Recycling basics

One of the most important things a person can do to live green, is to follow the time tested practice of recycling. Recycling is easy, extremely helpful, and once you have created a system takes very little time. Here is a basic guide to help you get started on the road to a greener future.


Begin by contacting your recycling center to determine what services they offer as services will vary by location. Some centers will not accept all items; some will take all items but require that you sort the contents, and some will do all the sorting for you. You may also find that the local grocery store will accept items for recycling that your local recycling center may not.

Typical recycle service options:

  • All-in-one pickup – This is the easiest option for the consumer but is not supported my most locations as it can be more time consuming and/or expensive for the recycle center.
  • Pick up sorted – The most common option picks up your recyclables at your home but will require you to sort the times out into major categories such as plastic, glass, etc…
  • Self Service – If you live in an area that requires you to deliver your recyclables it takes a little more effort but is absolutely worth the extra energy.


Because plastic items will take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill, it is one of the most important items to recycle, however, certain types of plastic cannot be recycled, and the different types do not mix very well when being recycled.

  • Easily Recycled – Plastic type #1 and #2 (containers) are accepted in almost all recycling centers, and are very common.
  • Possibly recycled – Some center will accept plastic #4 (bags) and #6 (food trays, egg cartons). Plastic #5 (Yogurt, margarine containers) is one of the least recyclable plastics however some Whole Foods stores will accept them if they have a Preserve Products center. Because of the difficulty in finding a place to recycle #5, try to use plastic #2 when possible.
  • Never Recycled – Plastic #3 and #7 should never be recycled, #7 because it is not efficient enough, #3 because it is contains more toxic materials than any of the others. #3 should be avoided as much as possible for health reasons. Below is a photo of the markers that allow you to tell the plastic types apart.


Things to avoid are laminated paper, cardboard, carbon paper, and stickers. Plastic-lined paper drink cartons (like milk cartons) are acceptable if cleaned. It is ok to have staples in the paper, but plastic wrap or rubber bands are generally not accepted. Newspaper should be stored separately, as it is recycled back into newspaper. Corrugated cardboard is acceptable, however if it is wet or greasy (such as pizza boxes) it cannot be accepted, because of the potential that it will clog the machines.


To sort glass, simply divide it up by color, clear, green, or brown, and separate them into different bins. Lightbulbs, sheet glass, mirrors and pyrex are not recyclable at most recycling stations.


Most of the common metals can be easily recycled. Aluminum cans are accepted, however many centers request that they not be crushed flat. Recyclable Metals Food cans that are cleaned and have had their labels and lids removed are acceptable, and can usually be flattened. Aluminum foil and similar material can be recycled. Things that once held hazardous waste (paint or aerosol cans) can be recycled, but you must leave the label on these so that the recyclers know what they once contained. Copper, bronze, and brass products are all recyclable.


The simplest way to recycle rechargeable batteries and cell phones is to take them to a nearby Office Depot or Radio Shack, who will most likely be able to take them for recycling. It is also possible to call 1-800-8-BATTERY to find a location in your area that will accept rechargeable batteries for free.


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