According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, 94 percent of the U.S. population has a recycling program available to them. Therefore, if you make recycling a routine for your entire family, it’s easy to create a more sustainable household.
Learn more about the dos and don’ts of recycling, how to decode recycling symbols, the process your used products go through and how to set up a home recycling system including printable labels to separate your glass, plastic, paper and metals.
Did you know that it’s a no-no to recycle used pizza boxes? Sure, the cardboard is recyclable, but the grease and remanence of toppings contaminate the box and disrupt the recycling process. Find out how knowledgeable you are about reducing your footprint through the do’s and don’t of recycling.
Dos of Recycling
Do empty all containers completely before recycling. Leftover residue in your food or beverage containers will contaminate and disrupt the recycling process, so it’s important to rinse them out prior to recycling.
Do breakdown cardboard boxes. To avoid from cardboard clogging the collection trucks and the risk of operators refusing your recyclables, cut your boxes down to under 2 feet by 2 feet.
Do keep the lid of metal cans attached to the can and fold them inwards to avoid access to the sharp edge.
Do check your local recycling requirements. Every city is different, so confirm that you are abiding by the required process.
Don’ts of Recycling
Don’t toss plastic shopping bags in your recycling bin. Most local recycling facilities don’t have the equipment to process polyethylene film, but you can typically drop them off at your grocery store or select big-box retailers.
Don’t put frozen food bags, candy bar wrappers, chips bags or six-pack rings in the recycling. These items need to be thrown in the trash given their contents.
Don’t flatten cartons or bottles. Although it may maximize space in your recycling bin and has been encouraged in the past, new sorting equipment identifies recyclables by their shape so they should be intact.
Don’t recycle glass from drinking glasses, vases, windows or mirrors. Although glass bottles and jars are accepted, other glass products will contaminate recyclable glass.
How to Decode Recycling Symbols
Have you ever noticed the symbols labeled on your materials? From teething rings to your standard single-use water bottle, you can determine what materials are recyclable by referencing the symbol labeled on the bottom of the product. Learn more about what each symbol meals with examples of what products typically use each material. Then, find out what recyclables your local community is capable of processing.
Easily reference the meaning behind each symbol at home by downloading our printable cheat sheet below.
How to Recycle Every Type of Material
Now that you know how to decode the symbols on each material, let’s dive deeper into the most common materials that can be recycled and how to prep them for the process.
Food cans: Before recycling food cans, rinse its entirety to confirm that there is no food residue leftover. To avoid accidents with the sharp edges, keep part of the lid attached and fold it inwards.
Aluminum cans: To make the recycling process smoother, remove the paper labels on the outside of aluminum cans. This doesn’t mean you need to scrape off every trace of the label, but it’s appreciated to remove as much as you can.
Computers and printers: Did you know that there was 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste generated in 2016? With technology changing every year, electronic waste is becoming more and more of a risk to the environment. Do what you can to reduce your footprint by locating a drop-off location in your community for your old computers or printers. Look for the closest location through E-cycling Central by selecting your city and state.
Cell phones: Consider donating your old cellphone to a local charity or nonprofit if it still works. If it must be tossed, check if the brand has a recycling program or check for a drop-off location in your community.
Clear, brown and green glass: Recycling facilities separate glass by color, so oftentimes they prefer that you separate the glass on your own this way. Paper labels can be left on the glass when recycled.
Windows, lightbulbs, mirrors and pyrex: Since these glass products are made of a different material, they have different melting points and are often not accepted from local recycling facilities.
Paper and Cardboard
Newspaper: Newspapers are unique because the material goes directly back into newspaper recycling. Therefore, they should be separated into their own bin if possible.
Magazines, glossy prints, and phone books: All of this material is recyclable and should be recycled together in one bin. It’s recommended to remove rubber bands and plastic wrap from the gathered material, but staples can be kept intact.
Cardboard: Most curbside recycling programs accept cardboard, but require you to breakdown the boxes. Make sure that you keep the cardboard clean and dry, as any wet or greasy cardboard might be left behind.
Plastic bottles: Take a look at the bottom of the plastic bottle to see the recycling number from 1 to 7. This will help determine the material that the bottle is made out of to see if your local recycling facility will accept it. Note that not all facilities accept plastic bottle caps, in which case you can discard it or find a recycling facility that does accept it.
Plastic grocery bags: Plastic grocery bags require different processing equipment than other plastics, which are not offered through curbside pickup. If you wish to recycle your plastic grocery bags, many grocery store chains will accept them through their own recycling program.
Items That Need Special Handling
Light bulbs: Standard light bulbs can’t be recycled, so you can toss them with your regular household waste. However, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and other fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so the EPA recommends that consumers look into local options for recycling them.
Needles and syringes: Needles and syringes are not recyclable for curbside pick up, but there are community-based programs that will safely dispose of them. Oftentimes, you can find these drop off locations at hospitals. Physician offices, health departments, fire stations and police stations. There are also some communities that offer residential pickup if you request the service.
Hazardous material containers: Make sure to read the container of these products to understand how to properly dispose of the product inside of the container. Some local communities have a designated day to collect household hazardous waste (HHW), but if not, there are often local businesses that will accept drop off.
What Happens to Your Recyclables?
Do you ever wonder where your recyclables end up?
Sure, you might separate them correctly and send them off through curbside pick up, but the process for making used items into new products is unknown to most. Let’s break it down to learn more about how each material is recycled.
From more expensive items like cellphones, computers and printers, to regularly replaced items such as batteries, recycling e-waste is accomplished through a long process of breaking down different components by hand or through shredding equipment. Different parts such as metal frames, circuit boards and plastics are then sent to corresponding recycling facilities to handle further breakdown of the individual materials.
Glass is sorted by color, which is why it’s encouraged to separate the colors prior to recycling your glass. Then, it’s washed and crushed with a mix of sand, soda ash and limestone. The final step is to melt it down to create new glass products such as jars and bottles.
Once metal reaches the recycling facility, it’s cut down, heated to remove any coating and then heated again to melt down. After being treated, the molten metal is rolled into long, flat sheets that are used to make new metal products.
When paper first arrives at a recycling facility, it’s separated by paper grade. Each grade is then washed to remove ink, glue, staples and more. From there, it’s mixed with water to create a mixture that can be turned into new paper products like cardboard or newspaper.
The first step to recycling plastic is separating the materials by color and type. It’s then chopped and melted down to make pellets that can be used to make various new products such as clothing, construction materials, insulation and more.
How to Create a Home Recycling System
Home recycling can be incredibly easy if you have the right set up and understand local requirements. Turn to recyclingcenters.org, call 1-800-CLEANUP, check your city or county website, or look out for information on your neighbors recycling cans to learn how to recycle on your community.
Once you’ve established when the curbside pick up arrives or what your local recycling facility will accept, it’s time to make your home system convenient and sustainable so you remain consistent. Learn more on how to best set up your home with these tips:
Label your bins: To make sure that everyone in your home is separating materials correctly, label your bins for paper, plastic, glass and metal.
Keep it organized: Avoid overflow by breaking down your materials and making sure to always move it to the curb on the day of pickup.
Include “no junk mail” sticker on mailbox: Most communities will allow you to avoid from receiving offers and advertisements by adding a sticker to your mailbox. You might be surprised by how much this will reduce the amount of paper you recycle.
Buy recycled: There are thousands of products that are made out of recyclable materials from detergent bottles, to household cleaners. Seek out recycled goods to help reduce your footprint.
How to Reduce Your Footprint
One of the top ways to reduce your footprint is through changing your relationship with consumer goods. From fast fashion to single-use containers, reducing your household waste will make an impact on not only your community, but also climate change as a whole.
Use a reusable bag: Regardless if your state has rolled out the ban of plastic bags, using a reusable canvas or cloth will help reduce your waste and is much more convenient in terms of carrying your items.
Purchase in bulk: Avoid from buying small or single-use containers when purchasing your everyday products. Instead, head to a warehouse club of wholesale retailer to purchase necessities.
Use a reusable water bottle and coffee mug: Discontinue from using single-use plastic by always having a reusable water bottle and coffee mug on hand. Most establishments will allow you to use your own containers over their own. Additionally, if you’re accustomed to using straws, carry a reusable one with you instead of using plastic every time.
Don’t take extra free items: It’s easy to take extra sauces, napkins and take out containers when you’re eating out, but avoid from taking more than you need.
Purchase second-hand products: If possible, avoid buying new. Not only will it help you save money, but it will significantly reduce your footprint.
Don’t buy anything that you don’t need: Reducing your footprint also means that you can save money. Think about what you truly need before purchasing it.
Are you ready to recycle in your home? Encourage your friends and family to get involved and help make an environmental impact in your community.
Sarah supports Your Best Digs with content development and PR efforts. She's passionate about evaluating everyday home products to help consumers save time and money. When she's not putting a product's promise to the test, you'll find her hiking a local trail or collecting new stamps in her passport.