Recycling For Dummies
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Recycling is a commendable action that shows you care about the environment and are working to improve it. Yet there are many ways you can improve your recycling habits, raise recycling rates, help build a strong recycling economy, and secure the future of all the recyclables you so diligently put in your bin.

This Cheat Sheet gives you some tools to get you started.

A few essential recycling tips

Whether you’re experienced at recycling or just getting started, there are several key practices worth checking to ensure your recycling skills are on track. Here are the top things you can do to start recycling better today:

  • Stop wishcycling. It’s commendable that you want to recycle as much as you can, but putting everything into the recycling bin in the hope that it will get recycled isn’t the right approach. It’s much better to know your local rules and stick to them, even if this means some items will be sent to a landfill. This reduces contamination of the items that can be recycled, so they’re more likely to be made into new products.
  • Leave items loose unless specifically instructed by your local government. This means don’t put your recyclables into a plastic bag; keep them loose in the recycling bin.
  • Keep things clean. The most important thing is to remove any leftover liquids or foods that can contaminate other recyclables. You might need to give the item a quick rinse. But if it’s full of sticky honey or mayonnaise, give it a more thorough wash.
  • Get to know your local recycling rules. It can be frustrating that rules vary so much from one place to another, but there are often good reasons for this. Sticking to the rules in your area will help reduce contamination and ensure your recyclables actually get recycled.

Cutting contamination for successful recycling

When it comes to minimizing contamination in recycling, you’re the first line of defense. Anything that doesn’t belong in your curbside recycling bin can cause issues at the plant or result in recyclables being sent to landfill.

Most curbside recycling services accept only paper, glass, certain plastics, and metal packaging. So, keep the following items out of your curbside recycling bin:

  • Food waste: Food is a large contributor to climate change as it emits methane in landfills, so finding ways to reduce your food waste is a great idea. Any remaining food waste can be composted either commercially or at home.
  • Soft plastics: These plastics can be scrunched into a ball, like plastic bags, bubble wrap, pasta packets, or the plastic wrapping on a case of soda bottles. They don’t belong in your curbside recycling bin; they must be taken to specialist recycling drop-off points. Be on the lookout as some locations are testing curbside initiatives to collect soft plastics.
  • Tangling items: These basically include anything that can wrap around machinery parts, including ropes, garden hoses, cables, textiles, and clothing.
  • Used tissues or paper towels: In fact, anything with the yuck factor can stay out, like dirty diapers or dog-poop bags.
  • E-waste or WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment): Electronic items with a cord or battery such as a laptop, mobile phone, toaster, or microwave should be taken to a specialist recycler.
  • Batteries: You can recycle your batteries at a specialist location. They don’t belong in your curbside recycling bin or your general waste bin.
  • Light bulbs: Even though they appear to be made from glass, bulbs contain many other materials and don’t belong in your curbside recycling bin. Some can be recycled through specialist recyclers.
  • Household or garage items: Household or garage items like home decor, toys, textiles, rugs, carpets, and appliances usually don’t belong in your curbside bin.
  • Hazardous waste: This needs to be treated carefully so it doesn’t damage the environment. Hazardous waste includes things like paint, wood stains, and other finishes; herbicides; antifreeze; fuel; and medical supplies like hypodermic needles.
  • Bioplastics, biodegradables, and compostable plastics: None of these items can be recycled with standard plastics, so they can’t go in your curbside recycling bin.

Though these rules generally apply everywhere, there are sometimes small differences in particular regions. It’s important to check with your local town or city government and keep up-to-date with the specific rules for your area.

Other ways to reduce waste and lower your impact

Recycling is very important, but it’s also good to do what you can to reduce the waste you create and delay the disposal of items. Here are some great ways you can implement this:

Take care of your things

Look after what you have. Not only will the item last longer, but you could also save money by not having to replace it as frequently.

Find a way to repair it

We live in a throwaway society where things have little value, so when they no longer work, we simply toss them in the bin. Take a moment to assess whether the item you’re throwing away could actually be repaired and continue to be used.

This can also save you some money even if it simply delays the need to replace the item for a little while.

Borrow or rent what you need

Our homes are filled with things we might use only once a year or even less. If you’re in need of a certain item, consider checking if someone can lend it to you, or try renting it. You’ll have a lot less clutter around your home and reduce your impact at the same time.

 Choose secondhand

The principle of recycling is about keeping materials in use. The first step, however, is keeping things in use as they were originally intended before we pull them apart to recycle them.

By choosing to buy secondhand products, you’re keeping these products in use and saving precious energy and resources. Plus, there are some great bargains.

Dispose of things responsibly

When items finally reach their end, it’s important to dispose of them responsibly. Not everything belongs in your curbside recycling bin or your general waste bin.

Some items can be toxic and require special treatment, like batteries and electronic goods. Seek out ways to dispose of your trash responsibly so that it doesn’t negatively affect the environment.

Buying recycled products

The most important thing you can do after you recycle is to buy recycled products. Here’s a list of recycled products you can buy today:

  • Paper towels or napkins
  • Activewear or sportswear
  • Socks
  • Backpacks
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Office paper and stationery
  • Camping gear
  • Kitchen bowls, plates, and cups
  • Razors
  • Toys

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Sarah Winkler is an avid environmentalist with a science and project management background who loves sharing her passion for recycling. She is the creator of Everyday Recycler, an educational website that promotes good recycling behaviors and sustainable purchasing habits.

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