Whether you have just caught the recycling bug or you’ve been sorting your trash from your recyclables for years, you’ll often find yourself asking one question: can I recycle this? What you can and cannot put into your recycling bin differs depending on where you reside, but there are a handful of materials that most recycling facilities will accept. Here are a few of the most common:
Paper products are some of the most common items in the waste stream, contributing to more than 27 percent of all municipal solid waste in the United States alone. However, many paper products can be recycled. One of the most common of these is mail, including newspapers, magazines, and “junk mail” advertisements. Paperboard—the material used to make breakfast cereal boxes and some frozen food containers—is also recyclable. You can even recycle many types of envelopes, including those that include see-through plastic windows. Some cities also allow you to recycle old phone books, but you should check to see if you can put them out with curbside recycling, or if you need to bring them to a special facility.
At the office, you can recycle much of the paper that you use. Many companies recycle both high- and low-grade paper, ranging from standard printer paper to newsprint.
You can also recycle the majority of the metal containers that you use on a daily basis. Aluminum cans are unique in that they are completely recyclable. When recycled, these materials undergo a process of sorting, shredding, and melting that allows them to re-enter the production cycle as brand new cans. Within two months after you place them in your recycle bin, aluminum cans can be back on store shelves as new products like soda cans or aluminum foil.
Steel cans are also easy to recycle. Whether you have empty soup cans or metal coffee containers, you can recycle them along with their lids and paper labels. Other common metal recyclables include empty pie tins. Before you recycle any metal products, however, you should make sure to clean them of any food residue.
Most municipalities will accept any plastic items stamped with the 1-7 codes as well as the HDPE 2 and PETE 1 labels. Another way to tell which plastics are recyclable is to look at their shape. Anything in the shape of a bottle or jug—like a two-liter soda bottle or a one-gallon milk jug—is typically suitable for recycling. Always remember to rinse your plastics and remove their lids before bringing them out to the recycling bin. Taking these steps will help the people who work at recycling facilities, and ensure that these materials can be reused to make new plastic containers and other items such as polyester.
Recycling companies usually accept most types of cardboard. For example, you should always save and recycle corrugated cardboard materials such as shipping boxes. Through the recycling process, these materials can become a wide array of new, useful products. In fact, some paper towels and sheets of paper that you use every day may have been corrugated cardboard at one time. Some recycling programs will not accept certain types of cardboard, however. You may need to throw away cardboard that has plastic lining or wax covering—check with your local recycling facility to be sure. It’s also important that you remember to break down all boxes before placing them in your recycling bin.
In prominent countries such as the United States, each person will use an average of 101 gallons of water every day. We use water in all aspects of daily life, including showering and washing dishes and clothes. The result of this water usage is grey water—the waste water from sinks, showers, and washing machines. There may be bits of food or soap in the water, but not sewage—grey water does not include wastewater from the toilet.
It takes a bit more effort than tossing your recyclables in a bin, but it’s possible to recycle grey water, too. You can start by simply placing a bucket in the shower to catch the spray, and using this to water your plants. (You will have to avoid using any harsh soaps or shampoos that could harm your plants, however.) More elaborate grey water recycling systems are also possible—like those that pipe the water used by your washing machine into your garden outside. Find more information at greywateraction.org, and always be sure to check with your city to see if recycling grey water is allowed in your area.
Sometimes called “e-waste,” electronics make up another category of products that you can recycle. As gadgets such as computers, stereos, and cell phones reach the end of their lives, do a little research to determine which local facilities will accept and recycle them. This is especially important if you’re looking to dispose of certain electronics such as old televisions, which can contain chemicals and metals that can be hazardous if they’re thrown into a landfill. Thankfully, there are several electronics companies, municipal recycling programs, and non-profits that accept e-waste for recycling, or at least safe disposal.
Take extra care when recycling glass bottles and containers, as some recycling centers will only accept certain colors of glass. Clear, uncolored glass is almost always recyclable. Another type of recyclable glass is brown (or amber) glass, which is typically used to create beer bottles. You can usually recycle any green glass bottles that you collect as well. Be sure to wash the bottles to ensure that you’ve removed all food debris before recycling.