Why do some people still hesitate to embrace recycling? Between 2015 and 2018, the number of tons recycled increased by 2.2%. You might think that’s good news, but there’s a problem. While the number of tons went up, the overall recycling rate, including food and yard waste recycling, dropped. Decreases are attributed to these two areas:

  • Glass recycling dropped by 3% between 2015 and 2018.
  • Yard trimming recycling dropped by 6% between 2017 and 2018.

Since recycling picked up steam in the 1980s, great strides have been made, but there’s still room for improvement. Why do some people still not recycle most of the items they generate?

Some of it comes down to struggling to understand what is and what isn’t recyclable. Differing policies between towns make it hard to understand what is and isn’t recyclable. If you’ve moved recently, you know how hard it is to change your recycling habits if something you’ve been recycling for years is not accepted after your move.

The Basic Items That You Can Recycle

Let’s get back to the basics. Here are the items that most cities and towns recycle. Place them in your curbside recycling container.

#1 – Cans and Tins

Cans and their lids are recyclables that most towns accept. This includes cans that canned soups, canned vegetables, and canned meats like tuna, sardines, and chicken come in. It would help if you rinsed them of food particles, as many towns require them to be clean. To save space in your recycling bin, you can tuck the lids inside, remove the labels, and crush them flat.

Other recyclable metal items include metal food trays that goods like Chinese takeout come in. They do need to be free of stuck-on foods in most areas. Metal bottles, such as whipped cream cans and sunscreen spray bottles, are often recyclable, too, as long as you empty them of all compressed air and cream first.

#2 – Cardboard and Paper

Go back to the 1980s, when recycling started picking up, and paper and cardboard were some of the first items towns and cities accepted. There are exceptions to the rule. You may find that frozen food packaging that has a wax coating is not accepted. You’ll need to check with your town.

Newspapers, magazines, boxes, paper bags, and junk mail are all things you can recycle. Your district may also accept school notebooks if you remove the metal spiral ring first. Books are often recyclable, but you may need to remove a plastic-coated cover before putting it in your recycling bin.

#3 – Glass Jars and Bottles

Rinse your glass jars and bottles clean. They’re allowed in recycling bins. Examples of glass recyclables include glass jars that pasta sauce and salad dressings come in, pickle jars, and spice jars. Glass beverage containers are also recyclable.

You will need to check with your district before recycling glass storage containers, plates/bowls, and glass light bulbs. While consumers can recycle them, few curbside haulers accept them in the recycling bins. It takes a special trip to a recycling facility.

#4 – Plastic Jars, Bottles, and Caps

Plastic jars, bottles, and caps are recyclables that you can place in your curbside containers. Again, you should rinse them clean first. For items like peanut butter, it can be hard to remove all the oily residue. That usually doesn’t matter. As long as you’ve removed the stuck-on mess, they’re acceptable.

Before recycling items with the caps on, determine if the lid and container are the same material. If it’s not, it’s better to remove the cap first. For example, a plastic margarine container and its lid have plastic that’s the same color. It’s likely one type of plastic. A clear water bottle with a white cap is most likely two types of plastic, so separate them before putting them in your bin.

You need to check your area’s rules, too. For example, in Vermont, black plastic containers are not accepted, but clear lids are. Tupperware containers and other durable (multi-use) plastics are not accepted. Motor oil bottles are also not accepted for recycling. They have to go in the trash.

#5 – Yard Waste

Many cities expanded their recycling programs to include yard waste like grass clippings, leaves, branches, and pine needles. You can rake them and put them in a particular bin provided by your city or town. If it’s not allowed in your district, consider creating your own compost pile and turn these organics into compost you can add to your gardens.

#6 – Food Scraps

California and Vermont have both passed food scrap recycling laws. Curbside pick-up is either currently available or coming soon in many towns and cities. All food scraps, including meat and vegetable trimmings, spoiled foods like moldy bread, and coffee grounds are all composted.

If your city or town doesn’t have a program yet, ask local farmers if they accept food waste. Some take vegetable scraps for their pigs and chickens. Other food scraps are turned into compost that they use on their fields and gardens.

Items That You Should Ask About

Before you trash something that isn’t allowed in your curbside recycling bin, check area rules. Your local recycling center may accept items you’re about to throw out. Here are some of the things you should not be throwing out.

#1 – Batteries

Do not throw batteries into the trash. It increases the risk of starting a fire in a garbage truck. Collect batteries in a plastic container once you’ve covered their terminals with electrical tape. Save them up and bring them to a local recycling facility when you have time.

This includes rechargeable batteries, alkaline batteries, cells from watches and some remotes, and batteries from laptops and cellphones. All of these batteries can be recycled if you take the time to bring them to a facility. If you have a Best Buy near you, they have battery recycling bins in stores to easily recycle all types of batteries.

#2 – Electronics

Electronics are not trash. Electric devices contain precious metals, glass, and plastic that can be separated and recycled. Bring your electronics to your local recycling facility or see if your local electronics stores take back unneeded and broken electronics. Stores like Best Buy and Staples usually accept these items for recycling.

If you don’t have a store or recycling facility near you, ERI is the nation’s leader in electronics recycling. You can purchase recycling boxes on the company’s website to securely send in your electronics for recycling. They also have drop boxes in some towns and cities to make it easy to drop off your small electronics for recycling.

#3 – Plastic Bags and Film

So many people throw out their plastic shopping bags, padded mailers, and plastic film. Collect these plastics and drop them off at your local grocery store or other retailers with a plastic film recycling container. Items that are accepted in these bins include:

  • Bags that items like clothing, cotton balls, menstrual pads, magazines, produce, and baked goods come in
  • Bubble wrap
  • Cereal bags
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Plastic padded mailers
  • Plastic shopping bags
  • Plastic wrapping on cases of beverages, food boxes, paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper
  • Plastic wrapping on new furniture

You can find local drop-offs by visiting the American Chemistry Council’s plastic bag and film packaging recycling directory.

Even if you can’t put something in your curbside recycling bin, you can save things up and make a weekend trip to a local facility for proper recycling. It’s one way to start helping the planet by keeping recyclable goods out of landfills.

Take the time to look over your waste and recycling district’s rules on recycling. Recycle Nation has an online directory that allows you to enter your ZIP and the item you want to recycle for instant results on where to bring things.