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Easy Recycling Tips To Help you Understand What Kinds of Materials Can Be Recycled

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In this piece we discuss some recycling tips to do away with wishcycling and go through examples of everyday materials that can be recycled. 

You’ve just finished the last slice of bestest, greasiest pizza. Your tummy is full, your taste buds are oh so happy, and you’re ready to settle down for the evening. BUT where do you put the box? 

Is it recyclable? 

Is it trash? 

It’s cardboard so it should be recycled, but didn’t you hear pizza boxes aren’t recyclable….

Well, if there’s even the possibility it can be recycled, better send it there and someone at the plant will sort it out. 

two whole pizzas inside cardboard pizza boxes.

Photo by Kristina Bratko on Unsplash

Sound familiar? 

What you just did there good friend, is wishcycle. 

Whatcycle? 

No, wishcycle; it’s when you send something to be recycled hoping it will be, but not sure.

In honor of Global Recycling Day, we want to talk about the importance of recycling and share examples of materials that can (and can’t) be recycled. 

Global Recycling Day “was created in 2018 to help recognise, and celebrate, the importance recycling plays in preserving our precious primary resources and securing the future of our planet.” 

Blue bin with white recycle arrow symbol painted on the front.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Recycling can be confusing, which is why we made a landing page you can easily reference when in doubt! 

Because we get it, in the grand scheme of things it can seem like the actions of one person are insignificant. 

And if you get into the comments on TikTok you’ll be met with a myriad of comments that all sound like, ‘what’s the point we’re all going to die anyway.’ Which again, we get it. And we already made a blog about 7 Easy Things You Can Do To Help Ease Your Eco-Anxiety in response. 

But we like to stay a little more positive because we see the impact of people making more sustainable choices everyday! 

Not only does recycling have economic and environmental benefits but “recycling saves over 700 million tonnes in CO2 emissions and this is projected to increase to 1 billion tons by 2030.” 

smoke emitting from smoke stack

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

Economic Benefits of Recycling

  • Millions of jobs are stabilized and created every year by running and upkeep recycling facilities.
  • Entrepreneurs and creative thinkers everywhere are coming up with genius ways to use recycled materials. 
  • The cost of recycling is actually less than the cost of producing and managing waste.

Environmental Benefits of Recycling

  • Prevents items from going to the landfill.
  • Less greenhouse gasses are produced with less items sent to the landfill/incinerator.
  • A well run recycling facility ultimately helps to reduce pollution in oceans, rivers, parks, etc. 
  • Less energy and less materials are used to make items made from recycled materials.

It’s Important to Know What Types of Materials Are Recyclable 

While wishcycling may not seem like such a bad thing, sending unaccepted items to the recycling facilities can contaminate entire loads of perfectly good recyclables and slow down the whole process. 

A pile of colorful plastic bottle screw tops on a beach

Photo by Mark Harpur on Unsplash

What Can Happen When The Wrong Materials Are Sent To Be Recycled 

  • Overly contaminated items are sent to the landfill.
  • Broken glass and other hazardous materials are immediately trashed.
  • One contaminated item can contaminate the entire batch, even if other items are recyclable. 
  • Plastic bags and other flimsy plastic can clog machines and shut them down entirely.

Learn the Recycling Symbols to Make Sure You Know What Materials Can Be Recycled

Rule #1: Just because there’s a recycling symbol on something doesn’t mean it’s recyclable. 

Rule #2: Always check with your city recycling program to confirm what numbers are accepted.

Rule #3: Know what the numbers inside the arrows mean.

#1 — Pet (Polyethylene Terephthalate) 

Most Commonly Recycled

Found In: Water And Juice Bottles, Cooking Oil Bottles, Mouthwash Bottles

#2 — HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) 

Most Commonly Recycled

Found In: Milk Jugs, Toys, Some Plastic Bags, Shampoo Bottles

#3 — PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Not Readily Recyclable

Found In: Plastic Food Wrap, Garden Hoses, Window Frames

#4 — LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) 

Not Accepted in All Curbside Programs

Found In: Bread Bags, Squeeze Bottles, Cling Wrap

#5 — PP (Polypropylene)

Not Accepted in All Curbside Programs

Found In: Cereal Bags, Disposable Diapers, Packing Tape, Yogurt Bottles

#6 — PS (Polystyrene)

Not Readily Recyclable

Found In: What most of us call Styrofoam, accounts for about 35% of U.S. Landfill Material

#7 — Other (Bpa, Polycarbonate And Lexan)

Found In: Baby Bottles, Car Parts, Water Coolers

Recycling Tips To Remember

A human figure drawing drops a piece of trash/recycle into a wire bin

Photo by Gary Chan on Unsplash

Rinse Your Recycles

Small amounts of food can be burned off during the melting process for plastic, glass, and metal but not paper ultimately making the final product usable.

Labels Are Fine

You don’t need to remove labels, the label plus the adhesive on glass, plastic, and metal will get incinerated off. 

No Soggy Cardboard

Soggy or wet paper/cardboard makes it harder on the machines to sort and can contaminate other paper recycles. Wait for your cardboard to dry or put it in the trash. 

Broken Glass = Trash

Broken glass not only poses harm to the employees at the facility but it’s hard for the machines to pick up. It’s best to wrap it up carefully so no sharp edges are exposed and put it in the trash.

Unsure about something? 

Look it up, and if you can’t find a clear answer it’s probably best to put it in the trash

Examples of Materials That CAN Be Recycled 

Person holding reusable grocery bag. Image looks down into the grocery bag which contains apples.

Photo by Alfonso Navarro on Unsplash

  • Bottle Caps — Plastic bottles caps can be left on. Metal caps can clog the machines due to their small size. A way to get past that is to place them in a steel can (soup can), seal it when full, then put them in the recycling bin. Otherwise throw them away or upcycle them with a fun craft.
  • Paper Cartons
  • Metal Cans — Leave the pop tabs on or put them inside the can. You can also save them separately and donate them to organizations. 
  • Plastic Bottles & Jugs
  • Glass — Check with your city for which colors are accepted. Do not recycle broken glass. Wrap it up and put it in the trash. In addition to being hazardous for employees who work at the facility, the entire batch will be trashed because the machines cannot sort the pieces. 
  • Cardboard — Cardboard (and all other paper) should be dry and free from oil or chemicals. Oil specifically interferes with the recycling process and contaminates the new product.
  • Pizza boxes can be recycled with minimal or no oil, otherwise put them in the trash. 
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines

Examples Of Materials That CANNOT Be Recycled 

packing peanuts
  • Straws — Straw plastic (#5) IS technically recyclable but not through curbside programs. You can try to bundle your straws in a larger like-plastic container and take them to a location that accepts #5 plastic. This doesn’t guarantee they will be accepted. 
  • Styrofoam — Polystyrene will not be accepted by a recycling facility and can cause the entire batch to be sent to the landfill. 
  • Packing Peanuts
  • Paper Towels
  • Paper Cups — They often have a plastic lining that doesn’t allow them to break down properly. 
  • Frozen Food Boxes — They’re covered in coating that the machines can’t break down. 

Examples Of Materials That Can Be Recycled But Not With Curbside Programs

plastic shopping bag on a yellow background
  • Plastic Bags — Do not send plastic bags to curbside recycling centers. The thin material gets clogged in the machines and causes them to break down. Either reuse plastic bags or return them to a place that collects them. 
  • E-waste — E-waste contains harmful chemicals that leak into the soil, water, and air, but it also contains materials that can be reused. Do a quick Google search in your area to find places that accept e-waste. 

If you’re unsure if something is recyclable, follow these steps: 

1. Know Your Facility:

Is it a private company or part of a city program ?

2. What Items Do They Accept? 

Look up the number on the bottom and see if your city/recycling program accepts it. 

3. If Your Item Is Clearly Listed, Recycle Away! 

4. If Your Item Is Not Clearly Listed You Have Two Options: 

a. See if there’s another facility nearby you can take it to. Try to collect a lot and take a large bundle at once.

b. As guilty as it may feel, toss it in the trash. 

Recycling helps limit the amount of waste going to a landfill, but we should all try to use less products in general, favoring ones that can biodegrade or be composted at the end of their life.

plastic shopping bag on a yellow background

Photo by Ravin Rau on Unsplash

Upcycling is another great way to keep products out of the landfills. Think of fun crafts you can do, or things around the house you can use these items for. In the end we’re all doing the best we can and advocating for a ~cooler~ future.