Your Recycling Mysteries--Solved!
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 to save space.
Other sources of household aluminum such as clean aluminum foil, clean pie tins, aluminum siding, and the metal frames of aluminum lawn furniture also can be recycled. These items, however, may not be accepted by your local program or may require special handling. Check with your local recycling program.
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. In general, you can include any inserts (yes those stacks of advertisements) delivered with the paper. Office paper can also be recycled into other writing paper, tissue and paper towels. Some local recycling programs are now recycling magazines and catalogs and unwanted "junk" mail. These 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.
For all of your local recycling questions and needs we highly recommend you consult with the outstanding website Earth911.org. This website allows you to look up your local recycling centers/information and learn everything you need to know about the what/how/where of recycling in your area. It's a must use!
Now for the bad news on paper: coated milk cartons, juice boxes, "tetra packs" and any other kind of coated paper cannot be recycled. So buy plastic milk cartons when you can and try to buy drinks and other food items in glass or metal containers that can be recycled.
Plastics are quite confusing. The plastics industry has developed a coding system to help us identify different types of plastic resins used in packaging. Even though they all come in that little icon with the revolving arrows--making us think they are recyclable-- in fact, many types of plastics are not recyclable. 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.
Plastic soda bottles, made from PET and labeled number 1, are recyclable. About 30% of all PET bottles sold are actually recycled. Rinse the bottle, remove the cap and put it in your recycling bin. Plastic milk jugs are also recyclable. The plastic used in milk and and some jugs (high density polyethylene or HDPE) is also recycled to make products such as trash cans and plastic pipe. These containers are coded with the number 2. Your recycling program may also accept other HDPE containers. As with other containers, rinse and flatten them to save space.
Some yogurt (but not all) and other food containers are also recyclable. You have to check the numbers and know your local regulations. Plastic types 3, 4, 5, and can be recycled, but there are not large markets for these materials yet. Typically they are not included in most curb-side programs and should not be thrown in with your normal recycling. But, as always, check with your local centers. Type 7 plastics are typically a mix of different resins and thus cannot be recycled.
Leaves, Grass and Other Yard Debris
Many cities now offer pick up for "green waste"-- grass clippings, dead flowers, branches, etc. The city then piles them with other folks' foliage and voila, makes some delightful mulch. But hey, we've got an even better idea: make your own mulch at home with your own nifty composter! You also get to throw in your food trash (non-meat) and thus reduce further the amount of your trash that goes to the landfill. See our composter selection here.
Batteries-- Dispose of with care!
Many people seem not to know that batteries-- both household and car batteries-- contain very toxic materials that must be treated as hazardous waste. These should NOT be thrown in with your household trash. For household batteries, please store dead ones and then take them to your local hazardous trash dump. This facility will most likely also take your car battery, but if not you can also take a car battery to your auto mechanic and they will dispose of it properly (although they may charge you a small fee.) Rechargable batteries used in cell phone, laptops and other electronics are even worse; you must take them to a hazardous waste disposal facility, or check with your local electronics store.
Again, for local hazardous waste locations, please go to Earth911.org.
Can we talk? Cell phones are now staples of modern American life-- used by over 150M Americans. The phones contain lead and mercury and thus are also dangerous if not disposed of properly.
Computers, Printers, and other Household Electronics
Many computers, printers, monitors and other electronics can be refurbished and/or recycled. First check with your local programs, but also know that Staples has launched an electronics recycling program. You can take your monitors, computers, keyboards and other electronics into Staples stores and they will do the recycling for you according to EPA standards.
Home appliances like refrigerators, air conditioners, and stoves also have to be disposed of carefully. Older refrigeration units often contain Freon, which is a chemical that is harmful to our ozone layer if not drained and disposed of properly.
Compact Fluorescent Lights
CFLs are wonderful energy savers and you should get them-- but they do contain trace amounts of mercury and thus must be disposed of carefully. Please consult your local resources, or check out this great site: LampRecycle.org.
Whew! Whoever thought getting rid of trash could be so complicated!? Well, it's a bit of a pain but we all have to do our part to save our land from becoming a giant trash pit and to reuse the resources that go into producing our every day goods. Thanks for your good green efforts!!
If we missed anything you're curious/interested in, please do let us know!
Jessica Jensen, Co-Founder, Low Impact Living
Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Send us an email at email@example.com and we will try to incorporate it in our newsletters over the next few months.
Individual results of using green products and services listed herein may vary. Low Impact Living, Inc. takes no responsibility for individual results, nor for service providers or products listed on this website.