If you think about it, recycling is pretty complicated. There are a million different items that might be recyclable, each with its own unique preparation rules and limitations. Oh, and don’t get me started on the different recycling rules per municipality or country.
To make life easier for you, I took it upon myself to write a comprehensive recycling guide about every item imaginable.
This is an ongoing project since there are thousands of things to cover. If you don’t find the item you are looking for, check back later or write me a suggestion.
To find the appropriate recycling guide, click on the material category above!
Table of Contents
How To Recycle Plastic
The first thing to note is that plastics are identified by a number inside the recycling symbol, typically located on the bottom of the container. The numbers range from 1 to 7, each representing a different type of plastic.
This number is called Resin Identification Code or RIC, and its purpose is to help you and the recycling plants correctly sort the plastic waste.
Let’s take a closer look at each type and how to recycle it:
- PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate): This type of plastic is commonly used for water bottles, soda bottles, and food packaging. It is easily recycled and is often made into new bottles or clothing. Make sure to rinse the container and remove any caps or labels before placing it in the recycling bin.
- HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene): HDPE is used for milk jugs, juice bottles, and household cleaners. It is also easily recycled and can be made into new containers, toys, and plastic lumber. Rinse the container and remove any caps before recycling.
- PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): PVC is used for pipes, shower curtains, and vinyl flooring. It is rarely recycled and can release toxic chemicals harmful to humans. Dispose of any PVC products in the garbage bin.
- LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene): LDPE is used for plastic bags, shrink wrap, and six-pack rings. It can be recycled but is not widely accepted in curbside programs. Check with your local recycling center for proper disposal options.
- PP (Polypropylene): PP is used for yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, and straws. While it can be technically recycled, only about 1% does. It can be processed into new containers, furniture, and automotive parts. Rinse the container and remove any caps or labels before recycling.
- PS (Polystyrene): PS is used for foam cups, egg cartons, and packing peanuts. It is not widely accepted for recycling and is often disposed of in landfills. Avoid buying PS products and consider alternatives like paper or reusable containers.
- Other: This category includes all other types of plastic, such as polycarbonate, acrylic, and bioplastics. These plastics are not commonly recycled and should be disposed of properly.
Keep in mind that none of the above input fields are mandatory to fill out. You can use whichever combination of inputs you like.
How To Recycle Paper/Cardboard
Recycling paper is a crucial part of reducing waste and conserving resources. Doing so can save trees, reduce energy usage, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. However, not all paper and cardboard items are recyclable.
Do’s & Don’ts
Most paper products can be recycled, including newspapers, magazines, office paper, cardboard boxes, and paper bags. However, not all are created equal, and it’s important to separate out certain types of it.
The most common non-recyclable items are:
- Paper towels
- Tissue papers
- Waxed papers
These items usually contain impurities and other contaminants that recycling plants can not filter out effectively. Discard them in the garbage bin.
Once you’ve gathered your recyclable paper, it’s crucial to prepare it properly. Here are a few general rules that apply to almost anywhere in the world:
- Remove any non-paper items, such as staples or paper clips.
- Shredded paper should be bagged or contained to prevent it from blowing away during transport.
- The paper must be clean and dry, as wet or contaminated objects can compromise the entire recycling load.
- Do not include any burned product.
- Do not include paper items heavily contaminated with glue.
If you follow the above rules, you’ll make the life of recycling plants and workers much easier, saving them time and resources to keep recycling more material.
While those rules cover 99% of scenarios, I advise you to look up your municipality’s recycling plant website for additional regulations or restrictions. Sadly the process is not standardized.
How To Recycle Metal
While most commonly used metals are abundant in the earth’s crust, it is important to recycle them nonetheless. The main reasons are:
- Metals can be indefinitely recycled without losing quality.
- Obtaining metal through recycling emits way fewer greenhouse gasses.
These characteristics are relatively unique to this type of material, and you should take advantage of that. As if this wasn’t enough to convince you, sorting the metal waste takes a fraction of the time.
No more looking for plastic number codes and scratching your head wondering if this goes in the garbage or the recycling bin.
The process is more standardized, and recycling plants can separate metals more efficiently. Because of that, you don’t really have to do much filtering and sorting yourself.
What To Recycle
Most household everyday metallic objects can be thrown in the recycling bin or dropped off in a scrap yard.
To give you an idea, here are some extremely common items you probably use every day that are recyclable:
- Aluminum Cans (Example: Soda Cans, Beer Cans)
- Aluminum Foil
- Food Trays
- Metal Cans (Example: Been Cans)
- Takeout Containers
If you ever wonder if you can recycle something metallic, think of it like this: Notice how metallic items primarily used for food packaging, sealing, and cooking are the majority of the recyclable waste.
There are more obscure and niche items that are made of metal I’ll slowly include in the guides. So don’t go ahead and throw everything in the recycling bin without first verifying it can actually be processed.
Items Not Meant For The Recycling Bin
Even in metal recycling, there are certain limitations. If you encounter any of the below scenarios, do not discard the item in the recycling bin. You might have to drop it off at a scrap ward or the garbage bin.
Do not discard items in the recycling bin that:
- Are pressurized
- Contain hazardous waste, fluids, or gasses
- Are scarp or have pointy edges
- Contain batteries
- Contain electronics
- Are very heavy
The preparation rules can vary depending on the situation, but typically you only have to make sure:
- The item is clean
- The item is dry
- It doesn’t contain any food residue
- It is not covered in plastic
- There are no electronics present
Additional preparation steps might be necessary depending on the item being recycled and the instructions of your local curbside recycling program.
How To Recycle Glass
This might surprise you, but not all glass is the same. Like any other material in this guide, glass has many variations, each with unique qualities.
But what does that mean for us? Well, the point I am trying to make is not to treat all glass the same when it comes to recycling. Just because something looks like glass doesn’t mean you should throw it in the curbside recycling bin.
What To Recycle
The most common types of glass that you can recycle are glass bottles and jars. Think of beer bottles and transparent kitchen jars you store peanuts.
What Not To
There are quite a few items made of glass that many people confuse for recyclable waste but are not. Here are a few major ones:
- Light Bulbs: Light bulbs of all types (LED, Halogen, Incandescent) can not be recycled by conventional curbside recycling. They contain metallic contaminants and sometimes even hazardous types.
- Pyrex: While it might resemble conventional glass, Pyrex has a very high melting point. It will not melt at the temperature used in the recycling process and will contaminate the batch.
- Glassware: Any glassware made of pyrex, crystal, or tempered glass can not be recycled. All the above categories have wildly different melting points than regular recyclable glass.
- Glass Windows: You cannot recycle windows due to different melting points. They are also tough to dismantle and pose a safety risk to sanitation workers.
- Mirrors: Same reasons as glass windows.
- Car Glass: The composition of car glass is not just glass. It is actually made of multiple layers of plastic and glass stacked together.
- Blue Glass: Otherwise known as Cobalt Glass, it contains cobalt compounds to give it the characteristic blue color. Due to those additives, its melting point differs from conventional recyclable glass.
What About Broken Glass?
The only scenario where you should recycle broken glass is if it originates from glass bottles or jars. Any other broken glass should be discarded carefully.
Since sharp pieces can injure sanitation workers, place the broken glass inside two layers of plastic bags or wrap them in a newspaper. Don’t forget to label the package so workers can easily identify it.
You only have to make sure the items are clean, dry and do not contain anything inside. Depending on your local curbside recycling facility, you might be asked to remove the lids/caps.
How To Recycle Electronics/E-Waste
Since electronics may contain hazardous materials, you should never discard them in the garbage or recycling bin. Instead, drop them off at a Hazardous Waste Program or an E-Waste Drop-Off Location.
Do not worry about preparation. Just make sure you remove the batteries from the device if possible and recycle them separately.
How To Recycle Textiles
Textiles are one of the most overlooked items. While people think they are not recyclable, that is not true. There are many ways you can recycle or reuse your old garments and give them a second chance.
Recycling shouldn’t be your first move when it comes to textiles. A faster and more direct way to contribute is by giving away your unwanted clothing to people in need. Many charities and organizations will gladly accept your donation.
If donating is not an option, you can always repurpose your old garments as a cleaning cloth. Just cut them up into square pieces using a pair of scissors. They can be an excellent free tool to remove dust or clean up liquids.
Last but not least, you can recycle them but not using the curbside bin. Instead, search for a specialized facility near you that accepts textiles. They will shred them, process the fiber and make new clothing.