Can I recycle that?

Reasons to recycle are both environmental and financial, and the list of recycling rules is long and complicated. Master them by trying three types of thinking.

  • Think like a sorter. When your curbside bin gets emptied, it’s taken to a materials recovery facility to be sorted. Think about items that might cause problems with sorting.
  • Think local. Find out who handles recycling in your community and ask for a list of what can be recycled.
  • Think like an accountant. You can help keep recycling costs low by following the most-wondered-about recycling rules.
  • Mail. With one exception, all mail can go in the bin. Staples and plastic windows get sorted out by the machinery. The exception is magazines wrapped in plastic—that kind of shrink wrap is better handled by supermarkets, which specialize in recycling bags and other plastic “stretch wrap” around food, paper towels and other products.
  • Food containers. Check with your recycler, you may not need to rinse out that empty peanut butter jar or cottage cheese container.
  • Cardboard boxes. The only reason to break them down is to save space in your bin. They will be crushed in the truck that picks them up.
  • Plastic bottle caps. Screw the lid back on, and recycle the bottle and cap.
  • Labels. You don’t need to remove them.
  • Plastic straws. Can be recycled but tend to fall off the conveyor onto the floor, where they get swept up and hauled off to a normal landfill.

The point is to reduce the waste from your home into the world. First, reduce—if you don’t really need to buy something, don’t buy it. Second, reuse—bags and wrapping paper can have more than one life.

Remember, recycling helps our environment but can also reduce the cost of local waste management programs.

Source: Paul Wesslund, NRECA