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What Can I Actually Recycle At Home?

various types of recyclable waste in a circle around a recycling bin

We talk a lot about recycling, but do you know what can go in that bin? We are told to recycle our glass, plastic, paper and aluminum, however there are many types of each, and not all can be recycled. Let’s go through the list to make your recycling habits more efficient, and perhaps change your shopping habits.

Paper: Many types of paper can be recycled and processed into thinner and thinner material over its lifespan.

  • Mixed Paper – Mail, catalogs, envelopes, and magazines can be recycled for the most part.
  • Newspapers – These get turned into other newspapers or flimsy things like tissue paper.
  • Printer Paper – This is office paper that has been printed on. Mills will de-ink the paper and recycle it.

Cardboard: It is mostly recyclable, but there are limitations.

Put these in the bin:
  • Shipping Boxes – Known in the industry as corrugated cardboard, this has the zig-zag between layers. Just cut the tape and flatten these. No need to remove labels or tape. 
  • Food boxes – Cereal boxes and the like are called paperboard and can be recycled. Just collapse them.
  • Product Boxes – Like cereal boxes, most product boxes are paperboard and should be recycled.
Use caution with these:
  • Wet Cardboard – Most mills won’t process wet cardboard as water changes the fibers in the box.
  • Pizza Boxes – If there are stains on the box, it can’t be recycled. You can rip off the stains though, and recycle the rest.
  • Wax Cardboard – You likely won’t run into this, but things like bulk produce comes in waxed cardboard. These can be recycled but need to be sorted separately, so see if your local grocery will take them.

Aluminum: Aluminum is endlessly recyclable, so make sure they get in the bin!

  • Drink Cans – Smash em!
  • Pie Tins – Clean em!
  • Foil – Crumple it!
  • Other Stuff – If it’s aluminum it goes in the bin.

Glass: Glass is also endlessly recyclable but remove caps and corks first. To recycle jars, salad dressing bottles, beer and wine, rinse them out and throw them in the bin.

Plastic: Plastic is the most complicated of recyclables, so use care when sorting and purchasing.

Recycle these:
  • Drink Bottles – Pull off any film labels, as those can’t be recycled. Caps on or off varies by recycling plant so leave them off to be safe.
  • Container Bottles – Things like cleaning products and laundry soap come in containers that can be recycled, If there is a spray nozzle, remove any metal springs first.
  • Food Clamshells – Your to-go container is a toss-up. Many can be recycled but some cannot as molding can change the plastic structure. Keep them in the bin to be safe.
Check locally for these:
  • Under 3 Inches – Caps, bread ties, straws, tampon applicators, and other small packaging often can’t be recycled, but check with your local plant.
  • Plastic Bags – Grocery bags can be recycled at specific locations. Grocery stores will usually take them.
You can’t recycle these:
  • Snack Packages – Those little pouches that all kinds of food comes in are not recyclable because they are made of many types of plastics that machines can’t separate.
  • Plastic Wrap – This ubiquitous garbage is everywhere and unfortunately can’t be recycled through curbside pickup.

E-Waste: Electronic waste is everywhere, but most can’t be taken curbside.

  • Batteries – Put these in a bag and place them on top of your bin outside. In large metro areas this is common, so be sure to check with your local pickup to make sure this is ok. If they don’t do this, you can take them to the collection station yourself.
  • Cell Phones – There are many stores and drop off points for cell phones. They are one of the most highly sought after pieces of e-waste. Retailers will often recycle them for you as well.
  • TVs and Displays – You can take these yourself to most recycling stations.
  • Computers and Cables – While some stations do collect these, see if you have a local computer store that will take them. They can often take parts and then recycle the rest for free!

Whew! Hopefully that gives you some ideas on how to sort your waste, and maybe what products to avoid *cough* individually wrapped snacks *cough*. Keep up the good recycling and shop smart!

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