What Can Be Recycled?

By Staff WriterLast Updated June 24, 2020
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Recycling may be a small thing, but it can still help to protect the environment. Not only does recycling help to keep plastics and other harmful substances out of the ocean and even our drinking supply, but it can also reduce the need for new items to be made with harmful fossil fuels.

A surprising number of household items can be recycled. While you’ll need to check with your local recycling center (which you can find using a convenient locator website, such as this one or this one) to find out what materials they accept, odds are good that at least some form of recycling service exists in your area. And if there is, these are the materials most likely to be accepted.

Plastic

While Americans created 39.9 million tons of plastic waste in 2018, only a bit more than five percent of it was recycled. While this is the case in part because many towns are having difficulty finding places to recycle plastic waste and are burning it instead, that still leaves plenty of room for personal improvement.

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Fortunately, recycling plastic as a consumer doesn’t have to be complicated. Just check with your local recycling company to see what plastic “numbers” they accept, and then check the sides or bottom of the container for a number within a triangle of arrows. If the number is one that’s accepted by your local recycling company (usually Plastics 1 and 2), you’re in luck and should dispose of it appropriately. If it isn’t, however, the plastic is not recyclable and should be disposed of. Plastic items around the house you may want to recycle include empty laundry detergent containers, shampoo bottles, soda bottles, milk jugs and water bottles. Just be sure to rinse out whatever plastic containers you recycle.

Glass

Glass bottles and jars can often be recycled. In fact, there’s a good chance that the ones you have already contain some type of recycled material in them, as it’s often cheaper to recycle it than to create new glass, and unlike plastic, there's no limit on how many times glass can be recycled.

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Weirdly enough, while you might expect the sand glass is made from to be a nearly infinite resource, it actually isn’t. Not only does creating sand tend to burn fossil fuels, but we’re actually running out of sand itself. Now how can that be? Sand is used in everything from concrete to toothpaste, yet not just any kind of sand can be used to make things. Desert sand in particular is heavily eroded and basically useless as a result, while the best sand, which comes from the bottom of rivers and lakes, is in short supply. Consequently, recycling glass is all the more important.

As with plastic, make sure to rinse out glass items before you recycle them, and make sure your recycling center accepts both clear and colored glass. Glass items you may have around the house for recycling include pickle jars, beer and wine bottles, baby food jars, pasta sauce containers and other containers that hold food.

Paper and Cardboard

Cardboard is easy to recycle, and disposing of it properly can make a real difference. One ton of fresh cardboard requires 3 tons of trees to make, meaning you’re saving trees every time you choose to recycle cardboard. Moreover, over half of cardboard collected for recycling goes into making more cardboard boxes, while much of the rest can be used to make paperboard (the stuff cereal boxes are made from) or chipboard (think shoeboxes). It also saves a significant amount of landfill space.

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Most kinds of paper and cardboard are recyclable as long as they aren’t stained by food grease or other substances. While you don’t need to remove tape from boxes, you will want to break them down so that they can be processed properly.

Aluminum, Tin and Other Metals

While many people think to recycle newspapers and plastic water bottles, steel, tin and aluminum products aren’t always at the forefront of their minds. That said, aluminum cans are highly recyclable, and doing so can decrease the need for not only more cans, which are produced by fossil fuels, but also the mining needed to extract aluminum and other metals in the first place.

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Depending on where you live, you may even be able to get money back from recycling centers on any cans you deliver directly to the facility. In addition to aluminum and tin cans, clean aluminum foil and bakeware are also usually recyclable, as is scrap metal.

5. Batteries, Bulbs and Other Gadgets

There are many other items around the house that you can — and should — recycle. Special facilities and services exist for recycling some kinds of lightbulbs, especially compact fluorescent ones, and some cities even legally require them to be disposed of properly.Start with your old light bulbs, particularly compact fluorescent bulbs. In some cities and counties it’s actually illegal to throw them away, so find out where and how to recycle them. Automotive batteries may also need to be recycled depending on where you live, and many auto care businesses can take them off your hands for free.

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Other items around the house that you can recycle and don’t necessarily want to throw away include microwaves, computers, computer accessories, TVs, electronics, thermometers, smoke detectors and large appliances, like refrigerators. Find out if your local recycling center has or can recommend a drop-off location for these items that can do more harm than good if they end up in a landfill.

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