If you’re having a hard time figuring out what you can and can’t throw away in the recycling bin, check out this list made by Waste Management of what is actually recyclable*:
Do you think of your empty soda cans and food cans as a natural resource? They are. Americans currently discard about 2.7 million tons of aluminum each year. Of that, about 50 percent is recycled. Apart from the economic impact, the environmental savings of recycling metal are enormous. Recycling steel and tin cans, for example, saves 74% of the energy used to produce them.
Aluminum cans: An aluminum can is able to be returned to the shelf, as a new can, as quickly as 60 days after it's put into your recycling container.
Aluminum foil and bakeware: Unlike aluminum cans, foil may have food particles attached, making it harder for recycling facilities to accept. But foil is easy to wipe clean. So reuse it as much as you can, and clean it off before putting it in the recycling bin. Consider buying 100% recycled aluminum foil. You'll be supporting a process that uses five percent less energy than the traditional aluminum foil manufacturing process.
Steel cans and tin cans (soup cans, veggie cans, coffee cans, etc): Recycling steel saves at least 75% of the energy it would take to create steel from raw materials. That's enough energy to power 18 million homes.
Most of us use a paper product every day. That's because paper products make up about 71 million tons (or 29 percent) of the municipal waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The good news is that more and more Americans are recycling paper. In fact, upwards of 63 percent (45 million tons) is recycled annually. When you break that number down by population, roughly 334 pounds of paper is recycled for every person in the United States.
Office paper: High-grade papers, such as white computer paper, bond, and letterhead, can be turned back into office paper if it's kept separate from other waste paper. It can also be used to produce tissue paper, paperboard, stationery, magazines and other paper products.
Newspapers: Recycled newspapers can be made into cereal boxes, egg cartons, pencil barrels, grocery bags, tissue paper and many other products, including new newspapers.
Paperboard: Recycled paperboard is made from 100 percent recovered fiber, which may include newspaper, magazines, corrugated boxboard, paperboard folding cartons, and telephone books. Be sure the paperboard you have is clean and free of food waste. Then recycle it.
Paper cardboard dairy and juice cartons: America consumes enormous quantities of milk and juice, requiring tremendous outlays of energy to produce, ship and landfill the cartons. Only a fraction of these are recycled.
Unsolicited direct mail: You may think of it as "junk mail," or you may welcome the flyers, catalogs, and coupons that appear in your mailbox. Either way, it's important to recycle them.
Phone books: The pages in a phone book are 100% recyclable and are often used to make new phone books. By recycling just 500 books, we could save between 17 and 31 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 587 pounds of air pollution, 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space and 4,077 kilowatt hours of energy according to the American Forest & Paper Association.
Corrugated cardboard: When recycled, cardboard is used to make chipboard like cereal boxes, paperboard, paper towels, tissues and printing or writing paper. It's also made into more corrugated cardboard.
Magazines: Some consumers think glossy paper can't be recycled. That may have been true in the early days of recycling, but no longer. With today's recycling technology, nearly all community recycling programs accept glossy magazines and catalogs for recycling.
Most glass bottles and jars produced in the United States now contain at least 27% recycled glass - which also saves on energy to produce glass made from new materials. Some glass cannot be made into other products, or doing so is not economically feasible. If your local recycler doesn’t participate in glass recycling, it’s due to the market for that glass being very small or non-existent. However, if glass recycling is available, it’s important to keep in mind as you recycle that even small amounts of some materials mixed in can contaminate entire loads. Find out more about the types of glass and how they are recycled below.
What not to recycle: Not all glass can be recycled. The following items should not be placed into your recycling bin:
Clear (flint) glass: About 61% of glass containers produced in this country are clear. Clear glass is sometimes used for beverages. More often, it's used to package solids or thick liquids, such as pasta sauce, that may not be sensitive to light.
Brown (amber) glass: About 31% of glass containers produced in this country are brown in color. To produce brown glass, the manufacturer adds nickel, sulfur and carbon to molten glass. It is the most common color used for beer bottles.
Green (emerald) glass: Green glass helps keep sunlight and temperature from affecting the contents, which explains why it is often used in the manufacture of wine bottles.
More about recycling glass: Some curbside programs and recycling centers take only certain colors of glass. That's because manufacturers who buy the glass have to maintain the integrity of the color when producing new glass.
- Any glass contaminated with stones, dirt, and food waste
- Ceramics, such as dishware, ovenware, and decorative items.
- Heat-resistant glass, such as Pyrex.
- Mixed colors of broken glass.
- Mirror or window glass.
- Metal or plastic caps and lids.
- Light bulbs: Find out how to recycle here.
- Cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) found in some televisions and computer monitors. Find out how to recycle here.
Did you know that every year we produce enough plastic film in this country to shrink-wrap Texas? Or that although Americans recycle more than 2.4 billion pounds of plastic each year, it only makes up around 27 percent of the waste stream? While plastic offers the advantages of being flexible and lightweight, it also consumes fossil resources for its manufacture and contributes waste in our environment.
Make sure it’s clean: Does that plastic lunch container still have yesterday's pizza in it? Don't recycle it until it's clean! One dirty product, or one with food waste still in it, can contaminate an entire bale, containing thousands of pounds of collected plastics. This can cause thousands of recyclable items to go to a landfill instead of being recycled. Cleanliness is essential.
What’s accepted? Plastics come in a variety of shapes, colors and chemical formulations - all with different recycling needs. The code number does not mean the plastic can be recycled. It is simply a way to identify the resin, or plastic type. How can you tell what kinds of plastic to put into your recycling bin? The code number on the bottom of your product is not a reliable indicator of whether something can get recycled. Recycle by shape! Bottles, jars, and jugs – is the best way to know what is accepted.
Learn about recycling plastics: Remember to keep dirty containers out of your recycling bin. One partially empty soda bottle in a bale of plastic can spoil the whole load. Plastic grocery and produce sacks are commonly placed in recycle bins. These bags can shut down an entire recycling plant and should be kept out of our recycling bin. Plastic bags are often collected in barrels at grocery stores, and usually end up as plastic lumber. PET plastic is the most common material used for single-use bottled beverages, because it is inexpensive, lightweight, unbreakable and easy to recycle. It takes more than 1.5 million barrels of oil to produce a year's supply of water bottles. That's enough oil to fuel 100,000 cars for a year.
Household and button batteries: If you're using more than about a dozen disposable batteries in a year, you could save money by switching to rechargeables. If you still have old batteries on hand that may have been manufactured before 1997, it's likely they contain mercury. Contact your municipality for information on how to safely recycle them or go here. Button batteries often contain silver, zinc, or other toxins and should be recycled. Check with your municipality or go here.
Rechargeable batteries: Hundreds of products - everything from laptops, PDAs, hair dryers, and cordless tools - are powered by rechargeable batteries. Batteries are usually either nickel-cadmium (nicad), lithium ion, or nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH). All should be recycled to reclaim valuable compounds and to keep toxins out of the environment. To learn more, visit ThinkGreenFromHome.com.
Compact fluorescent bulbs: CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury. If the CFL bulb breaks before it's properly recycled, people can be exposed to this harmful metal. Some states, cities and counties have outlawed putting CFL bulbs in the trash. A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency says that even though fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, using them contributes less mercury to the environment than using regular incandescent bulbs. That's because they use less electricity - and coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of mercury emissions in the air. According to the federal government, if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star-approved CFL, the United States would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars. Recycling programs at the stores that sell CFLs are still relatively uncommon, although that is gradually changing. The EPA is working with CFL manufacturers and major retailers to expand recycling and disposal options. To recycle your CFLs, contact your municipal solid waste agency directly or visit ThinkGreenFromHome.com.
Car batteries: Car batteries are the most recycled product in America. Automotive batteries are also known as lead-acid batteries. A typical car battery is made of 60% lead, nearly all of which can be recycled. Most of it is reused over and over again in new batteries. Your battery probably contains about three pounds of plastic, which can be reclaimed to create new batteries and other products. You can contact your local municipality to find out where to recycle lead-acid batteries.
*Please note that each county has different curbside recycling rules.