How to Recycle

Edited by SatyrTN, Travis Derouin, Richd, Ben Rubenstein and 124 others

Recycling is one means of ensuring that the items we've finished using get returned to the resources pool and either get turned into something else or are cleaned and reused. Recycling helps to conserve raw materials and often helps to save on additional energy that manufacturers would otherwise use in producing new products from scratch. Recycling also reduces the amount of material going into landfills, which is a big bonus given that many countries are fast running out of space for landfill. In addition, recycling can lessen pollution involved in waste disposal and reducing the consumption of raw materials helps to conserve our natural resources.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels motivated to recycle and indeed, it can sometimes seem like a complex undertaking. Yet, coupled with understanding the benefits, once you know how to recycle, you'll realize it's not that hard and it soon becomes second habit. Start by making the commitment to recycling in your household and work your way right through to persuading others of its benefits too.


Make a commitment to recycling as much as you can in your household. Along with reducing your consumption and reusing all that you can, recycling can help to reduce the amount of items going into your garbage each week and will ensure that you're contributing to a sustainable and long-term commitment by many communities across the world to making the most of our resources. By recycling regularly, you show other people that it is possible, a good thing to do and that it makes a difference.
  • If you have children, talk to them about the benefits of recycling. There are excellent books for children on the benefits of recycling, many in the children's environmental section of your local library or bookstore.
  • Start seeing garbage itself as a resource. A lot of garbage that cannot be reused can be recycled or transformed into a brand new object. For example, melted glass becomes new glass containers, tiles, marbles, surfboards and more. Metal items can be transformed into a new car, cookware, more cans and bike parts. Plastic bottles can be turned into a myriad of things, including clothing such as outdoor and ski jackets. Used paper can be turned into new paper and cardboard.
  • Make money from garbage. Some of the items you can recycle can bring you back money! Turning trash into cash is commonly associated with beverage containers but you can also get cash for metals, cell phones, ink cartridges, clothing and other items, depending on where you live and what laws regulate the return of such items.

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    Get involved. Most households in developed country urban areas are now part of a municipal or similar recycling collection scheme. If this is the case for you, you'll already have a grasp on the basics of recycling your household items. However, even here there can be some confusion as to what is recyclable and what is not, as it's not the same across different zones, let alone regions and countries. Much of it is dependent on the availability of local or reasonably near recycling facilities, not something that can be taken for granted. And if you've moved around a bit, you might be surprised to learn that something you could recycle in one place cannot be recycled somewhere else. Basically, read the accompanying information associated with your household recycling collectors, which may be printed on the recycling container, printed in brochures, on the website of the council or collector or at the premises of either place. If you can't find the information anywhere, call the collector direct.
    • Spend a few minutes quickly learning what can and cannot be collected in your recycling location.
    • Follow any instructions that the collector stipulates, such as quickly washing out used cans or removing caps from bottles, etc. Dirty and unsorted recycling slows down the entire process and can present harm to the employees working in the recycling facilities. A little bit of effort on your end can make an enormous difference overall.
    • For items that state that they are recyclable but cannot be collected by your household collector, there are still some options available. The first is to find out if there is a distinct recycling depot somewhere in your area that will take such items direct from you (you could do a regular neighborhood collection to save on dropping-off costs). Second, ask your municipality or collector why they can't take other recyclable products and start campaigning for a change if it seems a desirable change for your area. Don't give up; they need to know that there is interest in collecting your other recyclables. Third, see if the non- collectable items can be reused in some way. For example, clothing that isn't any good for charity can be turned into rags, often a side-function of charities that do collect clothing.
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    Know what can be recycled. Many items are recyclable and over time, more items are added to the list of what can be recycled. Although rejuicing is dependent on your local collection point's capacity and facilities, as a general rule, most of the following items are recyclable but you do need to read the policies relevant in your area:
    • Glass drinking bottles (leave the lids off)
    • Milk cartons and other cartons
    • Paper, including magazines, newspapers, waste office paper and Contact books (Contact books can have a special collection time in some places); and don't forget your greeting cards and cereal boxes
    • Aluminum drink cans; in some places foil trays and foil wrap can be collected, but not all recyclers will collect these latter items
    • Steel food cans (also known as "tins" in some places), paint tins, aerosol containers (minus lids and note not all places accept these), coffee tins, bottle tops and jar lids--how do you know it's steel? Use a magnet. If it sticks to the can, it's steel.
    • Plastics with recyclable symbols on them; usually PET or type 1 plastic and H.D.P.E or type 2 plastic; leave the lids off bottles
    • Some supermarkets collect plastic bags (unless they've been banned completely, in which case, bring your own bags)
    • However, see the next step for exceptions, which can include recyclable products just because there are no practicable recycling facilities in your area.
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    Know what cannot be recycled. Some items can't be recycled for reasons ranging from complexity to hazards. Although technology continues to change all the time (in which case, keep an eye on what new items can be recycled), there are still some items that cannot be recycled. Don't put these into the recycling containers because they create problems and can potentially contaminate the recyclables too. Some of these items include (and this is dependent on your local collector's policies, so be sure to read those thoroughly):
    • Light bulbs (although some places provide drop-off areas for compact fluorescent bulbs, to avoid mercury contamination of the landfill)
    • Plastics without recycling symbols might not be recyclable
    • Drinking glasses, crockery, Pyrex or other oven-proof glass, ceramics
    • Carbon paper, foil wrapping, laminated paper, gift ribbon, gift wrapping
    • Stickers
    • Foil potato chip/crisp bags
    • Aerosols are not accepted by all recycling places
    • Mirrors and window glass
    • Broken glass
    • Items contaminated with food spills such as take out containers and pizza boxes; this can vary according to municipality though
    • Items such as Tetra-paks (wax coated or lined cartons), batteries, paint (tins), oil, polystyrene, tin foil, clothing, etc. may be recyclable depending on what processing plants are in your vicinity. In most cases, these items need separate sorting and often require a specific drop-off rather than being collected from your household; even then, they may not be able to be recycled at all in some areas. yet.
    • If your area doesn't collect milk or drink cartons, reuse them for many home uses including garden use or donate to a school or kindergarten for art projects. Ditto for foam peanuts, polystyrene and clothing.
    • And some things that shouldn't even have to be said but have unfortunately turned up in recycling from time to time--dead animals, medical waste, used diapers (nappies) or sanitary ware, used syringes and unwanted live animals. Adding such items (and in the latter case living beings) is simply irresponsible, cruel or ignorant.
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    Find out what recycling programs or centers exist in your area. If you're not already a part of an organized recycling collection, you may need to look for what opportunities exist in your area, or perhaps you're looking for somewhere that can take those recyclables that your local collector cannot. The internet is the best place to start when looking for recycling programs:
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    Set up your own personal recycling system that works best for your home. Recycling takes up space in the home, so it's important to work out how to deal with this in a way that doesn't impact living area space or create a hazard in any way. There are lots of great options that you can either buy or make to keep recycling sorted and safe within your home before putting it out for collection. Some of your choices may depend on the preferences of the collector--in some areas, mixing recyclables is just fine, while in others, they'll only collect separated recyclables or perhaps only collect different types of recyclables on different weeks. If mixing your recycling is not an option, you'll need some extra sorting space. Some ideas for keeping your recycling at home include:
    • Tubs or pull-out drawers kept under the sink. These could be purchased or custom-made.
    • Bins or other containers kept just outside the door of your kitchen, back door or other exit area.
    • Containers kept in a laundry tub cupboard on the floor, behind a door.
    • Try to use containers that are covered, to avoid the potential for spills, cuts or odors to emanate from the containers while the recycling builds up each week.
    • If your area uses bags rather than boxes for collection, keep the bags in a solid sided container while collecting and simply pull out the bag before collection. Obviously, be careful of any sharp corners on cans, etc.
    • While it can be easy to pile papers up, this can soon become unsightly and if too high, a danger for smaller people and pets if it topples. Try to keep papers in a container or away from any area that people and animals walk, crawl or toddle near.
    • For items that need to be taken to a processing area, designate somewhere such as your garage or a back yard shed or space to allow these to accumulate until there are enough items to take together.
    • Make sure the recycling zone in your home is accessible by all who are able to use it. For paper, keep recycled paper bins near all desks in the home.
    • Obviously, still keep a waste bin for what cannot be reused, restyled or recycled.
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    Be a clean and thoughtful re-user. Before adding some items to recycling, ensure that they're clean. Rinse food or drink residues out of bottles, cans and drink water. Do this at the end of your dish washing, to save water and to benefit from using the suds.
    • Don't add broken glass or sharp items to recycling.
    • Don't add non-recyclable items just because you can't be bothered doing anything else with them. This sends an unhelpful message to recycling authorities that citizens aren't so capable of sorting! Be recycling proud and use common sense about the additions to your recycling.
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    Leave the recycling bins, bags or containers in the appropriate collection area. Honor all the requests about where to leave the collection items or you may find that the collectors won't take them. Be sure to have sorted properly before leaving the items out. If you live in a windy area, ensure that the items cannot blow away down the street; nothing gives recycling a worse reputation than seeing it strewn everywhere.
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    Share the effort. It's a good idea to ask your neighbors if they have items needing to go to a recycling depot so that more goes in the one vehicle trip each time. Be sure to share the effort to drop off such items on a rotational basis, perhaps putting together a chart on a cloud site such as Google Docs or a wikipedia site to share such information and planning.
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    Get active, not frustrated. Recycling can turn somewhat frustrating if you're in a municipality with very strict boundaries on what can and cannot be recycled due to lack of local facilities. And the more hazardous the waste, the harder it can be to recycle, although many facilities are cropping up to deal with batteries, electronics, and the like. However, it is important to find ways to work around such issues, that work for both you and your community. You can lobby for more and better recycling facilities and the more that you nudge and push and show through a demonstration of community support that your area wants better recycling opportunities, the more it's likely that your area will get them and that the recycling will become easier for your community.
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    Help those who disagree with recycling to see its benefits. It is always easier to find holes in commitments to change our practices; it's a natural human reaction. In the case of recycling, there will always be those who inform you ever so seriously that recycling uses too much energy, that recycled products have to travel far distances, etc. Some of their concerns are very valid and true; yet, these concerns need to be raised in a balanced way, by also seeing what is working and by recognizing that the concerns about recycling are constantly being addressed as quickly as technology, resources and knowledge permits. It is far better to be dedicated to getting on with it than to be whining about the futility of it all! Moreover, too much negativity about the value of recycling can be counteracted with solid facts about its benefits, particularly in the areas of job creation, pollution reduction and general community safety. Some of the things you might like to help others to understand about recycling include:
    • The recycling industry is a job creation industry. In the United States alone, the recycling industry creates over one million jobs.[1] Recycling also reduces the need for mining, one of the most dangerous jobs.
    • Recycling conserves timber, water and mineral resources for future generations. That means your children and your grandchildren (most people don't really think past these levels of future generations, so talk about it where it impacts most).
    • Wars are fought over resources; recycling reduces the need for belligerence about resources and helps to show that there is enough to share around with what we already have (coupled with a reduction in consumption).
    • Many recycled products use far less energy to be recycled than it takes for the raw product to be created. For example, recycling aluminum requires 95 percent less energy than making it from raw materials. Recycled steel saves 60 percent of energy, recycled newspaper 40 percent and recycled glass 40 percent.[2] Such savings all outweigh the results of incineration and landfill.
    • Check individual recycling facts relevant to your local area and to your country. These vary widely depending on where you live, so be sure to have the most relevant facts for your area; the closer it is to home, the more the benefits will resonate with those you're seeking to persuade.
    • Stick to the facts and avoid getting emotional. You'll often find there is emotion enough coming from people who are concerned about "too much change" in their approach to everyday lifestyle choices. It is always best to focus on the ease of recycling, the benefits and even showing them end results of recycling.
    • Remember that even if your anti-recycling challenger doesn't seem to care about the positive facts that you're sharing with them, this is no reason for you to give up in despair and join the negative side. Keep up with what you're doing and lead by example.
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    Spread the word. If you have the time, become a champion for recycling by addressing community groups, school children, preschool groups and other interested groups about the values of recycling and how people can make it easier to do. For sessions with children and teens, there are good books and videos that you can use and consider bringing along people from the recycling industry to talk about their role and what they do.
    • Use a blog or a website to promote your own recycling tips and information to help others. Be sure to share tips on Twitter, Facebook and other social media that others can learn from and share around some more. Always keep the messaging positive and active, showing by your own "getting-on-with-it" example.
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    Buy recycled products over non-recycled versions where possible. Help the recycling industry to flourish by preferring the products that come out of it. Some great recycled products you can purchase include:
    • Recycled paper. Select the brands with the highest post-consumer waste (PCW) content. The PCW content refers to how much reused pulp has been used to make the paper as opposed to using trees.
    • Insulation. There are various types of recycled insulation on the market.
    • Clothing. Some brands specialize in turning PET bottles into new outdoor jackets and the like. Look on the labels of the clothing.
    • Pens and pencils.
    • Countertops. Look for great designs that include broken glass pieces--these can look absolutely stunning!
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    Move beyond recycling. Reducing what you use and reusing what you already have matter just as much as recycling and when combined with recycling can make a huge dent in how much ends up in landfill. Any textiles like clothing and the upholstery from furniture can be recycled into household furnishings like throw pillows and quilts with piecework. Wash used stuffing in a tied pillow case before reusing it to stuff toys or pillows, wash all old clothes and textiles before cutting up to make quilts, pillows or other craft projects involving fabric. The scrap bag can take a lot of bulk out of landfills in itself and if you have too many projects finished, they make good gifts that cost only time. This article isn't focused on reduce and reuse actions but to help you learn more, here are some articles to begin with:


  14. Try to avoid making special trips in your car to recycle, as you will be using fuel unnecessarily. Combine it with a trip you are making anyway.
  15. Recycling aluminum is still good despite rumors you might have heard to the contrary. It saves money and energy; that's why they pay you for cans.
  16. It is especially good to recycle Styrofoam because it is a man-made item that does not decompose.
  17. Packing peanuts (plastic loose fill) can often be recycled at local postal services. You can locate one at Try donating them to eBay or other online sellers; they're always in need of more packaging materials!
  18. Don't just think of the normal items you can recycle, do some research and expand it.
  19. Some centers require you to wash items or remove labels or lids. Find out what your center requires before making the trip.
  20. If you're asked to separate, do so as it helps the recycling process immensely. It only takes a few seconds more.
  21. If you are in school or at work where you use a lot of paper and then throw it away, try having a recycling bin under your desk, or a recycling pocket in your file. Make a mental note to put all recyclable paper in there each time you feel like heading for the normal trash bin.
  23. The recycle symbol; always look for it on an item to see if it is recyclable.
    Many states in the US provide small cash rewards for each item recycled, so it's a good idea to save up the items until you have enough to buy something with the rewards.


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