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The Rules of Recycling


While you may be eager to start changing your habits in order to save the planet, the recycling game can be a hard one to understand. The guidelines are often confusing at best, with certain items always left to landfills and sets of rules that seem to be constantly changing. But while you’ll have to check with your local recycling center to get into the specifics of your area’s recycling options, there are a few basic do’s and don'ts that apply to the grander scheme. These are some of the most common questions on the industry’s basic policies.

Should I crush the cans? If you have limited space in your home recycling containers, feel free to crush your aluminum items. However, it’s not necessary, and it can even make it harder for plant workers to distinguish them from other items.

Should I keep the caps? There’s been a lot of debate over this small detail in the past, but the rules are slowly shifting. You should definitely check the specifics with your local provider, but the majority of facilities are recommending that you leave the lids from plastic milk jugs and soda bottles on their respective container when you recycle it. And as for beer bottles and other crimped metal bottle caps? Recycle away! They can go right into your aluminum recycling pile.

Should I remove the residue? It’s a resounding “yes!” on this one. Before pitching anything in your bin, make sure to give it a quick rinse (or scrape, for food that’s crusted on). This decreases the chances that food or liquid will contaminate the recycling process.

Should I include electronics? Yes, but not in your everyday recycling! Electronic materials are a hazard to landfills, due to their tendency to leak toxic metals into the environment. So don’t toss your old iPhone or fried circuit board into the trash! Instead, find a R2- or E-Steward-certified source that will responsibly dispose of your e-waste.

Should I handle hazardous items? Things like batteries and fluorescent bulbs are tough on the planet, but they’re not easy to recycle either. Chances are, your local recycling facility won’t have options for these common-yet-harmful household items. So find a partner company that has the resources to help you out. (In the future, consider alternatives like reusable batteries and energy-saving LED lighting.)

Should I put in all of my plastics? While our society is slowly evolving to make all plastics easily recyclable, we’ve not yet reached that point. So certain plastic items, like grocery bags, should never make it to your bin. The majority of plastic material will be marked with a resin identification code (RIC), indicating its type (e.g. 1 (PETE), 2 (HDPE), etc.). So know what your recycling provider will accept, otherwise you run the risk of “contaminating” your entire batch. If your plastics are not recyclable, you may want to rent a dumpster.

Should I toss it in the trash? If you come across an item that can’t be put in your local recycling and you don’t have an alternative eco-friendly option, take a minute to ask yourself if it’s reusable before you throw it away. For ideas on how to repurpose your waste, check out DIY options on sites like Pinterest.

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