About five pounds of waste are generated by Americans every day. In one year, more than 292 million tons of waste were generated, and only 94 million tons were recycled or composted. Some were burned for energy, but over 146 million tons ended up in landfills across the nation.
You want to do your part, but did you know that recycling some items can end up contaminating a batch of recyclables or taking extra time to sort, which drives up fees? Are you placing any of these 10 items into your curbside recycling bin, not realizing they can ruin an entire load and end up with everything getting trashed?
Be very careful checking the guidelines for aerosol cans. You may find it’s illegal to put them in your trash, but you might not be allowed to recycle the cans, either. While they are metal, the materials within them can be hazardous. Many recycling centers follow these guidelines:
Food or Beauty Products:
- Empty cans go into the curbside recycling bins
- Partially full food cans go into the trash
- Partially full beauty products go to your area hazardous waste depot
Cleaners or Paints:
- Bring both partially full and empty cans to your area hazardous waste depot
- Some districts require empty cans to go into the trash
Use common sense. Several years ago in Vermont, someone threw their partially full bear repellent can into a recycling bin. When equipment in the recycling facility ruptured the can, more than a dozen workers had to go to the hospital and two dozen more had to be treated at the scene. The entire facility and neighboring businesses were evacuated.
Batteries do not go in blue bin recycling. This has become an ongoing issue as people keep tossing their batteries into the recycling bin. If crushed, rechargeable batteries can spark fires that set paper and cardboard on fire. Several major fires are linked to improper battery recycling including one in New York that took hundreds of firefighters two days to extinguish.
Save your batteries in a plastic storage bag or container. Place electrical tape over the terminals before you put them in it. When you go to a recycling facility or participating retailers like Ace Hardware, Home Depot, Lowes, or Staples, bring your batteries and place them in the Call2Recycle container for battery recycling.
Typically, these containers accept cell phones, rechargeable batteries, and single-use batteries. You can find your nearest locations in the Recycle Nation app or online.
You have plastic or metal coat hangers, so they should be easy to recycle, right? They’re not. Metal coat hangers are easier, but you can’t recycle them in your blue bin. Save them and bring them to a recycling center for metal scrap recycling.
Plastic hangers are made from a mix of plastics. Because it’s a mix (#7 typically), they are not easy to recycle. They need to go into the trash if they’re broken. If they’re still in good shape, post them in your area’s Freecycle group or see if area thrift stores could use them.
Many people believe since you can recycle paperback books in your blue bin, you can do the same with hardcovers. That’s not true. Hardcovers often contain more than paper.
They can have a mix of materials in the cardboard-like backing. Some have stitched binders with thread or fabric that cannot be recycled. Donate them if you can or sell them online. If they’re moldy or mildewed, they go into the trash.
The lids on bottles, jars, containers, etc. are not recyclable. They’re often made of a mix of plastics or metal that’s coated in plastic. They go into the trash. If you’re in the habit of putting a bottle’s cap back on before you put it in your blue bin, stop that practice and start throwing away the caps and recycling the rest.
Paper Milk/Juice Cartons
Paper cartons (aseptic packaging) that juice, broth, and milk come in are not recyclable in many areas. They may feel like paper, but they can also contain plastic and aluminum pressed together to create a heat-resistant seal. Unless a waste district has specific equipment to separate the materials, you need to move them to the trash.
Pizza boxes are often covered in grease and melted cheese. For many districts, that makes them hard to recycle. Before you put your pizza boxes in the recycling bin, make sure your area’s recycling facility accepts cardboard with grease and food stains.
Some restaurants now place aluminum foil or cardboard circles under the pizza before placing the pizza into the box. This can help eliminate grease stains. If there are no stains, you can recycle them in your blue bin.
Plastic cutlery is not recyclable. You have to toss them in the trash or wash and reuse them as much as you can. Once they’re broken, you’ll have to put them in your trash.
Be considerate of the environment. Stop purchasing plastic utensils. Instead, if you need disposable cutlery for a party or large gathering, purchase compostable cutlery. They’re made of plant-based materials like potato or corn starches.
Pyrex and Glass Bakeware and Containers
You know that glass is recyclable. For many people, that’s all the reason they need to recycle Pyrex and glass bakeware and containers. In addition to glass cookware and containers, they’ll also recycle mason jars. While they are made of glass, they’re not supposed to be placed in blue bin recycling.
Save your Pyrex and other glass items and offer them free to others in your community. You can also donate them to thrift stores like Goodwill. You can turn mason jars into windowsill planters. Put some rocks in the bottom for drainage and then add sand and potting soil. You can add seeds or a seedling to the potting soil and watch your plants grow.
Styrofoam packaging and peanuts are not recyclable in most facilities. Never put them in your curbside recycling container. Save and bring Styrofoam peanuts to your area FedEx and UPS locations as they reuse them in items being shipped back to manufacturers or retailers.
Another idea is to call local retailers who take online orders. If they regularly ship items that could be damaged, they may happily accept your Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, and other foam shipping materials.
Master What You Can and Can’t Recycle Locally
Do you struggle to know what you can recycle and what you can’t? Reach out to your area waste district and ask if they have a recycling list you can print out. As they change regularly, you should check the date every month to see if they’ve changed anything. If so, print a new one out.
Reuse what you can. You could turn old glass food containers into organizers for your nails, screws, nuts, and bolts. Plastic coat hangers can be handy in the summer when you want to hang foil strips in or near your berry bushes and fruit trees to keep the birds away.The Recycle Nation app is a one-stop resource for finding where to go to recycle the different items in your house. Download it on the App Store or head to Google Play. You’re also welcome to use our online recycling search form to find the nearest recycling location.