Home recycling requires a trivial amount of time, yet offers substantial benefit to the homeowner as well as the environment. According to the EPA, the national recycling rate is just 30%.
Increasing materials recycling in the US to 60% could save the equivalent of 315 million barrels of oil per year. Recycling is a great way individuals can make a difference, both locally and globally.
Paper and Cardboard
Newspapers should be saved in its own bin, as this material goes directly back into newsprint recycling. Recycling a four-foot stack of newspapers saves the equivalent of one 40-foot fir tree.
Magazines, glossy printed flyers or newspaper inserts, phone books, envelopes, computer paper, old letters, and paper packaging can be saved together in one bin. Staples in paper are acceptable, but remove rubber bands or plastic wrap. Do not include the following in your paper recycling: carbon paper, stickers, cardboard, laminated paper, laminated cardboard.
Plastic-Lined Paper Drink Cartons
Plastic-lined paper drink Cartons are recyclable. Most recycling centers now accept these items; ask locally. Discard fast food wrappers made from plastic, dirty or food-stained paper tissues or napkins.
Corrugated cardboard are highly valued recyclable. Most curb side collectors ask you to bale the cardboard together and tie it with string. Check to see if there are size and weight limits to how much you are allowed to bale together. The most important thing to remember is to keep it dry. Plastic or waxy coated, and wet or greasy cardboard, such as pizza boxes, cannot be recycled because it clogs sorting machines.
Plastic does not break down in landfills, and since it can be recycled to make many diverse products, effort should be made to recycle all plastic waste. To make best use of plastics, consumers should choose the types of plastics that lend themselves most to reuse and recycling options. To learn about the recycling options for different types of plastic, read our article Plastics by the Numbers.
Recycling centers vary in the types of plastic they accept. Check with your local recycling center, and take care to buy plastic goods that are recyclable.
Plastic goods are assigned different numbers to grade them for recycling: #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE) for containers, #4 (LDPE) for bags, #7 for mixed plastics such as polycarbonates that are not recyclable. Almost all recycling centers accept plastics #1 and #2.
Plastic bottles are usually made of #1 PET plastic, a valuable recyclable material. Among many other items, this plastic can be “spun’ into fleece fabric. Tops should be removed before recycling, and put in with your general plastic items. Polycarbonate baby bottles (#7 plastic) are not recyclable. Because it is difficult to clean PET plastic without releasing harmful chemicals, bottles made of PET should not be reused.
Plastic Grocery Bags
Most grocery bags are made of high-density polyethylene, a Type 2 recyclable plastic. Most grocery stores and recycling centers now have bins where customers can drop off used plastic bags for recycling.
Polystyrene (#6) (cups, food trays, egg cartons, etc.) does not biodegrade. Ask if your recycling center accepts polystyrene for recycling; many now accept this material. Try to reduce your use of this material.
Plastic #5 - Polypropylene: One of the Least Recyclable Plastics
Considered one of the safest plastics, #5 plastic is used for packaging items such as yogurt, cottage cheese, margarine and vitamins, and is contained in food wraps and bottle tops. It is one of the least expensive plastics to make. However, the process of recycling plastic #5 is less efficient than other plastics, and the end result has little market value. To avoid the waste associated with #5, choose products packaged with plastic #2 (HDPE). Many companies, especially those selling organic food, have switched to plastic #2, a better (but more expensive) alternative. Alternatively, find out if your community has an All Plastics Recycling program that accepts plastic #5 or set aside your plastic #5 containers for reuse.
Glass is recycled according to color: clear, green and brown. Recycling centers prefer it when glass is separated this way. Collectively, these types of glass are referred to as “container” glass, and widely accepted for recycling. Paper labels can be left on the glass.
Store lightbulbs, sheet glass, mirrors and pyrex separately from bottles, since they have a different composition and melting points, and are not accepted by many recycling centers.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) may be recycled at your local IKEA store.
Aluminum, Steel and Copper
Food cans should be rinsed and have lids and labels removed. It helps if they are flattened, although many new cans are difficult to flatten; they should still be recycled.
Aluminum cans are very valuable as recyclable items. Many recycling centers request they be not crushed flat. Check locally. Aluminum foil and foil packaging are also important to recycle; they are reprocessed into aluminum mechanical components, such as engine parts.
Paint Cans and Aerosol Cans
Paint cans and aerosol cans are recyclable, but are considered hazardous waste and need to be kept separate from other metals. It is important to leave labels on these cans, as recyclers need to know the former contents. Try to return the lids along with empty paint cans.
Copper is one of the most recycled and recyclable of metals. In fact, copper is 100 percent recyclable, as are all its alloys, such as bronze and brass. The recycling of copper requires only 15% of the total energy otherwise consumed in mining, milling, smelting and refining.
Computers, Printers and Hardware
The simplest solution to recycling your old computer is to pass it on. Ask at a local school or put a notice on a community bulletin board offering your computer free for the taking. Many people without a computer will still find use with the word processor and basic programs.
In the US, working computers can be donated to the National Cristina Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides computers to people with disabilities, students at risk, and economically disadvantaged persons. For a small fee, you can have old computer equipment picked up for recycling by HP Recycle. ‘Coupon’ points are available from HP towards future purchases.
HP and other printer manufacturers now also accept used printer cartridges. Many include pre-paid postage and packaging for return shipping when new cartridges are purchased.
To safely erase data on unusable computers and other electronic devices, consider a company like Wisetek, who also recycles all e-waste in their commitment to a circular economy. This company also sells refurbished electronics.
- EcoATM is an automated kiosk located across the US that offers money for used cell phones.
- ECO CELL partners with non-profit associations to gather, refurbish, and resell old and broke cell phones into developing markets seeking cell phone technology.
- Call2Recycle offers no-cost recycling services for cell phones and batteries gathered in the US and Canada.
- Recyclemycell and Go Resell offer cell phone recycling services in Canada.
You can also return the packaging from electronic devices, including cell phones, to some retailers such as London Drugs (if purchased there) and Best Buy, which collects used electronics purchased anywhere at on-site kiosks located in US stores.
"Commingled" Recycling at Home
Some communities are using a new recycling program called “commingling”. Most recyclable items are simply put in one larger container, without sorting. The sorting is done by the recyclers. Tin, aluminum, plastic and all kinds of paper, including newspapers, cardboard and junk mail, can be tossed together in the blue cart.
However, some materials still need special handling. Glass must still be separated by color in paper bags. Most people use the standard recycling blue box for this purpose. Motor oil still should be in a non-glass container with the lid screwed tight and a label that clearly states it is used motor oil. These items are picked up separately from your recycling cart.
Other exceptions include fluorescent light bulbs, styrofoam, electronics and plastic garden pots, which cannot be commingled.
Home Recycling Tips
Visit your local recycling center and find out what materials they accept for recycling. Then set up your bins accordingly. To find the recycling center nearest you, call: 1 800-CLEANUP
Put Storage Bins in Place
The key to a successful home recycling program is the storage bin setup. Once you learn which materials your local recycling center accepts, set up a corresponding storage bin system. The garage is a good place to locate the bins; if using an open carport, the lids will need to be covered to secure the contents from pests and wind. Once your system is set up, recycling is easy!
Use Plastic Bags or Totes
Use plastic bags or totes to store materials for recycling. Paper bags can be leaky and rip easily. Try to use smaller containers, as they will be easier to lift when full.
Label Recycling Bins
Label recycling bins to ensure materials are separated correctly.
Choose Products with the Highest Percentage of "Post-Consumer" Recycled Content
Two types of recycled materials are used in manufacturing products and packaging:
- Pre-Consumer: Which is often referred to as mill scraps recycled internally at manufacturing plants
- Post-Consumer: Which is material returned by consumers, through recycling programs, to the manufacturing process.
Clean Bottles and Tins
Clean bottles and tins before putting in the recycling bin. This prevents flies both at home and the recycling station.
Put a 'No Junk Mail' Sticker on Your Letterbox
You’ll be amazed at how much this reduces your rubbish.
Join the Freecycle™ Movement
The idea is simple: you give away for free what you have and don’t need and you receive for free what you need, but don’t have. This ‘free cycle’ of goods keeps lots of useful stuff out of landfill sites and is about thinking globally and recycling locally. Visit freecycle.org for more information.
Close the Loop: Buy Recycled!
The value of recyclables is driven by market demand. As consumers, we must choose products with recycled content and packaged in recycled materials, so that the materials we recycle are put to use, and markets are sustained.
These products can typically be made with recycled content:
Boxes for foods such as cereal, crackers and cake mix. Bottles containing liquid laundry detergent, dishwashing liquids, shampoos, and household cleaners.
Facial tissue, toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, greeting cards, writing paper and corrugated cardboard shipping boxes.
Coat hangers, desk accessories, storage organizers, patio furniture, playground equipment and toys.
Re-refined motor oil, re-tread tires, rebuilt/re-manufactured parts and used cars.
Hoses, planters and mulch.
Clothing and Accessories
Tennis shoes and hiking boots. Clothing fabric made of recycled plastic bottles.
Carpeting, doormats, roofing, wallboard, paint, insulation, gutters and down spouts, siding and flooring.