Eco-conscious people all over the world make recycling a part of their lifestyle. Most of us get through a bunch of bottles, cans, and other packaging each week that we can recycle. With our recycling tips, you can ensure these items have an opportunity for reuse.
With recycling, you can do your bit to reduce pollution, climate change, and waste almost effortlessly.
Perhaps the best thing when you follow our recycling tips below is that you can make the most of your local facilities, helping guarantee maximum recycling of your waste. Even better, easily from your home. We call this curbside recycling. It only requires that you put items into the appropriate recycle bin, and viola, you recycle.
However, a plethora of guidance and rules exist for successful curbside recycling. Some items will make the cut and can go in your residential recycling bin, and some might not. Furthermore, the recycling rules differ from place to place, and what works in the next state might not work for your curbside service. And such mistakes may mean that the entire content of your recycle bin ends up in the landfill.
Related read: Why do people not recycle?
According to the US census, Americans recycled around 32% of their waste, and other recycling facts show that globally, only 19% of our municipal solid waste makes it into recovery via recycling and composting.
If you do not recycle, it may be because you do not know how beneficial it is to you, the economy, and the environment. Here are some reasons you should begin right now.
A landfill is an essential tool in waste management. We think of them as nothing more than mountains of trash, but they are, in fact, a drain on available land. Recycling helps in reducing the amount of plastic waste and other trash we send to landfills. This leaves space for waste that can serve no other purpose.
Related read: Environmental impact of landfills.
Recycling reduces the volume of waste we send to landfills and incinerators, which in turn helps reduce the pollution these places generate. It also reduces the need for virgin resources in the manufacturing industry and, therefore, prevents pollution that would have occurred in the process of extracting or producing new raw materials.
For example, metal recycling produces fewer emissions than virgin materials production. Scrap recycling industries report that metal recycling can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 300 million to 400 million tons1.
When we conserve resources, we take an essential step to ensure that future generations have enough resources to live on. When we recycle, we reduce the need for virgin resources, and it helps us get the highest potential value from the resources already in circulation.
Recycling plastic helps conserve fossil fuel, a precious and versatile resource that is unrenewable. Additionally, recycling iron, steel, tin, and other products made from mineral ores reduces the need for mining and aids the conservation of these resources.
Recycling items like clothing and paper also helps to conserve water as well. Paper recycling ensures that we use fewer trees, one of our strongest tools in fighting global warming and in paper production. Every ton of paper we recycle saves 17 trees, 380 gallons of water, and 4000 kilowatts of energy.
When we recycle, we also conserve energy as well. In almost all cases, recycled materials require less energy to produce. Manufacturing with recycled aluminum, for instance, uses 95% less energy than producing the same amount of aluminum with bauxite.
Recycling facilities employ millions of people all over the world. Every time you recycle, you help someone who works in a recycling company keep their job.
According to a statement by the EPA, 1,000 tons of recycled waste provides 1.17 jobs. The recycling industry employs about 681,000 people in the United States and pays $37.8 billion in wages and $5.5 billion in tax revenues2. Research predicts that the UK recycling industry will have created 51400 jobs by 20254.
Recycling post-consumer waste provides raw materials that are locally sourced. This gives a boost to the local economy.
Specific recycling programs may reward you with cash or credit when you recycle. This helps you save money on new purchases.
To help you get your recycling done right and easier, we share 20 recycling tips below. Some of these tips work everywhere, and some may not apply to the curbside recycling system in your area. Endeavor to check with your local recycling agency for any doubts.
Bagged recyclables go straight to the landfill. If you can't go out to the recycle bin every time you empty an item to recycle, use a basket or tub to collect your items and take them to the bin when you are ready. It is a smart way to save yourself some stress and avoid wasting a plastic bag that only prevents recycling anyway.
You should keep oil, grease, cheese, and other food scraps away from recycling bins. You can recycle pizza boxes, food boxes, plastic containers, and aluminum foil as long as they are free of oil or grease.
Tiny specks of food are acceptable; however, an oil-soaked pizza box will not only attract ants and pests to your bin, but it is also unrecyclable and not suitable for the compost. This is because the oil from the box will not mix with the water-based slurry at the recycling company.
So before tossing those peanut butter jars in the recycling bin, rinse them to remove residue.
When possible, flatten your recyclable materials as far as they will go. This helps to create more space in your recycling bin for other items. Crush soda cans and plastic bottles to make them somewhat flat. Flatten cardboard boxes, unravel paper towel tubes, and anything else you can safely compress.
Lightweight items like plastic wrap, bags, bubble wrap, wrapping paper, sandwich bags, and grocery bags are not suitable for curbside recycling. This is because the flimsy plastics get tangled up with parts of the equipment during the recycling process, causing damage. Getting them out and fixing the equipment slows down work at recycling centers.
This is why your community recycling company may refuse all kinds of plastic bags and wraps. This does not imply that they are unrecyclable. You can not just do it from home. You can explore advanced options for recycling them.
Black plastics do not reflect light, making it impossible for the scanners recycling factories to scan them. Their inability to be scanned makes sorting them out in the recycling stream challenging. They end up contaminating other materials.
Also, black plastic is not a commonly used color, so recycling companies do not favor them. Trying to gather enough black plastic to recycle together can take a long time and prove prohibitively expensive.
Check out our guide to biodegradable garbage bags for more info on replacing black plastic bin bags with more eco-friendly options.
Always keep your recyclables free from contaminants like moisture, food waste, and products. Not including paper, you should rinse your recyclables to remove residue that could act as contaminants.
Rinse out aluminum cans, food containers, and glass bottles. Let them dry before tossing them in the bin. Also, make sure that paper products are dry as well. This ensures the bin doesn't become smelly and rodents and pests aren't drawn to your home.
Throwing prohibited items in your curbside recycling bin, hoping they will somehow get recycled, is a bad recycling habit. You are only going against your community's recycling guidelines and making work difficult for those who have to sort it. Wish cycling will only get the entire contents of your recycling bin trashed3.
Before you put an item into the recycling bin or trash, think about whether you can donate it to someone who needs it or give it a new lease of life by sending it off to an online thrift store. If you can, then do so. Donating is a faster way to give items a second life. And it helps a product give its maximum value before it really needs to be recycled.
Organic waste, like food, contributes to methane emissions, and 24.1% of landfills are food waste. Knowing that you can't put food waste in the recycling bin, be open to exploring other options.
Rather than just dumping it in the trash, use it as compost instead. It is useful in your garden or as an added source of income when you sell to gardeners. If you do not have the facilities to make compost, you can hire a compost service to pick up your food and soiled paper waste.
Ideally, you should have different bins for different categories of recyclables. One way to ensure you don't mix up the bins is to label them and separate combined materials into the correct ones. Apart from the regular word label, you can use stickers or hand-drawn pictures for fun. You can also use a color code to differentiate the bins. When you label your bins, even first-time guests will know where what goes.
A few things are more frustrating than your efforts going to waste because someone didn't know better. To ensure that your actions don't go to waste, take time to speak to residents in your home about recycling correctly. That way, no one will make the mistake of contaminating the contents of the recycling bin.
You can also undertake a waste audit to help understand where you can reduce unnecessary items in the first place.
Place your recycling bin or bins in a position that everyone in the household has easy access to it. Also, put the bin within the eyesight of the trash can or create some sort of reminder so that people are mindful of recycling as much as possible.
Don't give up too easily on items that are not curbside recyclable. An internet search or a phone call to your local recycling agency may reveal a recycling center dedicated to working with those items.
Your local grocery store may have a recycling program for plastic bags to help keep single-use bags out of landfills. Clothing, electronics, metal bottle caps, batteries, and some other items have specialized recycling companies that work with them.
Do not recycle anything smaller than a credit card. Tiny parts can get stuck in recycling machinery, which could cause damage. It could also cause injury to the workers.
We find resin codes on different types of plastic waste products; they tell you what kind of plastic the product is made from. Numbers 1,2 and 5 are easily recycled and belong in your recycling container, while the rest are either difficult or impossible to recycle.
Curbside plastic recyclables include water bottles, shampoo containers, and bottle caps. Coffee cups, squeeze bottles, styrofoam plates, and plastic straws belong in the trash bin as they are unrecyclable. You also can't recycle plastic bags and films due to their lightweight.
Compostable plastics need to be sent off for industrial composting or in the regular trash, where they will break down faster than standard non-biodegradable plastics.
Broken glass, window glass, drinking glass, and mirrors do not belong in the recycle bin and can constitute household hazardous waste. That is because these items have a melting point higher than regular glass. However, your glass jars and bottles can be recycled curbside from home.
They make juice and milk cartons from waxed cardboard. This implies that they have coated it with plastic to prevent the cardboard from soaking up the liquid it contains.
The wax part of the carton means they cannot be recycled simply as paper. On the other hand, check out the benefits of glass milk bottles and see if you can have your milk delivered in reusable containers.
There are recycling centers for waxed cardboard, but they are not available everywhere.
Wet paper can ruin the whole content of the bin as it will decay rapidly and contaminate the rest. It will cause discoloration and mold growth, making recycling difficult or impossible.
Do not shred your paper before recycling. Paper mills do not favor shredded paper because it has shorter fibers, which makes it harder to turn into recycled paper. Also, sorting out shredded paper is quite an arduous and time-consuming task. To recycle shredded paper, you will have to search for paper mills specializing in recycling it.
Related read: Alternative uses for shredded paper.
The strong dyes that give brightly colored paper their unique feature present a recycling problem. They cannot mix the colored paper in the slurry because the dye will seep into the mixture and ruin the mixture.
Recycling is an important tool in managing waste and conserving resources. It can be fun and fulfilling when you do it right. With these tips to recycle effectively, you can recycle more easily and correctly.
Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. The economic impact of the scrap recycling industry in the United States
|EPA.gov. Recycling Economic Information (REI) Report (2016)|
Friends of the Earth. (2010). More jobs, less waste
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.