We all want to recycle as much as possible to reduce waste and encourage circularity, but it can be confusing to know what exactly is recyclable as the rules vary from country to country and even city to city. Fortunately, there are a few basic recycling rules that apply no matter where you live.
Clean, empty, and dry
All recycled jars, bottles, and containers should be free of food and beverage remnants and dry. That means no leftover peanut butter smudges or crusty salsa. Goods with food left off them are difficult to recycle and often end up getting tossed into the trash rather than broken down.
Sort and separate
Some cities have single stream recycling which accepts paper, plastic, glass, and metal all in one bin, but most require some degree of separation. Look up your region’s recycling rules and sort accordingly. Keeping different small indoor recycling bins for each material can help with this effort.
Again, different regions have different recycling capabilities, but as a general rule, most will not accept styrofoam, paper towels, tissues, plastic bags (although these are often accepted as special drop off locations), polystyrene, or paper coffee cups. Some areas also don’t accept juice or milk cartons. Read up on what’s prohibited in your city and if your family needs extra help remembering, consider taping a list of no-go items on the front of your recycling bin.
As much as we would like to recycle anything and everything we dispose of, the truth is that many of our everyday items are simply not recyclable. Doing research on your local rules is a great first step to making sure that everything you place in the recycling truly goes get a useful second life. Additionally, scheduling a visit to your local recycling center can help you familiarize yourself with the process and become a more intuitive recycler. If you’re still having trouble, resources like Recycle Coach and Earth911 can help guide you and teach you what to do with tough items like batteries, paint, and cookware.