4Rs Tips for 5.6.2022 – Basic Recycling Rules That Make a Difference

How To Recycle the Right Way: A Question for the Ages

Do you get frustrated trying to figure out your current recycling rules? You’re not alone. I run into this all the time and I’ve made plenty of mistakes, including wishcycling

The confusion over what can and can’t be recycled has led to one of our biggest recycling challenges, wishcycling. The practice of putting things in a recycle bin because we wish for them to be recycled. It isn’t our fault. Recycling has always been confusing.  I always felt like I should at least try and recycle everything. I was wrong.

We have to remember that just because we put something in our bin doesn’t mean it gets recycled. A lot still ends up in landfills.

Confusion reigns over what goes in the bin.

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Basic Rules to Live by When Recycling

Let’s look at some basic rules that apply to recycling these days. Avoiding these mistakes can and will make a difference in your recycling efforts.

  • Wash all recyclables. Food contamination is one of the biggest obstacles to our waste actually getting recycled.
  • No greasy food containers – Grease can cause problems when it lands in recycling. Greasy pizza boxes are a common culprit of this. If there is a lot of grease on your pizza box it’s best to throw it out. Often you can tear off the lid for recycling if it’s not greasy.
  • Plastics – #1 and #2 plastics have the best chance of being recycled in our curbside bins. Almost every recycler on the planet takes them. We need to focus on reducing the use of the other types of plastics that don’t recycle.
  • Caps on or off? – On the bottle. Most recycling systems use sensors that detect larger objects. A bottle cap that is loose has little chance of being detected and recycled, but if it’s on a plastic bottle it likely will.
  • No soft plastics – I did this post on plastic bags and soft plastics back in February you might find helpful. Bottom line, don’t put plastic bags and wrappers into your recycling. No straws! Think of them as soft(er) plastic.
  • No reusables – Food storage containers made to be reused cannot recycle. Same with dishes that are treated ceramic or glass. Basically, if an item wasn’t made to be disposable it doesn’t go in your recycling bin. Try donating it.
  • No disposable coffee cups – Cups made to hold hot liquids have a plastic coating on them so the paper doesn’t dissolve. These coated cups cannot go into recycling.
  • No batteries – Some recycling services might take rechargeable batteries, but generally, all household batteries go to an e-waste drop-off. Most electronics stores, like Best Buy, have e-waste collection bins and many communities regularly hold collection events. However, fewer places take disposable, as opposed to rechargeables which have more value in recovery. Check out this article I wrote for Earth911 for more on Mail-in Recycling Options: Household & Hearing Aid Batteries.
  • No tissue paper, napkins, or paper towels – Clean or dirty, these paper products are made from a refined paper material that cannot be recycled. No matter how clean it is.
  • Window envelopes are okay – Most recycling services have a washing process that removes the plastic window and the glue. It’s best to check with your service and when in doubt remove the plastic window. It will give the paper a better chance of getting recycled.
  • Mixed materials do not recycle well – When a container has cardboard sides and a metal rim, like some coffee cans, there is a slim chance these materials will get separated and recycled. Check with your service to see what they say you should do with them.

In general, recycling systems are the same when it comes to these items, but there are always exceptions. I urge you to check the website of your service provider because every recycling system is different and often changes.

Bookmark and check your recycling service at least once a month.

I swear the information on my provider’s site changes about once a month. There are a few large companies in the US that provide trash and recycling services and mine is one of them. I got so lost on their site when I first went there, once I found it I bookmarked the page that shows specifically what I can put in my bin. When I struggle with how to recycle certain items my provider’s site is the first place I go.

When in doubt, throw it out (or reuse it)

Following these steps can get you started on a path to proper recycling and eventually waste reduction as you begin to realize how little of it can be recycled. The 4Rs post from March 25th on Recycling Done Right gets into more ways you can improve how you recycle.

Why It’s Important – Rethinking Recycling

People around the globe have been trying to recycle for decades, but it can be hard to do when processes are constantly changing and systems are all different. Pile on top of that the fact that we have so many different types of disposable materials in our lives now, it feels like a big chore to recycle correctly. 

If we’re going to build the habits that reduce our impact on the planet, we’re going to have to learn how to manage our waste better. Correctly recycling is just one of the steps, but it should be the last. Reducing and Reusing should come first as we build the mental mindset of waste reduction on our planet. Let’s all work together to stop wasting our resources.

Ways You Can Make A Difference This Year

Check out these 52 ways to celebrate our earth and make a difference from Earth Day.org

Do something fun this spring, sign-up for a  Clean-Up Event. They’re not just for Earth Day! Check the map and search by the dates you have available. Then save the link and look for ongoing ways to help clean up your community. You may find a local organization you want to join and support.

Do you like surveys and quizzes? Try some of these EarthDay.org quizzes to test your Climate Change knowledge.

With Much Gratitude

That’s it for this week. If you like this post, please forward it to every earth-friendly human you know. 

Drop me a line anytime if you have questions or comments. I love hearing from you.

If you would like to support this blog post, please visit my support page where you can make a donation. Every little bit helps me to keep this going.

Thank you for reading these tips and subscribing. Pat yourself on the back for doing your part. Remember, every little bit helps. 

You got this!


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