we use. Less than half (!!) And since recycling steel and tin cans saves 74% of the energy used to produce them, we should recycle every darn one. In fact, recycling a single aluminum can saves the same amount of energy it takes to run a TV for 3 hours, and recycling a single Sunday edition of the New York Times saves up to 75,000 trees. I'm sure that part of why we don't recycle more is because of the lack of recycling bins, but I believe another major reason is due to the fact that many of us don't realize how important it is, and are also uneducated on the rules of recycling. So let's get to it:

Recycling Rules

  • The items you are recycling MUST BE CLEAN. If it has food particles attached, it will likely get rejected from recycling facilities. Reuse the item as much as possible, then clean it off before putting it in the recycling bin.

  • Recycling rules differ by city, but not by much. It's best to follow the general rules of thumb under "What Can I Recycle?" below. If you know what company picks up your waste, you can also head to their website to find out their specific recycling rules. Like if they recycle glass...

  • Glass is a tricky one. Make sure you check if your specific recycler takes glass, otherwise it can contaminate the entire load. You can only recycle white, brown or emerald bottles. Heat resistant glass like Pyrex, ceramic bakeware, crystal, and light bulbs are not recyclable.

  • Metal and plastic bottle caps are not recyclable. So take them off before you toss your glass or plastic bottle in the bin. However, if you use Waste Management, they can recycle plastic bottle caps.

  • Plastic grocery bags and plastic produce bags, along with plastic stretch wrap and plastic film are not recyclable — they can shut down an entire recycling plant!

  • Most recycling plants can't recycle styrofoam, so leave it out so you don't run the risk of contaminating the entire load, unless you know for sure that your carrier recycles styrofoam.

  • Single serving paper coffee cups with the wax coating, along with paper towels and paper napkins are not recyclable.

  • [You can mix glass bottles with paper boxes and soda cans in one recycling bin.]

What Can I Recycle?

1. Aluminum

IE) Aluminum foil, cans, beverage cans, bakeware, license plate frames, Hershey's Kiss wrappers (seriously)

2. Steel Cans & Tin Cans

IE) Soup cans, vegetable cans, coffee cans, etc.

3. Paper

IE) Shipping boxes, magazines, office paper, newspaper, paperboard, cereal boxes, glossy paper, juice cartons, egg cartons, etc.

4. Glass

IE) Beer bottles, wine bottles, pasta sauce bottles, soda bottles.

5. Plastics

IE) Bottles, jars, jugs

6. Batteries / Electronics

*You can recycle batteries & electronics (computers, cell phones, alarm clocks, etc.) but not with general recycling waste. To find out the closest place to recycle them near you, check out Earth 911. This site is great because you can also find the closest general recycling plant near you as well by simply typing in your zip code.

I know this was a lot, but a modern glass bottle takes over 4,000 years to decompose in a landfill, so why not recycle it? A simple action of recycling one item a day can make a huge impact. Let's make a difference ✊



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