Have you ever stopped to think about what happens to the items you put out in your recycling bin? What about the ones you bring to a recycling center? Each goes through a process of collection, processing, and eventual reuse.

Some items are more challenging to recycle than others. That’s why you start to run into situations where your local hauling company stops taking items in curbside bins or limits the hours or amount of recyclables they accept from you when you drive to the drop-off center.

Take a look at the items that are the easiest for recycling companies to process. You’ll learn why those are so easy to recycle and why others aren’t.


Electronic recycling is an easy process if you know what to do. They rarely are accepted in curbside containers, but you can bring them to retailers like Staples or drop them off in an ERI & Amazon Secure Electronics Recycling Bin. You can recycle electronics like these:

  • Audio and video devices
  • Cameras
  • Cell phones, E-readers, and tablets
  • Computer peripherals like mice and USB sticks
  • Connected home devices
  • Laptops
  • Media players

Before you recycle them, do your part and wipe data from them. If not, you risk theft if your recycling facility doesn’t offer assurance that they use data destruction services as part of the recycling process. ERI is a leading ITAD company, and data destruction is part of the process.

Metals: Steel & Aluminum

Metal recycling accounts for about 9.5% of the items recycled in 2018. Aluminum and steel cans and containers are easily recycled, and it’s highly beneficial to do so. When you recycle them, the metals are sorted and melted down for reuse. Removing the labels isn’t required everywhere, but it’s helpful. Plus, you can move the paper label to your recycling bin for paper recycling, too.

An aluminum can is 100% recyclable. When it’s melted, it’s fully reusable with no loss of strength. Plus, the reuse of aluminum reduces energy consumption by 90% over producing new aluminum.

Steel is also 100% recyclable. When you recycle steel, the savings are tremendous. To help you better understand how much recycling helps.

Recycling the steel components and frame of one car reduces greenhouse emissions by an equivalent of 150 gallons of fuel. Recycling just one steel food can conserve energy equal to using one light bulb for over one day. When people recycle their steel, it provides jobs to about 531,000 people each year and saves enough electricity to power an average of 18 million homes.

Paper & Cardboard

Paper products are one of the most commonly recycled items. Around 68% of the paper that was used in 2018 was appropriately recycled. This helps prevent the need to cut down more trees for the pulp needed to make paper. Recycle paper, and you save trees.

During the pandemic, online shopping increased. That led to a surge in cardboard boxes being left in curbside bins. Some facilities were overwhelmed and stopped accepting cardboard. If you’re in a town where cardboard isn’t accepted, ask if anyone needs boxes for shipping in your community. It’s often easy to give away cardboard boxes to schools for projects.

Your community may ask you to break the boxes down. Cut them into the proper dimensions and tie them into bundles.

When you recycle your paper, cardboard, magazines, and newspapers, you’re giving paper mills the fibers they need to make new paper. Paper is soaked to separate the fibers, pressed into new paper, dried, and rolled to go to manufacturing lines where it is cut or formed into paper products. According to the American Forest & Paper Association, 80% of the paper mills in the U.S. use recycled materials in their products.

Items That Are Harder to Recycle

Some items should be easy to recycle, and in a perfect world, they would be. The problem is that it’s not an ideal world. Issues arise that make them more challenging for a recycling facility to sell to companies that process recycled materials for reuse.


Glass is easy to recycle, and it’s 100% recyclable. But, there’s a problem. When they’re recycled via a curbside bin, they can smash when they’re dumped from the container into the truck. Once smashed, the glass poses a danger to workers sorting the materials. Not only that, but companies that recycle glass want it to be clean. If you recycle it with dirty or oily items, the oil, grime, and food particles may make the glass low-quality. It will end up in the trash instead.

In areas where residents have to sort recyclables into different bins themselves, glass recycling is about 90% effective compared to 40% in a single-stream recycling process. The best way to recycle glass is by collecting it in boxes and bringing it to a recycling center yourself. Wash it first to remove any stuck-on food.


Plastics should be easy to recycle, but they’re often recycled incorrectly. Even if a plastic jug, container, or item has a recycling logo, that doesn’t mean it’s accepted. By putting plastics that your district doesn’t accept into your recycling, an entire load of recyclables could end up getting trashed.

Plastics #1 (PETE) and #2 (HDPE) are the two that a recycling facility usually accepts. The others, #3 to #7, are not always accepted. You need to check your local guidelines for information on how to recycle them if they’re even accepted.

There are always exceptions, too. Some plastic film and wrapping is #2, but it’s not recycled in curbside containers. You have to save it and bring it to a participating retailer with a plastic film and bags recycling bin. What about the other plastics?

  • #3 (PVC) – The chemicals in PVC plastic have to be added to reach the strength needed for commercial use. Therefore, it’s not often allowed in recycling bins.
  • #4 (LDPE) – LDPE is often used to make plastic shopping bags and plastic film. They may be colored or clear, and you must separate them prior to processing.
  • #5 (PP) – This is a hard plastic to recycle. It’s found in items like straws and bottle caps. It has to be melted to high temperatures, contaminants have to be removed, and then it has to go through a vacuum process at a precise temperature. Once melted, it has to be mixed at a 50/50 ratio with new PP plastic pellets to maintain strength.
  • #6 (PS) – Polystyrene (PS) is found in styrofoam cups and containers. It’s hard to reuse it due to the addition of air with plastic. It’s best used to create insulation and some wood replacement products like interior mouldings.
  • #7 – This type of plastic is a blend of plastics and is commonly found in items like coolers and five-gallon water cooler bottles. As they’re mixed, it’s impossible to recycle them. When they are recycled, it’s often to make plastic lumber.

Recycling is great, but you also need to shop for items that use recycled materials. By shopping for items made from recycled materials, you continue the recycling stream.

What’s the best way to maximize your recycling efforts? Visit Recycle Nation and use the online guide to learn how to recycle the different items in your home. Our system looks up recycling centers based on your ZIP and tells you where you can bring them. You’ll also have contact information if you’d like to call to get current hours and find out if there are any fees.