Recycling is critical for conserving resources and preventing environmental damage. Yet, many people still need to understand how to recycle properly. Even with the best of intentions, people are still not recycling properly. In one study, just under 1/3 of recyclable items were properly recycled.  About 25% of recyclables were placed in recycling bins and shouldn’t be.

What is causing the problem? There can be problems with differences in what’s recyclable from one area to the next. If you move from a town where empty aerosol cans were recycled to a town where they’re not, you may not realize that you’re creating issues by putting a non-recyclable item in your recycling bin. 

Our guide is going to show you what is almost always recyclable, what may or may not be, and how to find out what you can truly recycle and what you cannot. Plus, we offer tips on what you can do with items instead of recycling them.

Seven Things That Help You Recycle Correctly

When you know what you should and shouldn’t recycle and how to recycle properly, you ease problems for local facilities and haulers. Follow these tips and you’ll start recycling correctly.

Ask for a Chart of Local Recycling Guidelines

Call or email your trash and recycling company and ask for a chart of what is and isn’t recyclable.  You might be redirected to a website. Take that site and build your own chart using the things you know you purchase or use regularly.

Be Creative

Just because it can be recycled doesn’t mean you need to. You might find that you can put things to use around your home. The glass mustard and jam jars you have are great for sorting small items like screws, nuts and bolts, and paper clips. Paper egg cartons are good for starting seedlings in your garden.

Cardboard boxes are easy to recycle, but they’re also a haven for worms. Soak some cardboard and lay it under the soil you add to your gardens. The worms love it and will soon add their nutrient-rich castings to the soil your plants grow in.

Break Down Cardboard Boxes

Don’t throw out an entire box.  It takes up space and is annoying. Instead, breakdown boxes. You might find that your local hauler wants boxes cut into a specific size square, often no larger than 2 feet square, rather than just being broken down.  Boxes that have a wax or plastic coating are not recyclable. Wet cardboard is also not accepted in many places.

Clean and Dry Food Containers and Jars

Make sure that food containers and jars are cleaned. Wash them out when you wash your dishes. You also need to clean the lids and remove them from the jars or containers when you recycle them. Lids that are less than 2 inches are not recyclable.

Crush Plastic Bottles and Cans

You can make more room in your bin when you crush your cans and plastic bottles. That gives you extra space for your recyclables and ensures you can close the lid.

Purchase Goods Made With Recycled Materials

When you’re purchasing items, look for things made with recycled plastic, glass, and metal. It creates a circular economy and helps lower the amount of raw materials needed to make the new items.

Start a Compost Bin

Instead of putting your fruit and vegetable scraps in the trash, compost them. A compost tumbler takes up little space and creates rich compost that helps your plants thrive. You can also compost unbleached paper towels and napkins, shredded cardboard and paper packaging, grass trimmings, and leaves.

Seven Things You Need to Avoid or Stop Doing

Some consumer habits end up costing a lot more money than needed. Avoid these 10 things, and if they’re common practice in your home, put up reminders to stop them.

Don’t Hope Something Is Recyclable

“Wish-cycling” is the process where you put something in the recyclables bin and hope it’s recyclable. This is a bad habit as it can lead to an entire truckload of recyclables going to the landfill. 

When trucks pick up recycling at your home, everything usually goes into one truck and is sorted by workers at the recycling center. If too many items are being pulled because they’re not recyclable, the entire load ends up being shifted to a dump truck and hauled to a landfill. Items that could have been recycled end up in the trash unnecessarily.

Per a New York City report, the cost of recycling collection is about $670 a ton. If that load is contaminated, it’s another $80 per ton to haul it to a landfill. As recycling is free with trash pickup in most communities, that extra cost comes from the haulers. They now have to increase their trash pickup rates, which negatively impacts everyone in the community.

Don’t Recycle Dirty Containers

Containers need to be clean. If they’re dirty, they’re contaminated and have to be moved to the trash. If there is a container that you just cannot get clean enough, it’s better to throw it out. The best tip is to soak things like peanut butter and chocolate spread jars in hot, soapy water overnight and then wash them in the morning.

Don’t Throw Away Old Small Appliances and Electronics

Never throw small appliances and electronics into a recycling bin. Donate them if there is still life left or recycle them in the electronics area of your nearest recycling facility. Toasters contain plenty of metals that can contaminate the groundwater and soil. Electronics with lithium-ion batteries can spark fires if the battery pack is crushed.

Don’t Throw Batteries Into a Recycling Bin

While batteries are recyclable, they cannot be put in the recycling bin. If crushed, by the truck or equipment in the facility, they can spark and set other recyclables like cardboard and shredded paper on fire.

Don’t Throw Out Plastic Bags and Film Products

Plastic bags and film products cannot be recycled in a bin. You can collect them and bring them with you to a participating retailer that accepts plastic film products. Grocery stores often have these bins in the bottle redemption area or entryway.

Stop Purchasing Single-Use Plastics

Single-use plastics like water bottles and small yogurt containers create a lot of plastic that may not get recycled properly. They could blow out of your bin on a windy day and end up in a nearby stream or ditch. Instead, purchase reusable water bottles and fill them at home, work, or school. Purchase a larger tub of yogurt and make parfaits in reusable containers.

Stop Putting Anything With a Recycle Symbol in Your Bin

While something might have a recycle symbol, it doesn’t mean it can be recycled. Always check the list of recyclables accepted by your area’s facility and stick to that guide.

Stop Throwing Away or Recycling Items Others Would Find Valuable

If you have items that others could use, give them away. It’s better to rehome things than add to the waste and recycling stream. For example, you may not need the plastic egg cartons,  but a local farmer may need them. 

How Can You Find the Resources You Need?

Look up your trash hauler’s website. A list of things you can and cannot recycle is in there. This can get tricky if you live in one county, but your hauler is from another county. There’s no guarantee the trash and recyclables go to the same processing facility. Call and ask where your trash and recyclables go to get an accurate list.

Recycle Nation has an online guide to help you find where to recycle items. Enter your ZIP code, the item you want to recycle, and submit that. A list of nearby recycling centers, their hours, their location, and contact information appears.