Recycling has been around for decades, so you might be surprised to hear a lot of people still haven’t figured out how it works. One of the biggest deterrents for recycling is often simple confusion. When we don’t know how to do it right, we tend not to do it at all.
Luckily, with the right information, recycling is easy.
To help you navigate this confusing process, we’ve put together eight tips to keep your recycling habits sustainable and impactful.
1. Not recycling
This one is pretty obvious, but it’s still worth noting this is one of the most common and easiest mistakes to avoid. Recycling can be confusing, and some people just avoid it all together. Sometimes there are barriers like not having a curbside pickup or if your apartment complex doesn’t offer designated receptacles. You still can recycle by storing your recycling in a separate container and bringing it to a recycling center as needed. If you’re worried about smell, as long as your recyclables have been properly rinsed, you shouldn’t have a problem. You can find a local center here. Even better, using a large bin doesn’t only cut down on the number of trips, it cuts down on gas.
2. Food stained containers
Greasy pizza boxes, Chinese takeout boxes, and unwashed peanut butter jars are not recyclable. These items can’t be reused, they’re gross, and the leftover food particles can even damage the equipment. Be sure to thoroughly clean and dry all jars, foil, and any other recyclable that has come in contact with your food. This also means you should rinse and dry all of your cans and bottles. You can tear the lid off the pizza box, if it’s free of grease stains but the bottom goes always gets tossed. While there are centers that take greasy pizza boxes, there are only a handful so it’s better to assume they don’t until you research the rules in your area.
3. Shredded paper
Just like at home, shredded paper gets everywhere in a recycling facility. It’s too small to sort so it falls onto the floor, or even worse it mixes in with other recyclables like glass. Some facilities do take shredded paper if it’s in a labeled separate paper bag, but never put it in loosely in a commingled bin. If you compost, you’re welcome to include shredded paper in the compost bin. Unless a document contains private information, try and keep it whole so you can easily recycle it.
4. Not all glass is recyclable
Ceramics, mirrors, and window panes are not the same as bottle glass. Glass bottles go in the recycling while your chipped china, broken windows, and mirrors go in the trash. Or if they’re salvageable or not too badly damaged, think about repairing, upcycling, or donating before you send them to the landfill.
5. Including caps and lids
Just because a container is recyclable doesn’t mean that the lid is. Often caps and lids are made of a different kind of plastic than the container. If it’s a large lid, like the one on a yogurt tub, there should be a number that will indicate if it’s recyclable in your area or not. Always be sure to check to see before you put the lid in the recycling or garbage.
The good news is plastic bottle caps like the ones found on water bottles are increasingly recyclable! As always, check with your center, but most centers now accept water bottle caps. Always be sure to unscrew the caps first, so each can be recycled properly.
6. Numbered plastic isn’t all recycled equally
It’s true the numbers you find on the bottom of plastics look like the recycling symbol, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean they are automatically recyclable in your area. The numbers were put there to indicate what kind of plastic each item is made of, this helps people at recycling centers sort what’s recyclable there and what isn’t. While they don’t mean ‘automatically recyclable’ they can help you sort what’s recyclable too.
Check out this handy guide from Good Housekeeping to help you figure out which recycling numbers are which.
7. Recycling grocery bags with other plastic
Plastic bags are not frequently accepted by local centers. Luckily, you can bring these to a grocery store that accepts plastic bags, you can usually find marked bins at the front of the store. Or even better, opt for a reusable bag and skip the disposable plastic, it’s pretty easy to find ones made out of recycled materials too. These bags are bigger meaning less trips to and from the car and they’re sturdier so they’re much less likely to rip causing your groceries to spill all over the ground. There’s not much reason to stick to the flimsy, disposable ones anyway.
8. Purchase recycled goods. They’re out there!
You can reduce your carbon footprint further and can support recycling efforts by purchasing goods that are at least partially made of recycled, or even better, post consumer materials. Post consumer means that the materials have been used and recycled by an individual like you when recycled goods might just be leftovers from manufacturing that were never used but would be leftover materials or scraps. Purchasing post consumer materials means fewer resources were needed to be used to produce these products and is a easy way to make your footprint smaller. You can find recycled material in paper, plastics, glass, car parts, and even clothes.