We love to talk about sustainability and being more environmentally friendly. However, when my son recently thought of placing his half-eaten container of food in the recycling trash, I realized that he’s not the only one who may or may not know what can be recycled and what cannot, or as I like to call it, the rules of recycling. Recycling is great for the environment. It helps to preserve our landfills and, ultimately, reduces pollution.
In Brooklyn, New York, I learned very quickly what was and wasn’t recyclable, because you could be fined if trash was found in your recycling receptacle. I already knew the ins and outs of recycling when we moved to Colorado, where it isn’t required, though I pay extra to do it because I believe in preserving the environment for my children.
If you’re unsure of what the rules of recycling are, and you’re confused, as many people are, as to what you can and cannot recycle, I’m here to help you. By following these simple rules, you can help to make the recycling process more efficient and ensure that more materials are properly recycled. So do your part to reduce waste and protect the environment by following the rules of recycling.
THE FIRST RULE OF RECYCLING – Check for a recycling symbol.
You’ve probably seen the recycling symbol on packaging before, but what does it actually mean? The chasing arrows symbol with the number in the center indicates that the item can be recycled. The numbers range from 1 to 7 and each number corresponds with a different type of material.
- PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate). These type of material usually consists of soda bottles, water bottles, cooking oil bottles, and peanut butter jars.
- HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene). These types of materials are usually milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, some shampoo, and motor oil bottles.
- PVC or V (Polyvinyl Chloride). You’ll find these materials in window cleaner and detergent bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, and wire jacketing.
- LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene). These types of materials are found in shopping bags, squeezable bottles, toiletries packaging, and some food packaging.
- PP (Polypropylene). These types of materials can be found in some yogurt containers, syrup and ketchup bottles, medicine bottles, and straws.
- PS (Polystyrene). You’ll find these in Styrofoam packaging, meat trays, egg cartons, and plastic cutlery.
- Others. This category includes everything that’s not covered in the first six categories such as three-and five-gallon water bottles, bullet-proof materials, sunglasses, DVDs, and computer monitors.
Just because an item has a recycling symbol does NOT mean it can be recycled curbside.
THE SECOND RULE OF RECYCLING – Check with your local recycling provider to see what items they will accept.
This may seem like an obvious rule, but it’s one that many people forget. In general, most places will accept paper products, cardboard, glass, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles. There are, however, a few things that cannot be recycled.
Some materials that CANNOT be recycled are:
- Styrofoam. This is one of the most difficult materials to recycle. Only 6% of recycling plants accept it, and the process of recycling it is very costly.
- Plastic bags. These can actually get caught in the machinery at recycling plants and cause damage.
- hazardous materials such as batteries, light bulbs, pesticides, and motor oil. These items need to be disposed of at special hazardous waste facilities.
- food waste and dirty items. Recycling plants are not equipped to deal with food waste and dirty items will contaminate other recyclable materials.
THE THIRD RULE OF RECYCLING- Clean before you recycle.
Any food or drink residue will contaminate an otherwise recyclable item, so make sure to give everything a good rinse before throwing it in the bin. The same goes for recyclables that have been in contact with hazardous materials like oil or chemicals – these need to be cleaned before they’re recycled, too.
THE FOURTH RULE OF RECYCLING – Make sure everything is dry.
You might not think that a little bit of water will make a difference, but it does. When recyclables get wet, they become heavy and more difficult to recycle. Plus, water can cause other materials in the recycling bin to become contaminated. So make sure everything is nice and dry before you put it in the bin.
THE FIFTH RULE OF RECYCLING- Break down cardboard boxes.
Cardboard can be recycled, but it must be broken down into smaller pieces first. So if you’ve got a big box that’s taking up space in your recycling bin, make sure to flatten it out before you toss it in.
THE SIXTH RULE OF RECYCLING- Keep lids on containers.
Lids from jars and bottles can usually be recycled along with the container, but they need to stay attached for the recycling process to work properly. So before you recycle that plastic water bottle, screw the lid back on tightly.
THE SEVENTH RULE OF RECYCLING – No wrappers or bags.
While paper bags can be recycled, plastic bags cannot. That means you’ll need to avoid placing items like bread wrappers, candy wrappers, and shopping bags in your recycling bin. Most grocery stores have a spot to recycle plastic bags, so be sure to take advantage of that the next time you go shopping.
EIGHTH AND FINAL RULE- Ensure you’re putting items in the correct bin.
The whole point of recycling is to ensure that materials are properly sorted so they can be efficiently recycled. That means you need to make sure you’re putting items in the correct bin. For example, plastic bottles should go in the recycling bin, but plastic wrappers should not. If you’re unsure about what goes where, check with your local recycling provider or look up your municipality’s waste management rules online.
The rules of recycling may seem daunting, but they’re really not that difficult to follow. Just remember to check with your local municipality to find out what they will and will not accept and make sure that all contaminants are removed before placing items in the bin. With a little effort, we can all do our part to help preserve our planet.
Now if you would like a further breakdown of the household items you can recycle and how to do it. Here are a few tips.
Pizza boxes can be recycled as long as they are clean and free of food residue. The same goes for cereal boxes and other food packaging.
Paper towels and napkins cannot be recycled as they are considered contaminants. The same goes for candy wrappers and chip bags.
Plastic bags should not be placed in your recycling bin as they can get caught in the machinery at the recycling facility. However, many grocery stores have a bin where you can recycle plastic bags.
Tin cans are recyclable, but make sure to remove the labels before placing them in the bin.
Glass bottles and jars can be recycled, but please make sure to remove the lids.
Aluminum cans can also be recycled, but make sure to remove the tabs.
Cardboard can be recycled, but please make sure to break it down into smaller pieces so that it doesn’t clog up the machinery.
Magazines and newspapers can be recycled, but please remove any plastic sleeves or inserts before placing them in the bin.
Now that you know all the rules of recycling, it’s time to put them into action! Spread the word to family and friends, and let’s work together to create a cleaner and more sustainable world for future generations.