The Low Down On Green Living
November 2nd, 2007
It is amazing how confusing recycling can be. It should be easy, right? Unfortunately it is not so clear-cut. We have received many emails from well-meaning folks like you pondering the what/when/how of recycling. We are going to try to sort it all out for you here. According to the EPA today, the US recycles 25% of its trash, when it could recycle 75%! So let’s all pitch in and turn up the volume on our recycling.
The Basics: Glass, Metal, Paper and Plastics
Not all paper, plastics or metal are created equal. We will sift through the issues here. First, glass is completely recyclable and saves precious energy resources. Making products from recycled glass uses less energy than starting from scratch. Recycled glass is made into new beverage bottles, food jars, insulation and other construction materials. So put glass containers in your recycling bin—but be sure to dispose of the caps and lids separately. They are typically not recyclable.
No surprise: aluminum cans are like gold. Aluminum is the most valuable of household recyclables. Aluminum cans are recycled to produce new aluminum cans. By recycling aluminum cans, you are helping to conserve energy. Rinse the cans to prevent attracting insects and crush them if you need to save space.
Other sources of household aluminum such as clean aluminum foil, clean pie ties, aluminum siding, and the frames of alumninum lawn furniture, can also be recycled. These items, however, may not be accepted by your local program or may require special handling. Check with your local recycling program. To find your local recycling resources, we recommend you search the great national recycling database available at Earth911.org.
One important note related to both glass and metal: you do not have to clean the heck out of them before throwing them in your bin. You also don’t have to remove labels. The heat used in the recycling process deals with contaminants easily– and you get to save water!
Newspapers, office paper and junk mail are typically all recyclable. Newspapers are recycled into paperboard, new newsprint, and into insulation. Recycling newspapers saves valuable space in landfills. In general, you can include any inserts (advertisements, comics) originally delivered with the paper. Office paper can be recycled into other writing paper, tissue and towel products. Some local recycling programs are now recycling magazines, catalogs, telephone directories and unwanted “junk” mail. These materials should be handled in the same way as newsprint. But again please check your local services to see how they want paper disposal to be handled.
Sadly, plastics are not as straightforward. The plastics industry has developed a coding system to help us identify different types of plastic resins used in packaging. The codes can be found on the bottom of most plastic containers. These numbers mean very different things– so you need to know what you’re doing.
To read the full story on plastics, and to learn more about recycling the following items, please click here to read our full recycling guide.
- + Leaves, Grass and Other Yard Debris
- + More on the Specifics of Plastics
- + Batteries– Dispose of with care!
- + Cell PhonesComputers, Printers, and other Household Electronics
- + Compact Fluorescent Lights
Thank you for working to do the most you can in recycling!
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