The concept of recycling isn’t new, but it has changed over the years. You see that infamous triangle symbol and you know it's recyclable. But is it? The truth is many people are not recycling properly.
You might be wondering, “How could I be recycling wrong?” If it has that symbol, it’s recyclable, right?
Every state, district, and town has its own set of recycling guidelines. And if you want to recycle properly, you need to know those guidelines.
That’s why I thought it was best to share some recycling dos and don’ts. Knowing these can help you start recycling better and take care of the planet. Isn’t that the whole purpose behind recycling in the first place?
Let’s break down some of the most common recycling dos and don’ts
DO check your local town’s guidelines
Before you recycle anything, you should check your local town’s guidelines. You can find this list on the town’s website. If they don’t have a list, try your state’s website.
Why is this important? It’s to ensure you’re putting the right items in the recycling bin. If you look at the bottom of any plastic container, you’ll find a number inside the triangle. These are the Resin Identification Codes and they run from 1 through 7.
Many states and/or towns might only be able to accept numbers 1, 2, and 5. While others won’t take 5 at all.
The type of plastic used for items varies. Some are more recyclable than others. Others are harder to break down.
Some towns might accept cartons of milk or juice while others will not. If you want to make sure you’re recycling the best way possible, research your town’s guidelines and follow them.
DON’T assume something is recyclable
Just because it’s made out of plastic doesn’t mean it’s recyclable. This surprises a lot of people, but it’s the truth.
In her book, Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling, Jennie Romer reveals the three things that make something recyclable. They are accessibility, sortability, and end markets.
It’s important to know what’s recyclable and what’s not. That’s why many manufacturers now include those numbers within the triangle symbol. But too often people ignore those numbers. They instead throw all plastic in the recycling bin and that’s the worst thing you can do.
After you study your town’s guidelines, you can better deduce what numbers are acceptable and what ones aren’t. Those that aren’t should go into your trash. If it hurts you to do that, make a point to try and limit buying that specific item in the future.
DO find ways to upcycle or reuse an item if possible
Romer writes in her book that in elementary school we were taught the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
While recycling is the most common practice, the other two are better for the planet. Reduce means to use less and reuse means to use what you have.
In the minimalist lifestyle, there is a popular challenge called the “Use it Up Challenge.” This encourages you to use up what you have before buying something new.
This could be anything from makeup to food and more. Why use it up? Because once the container is empty you can dispose of it properly.
Instead of throwing torn or tattered clothes in the trash, see if you can upcycle them. Turn old tees into rags or sew pieces together to create a fun, funky pattern.
There are some amazing ways you can upcycle old items. Always opt to reduce and reuse over recycling if possible. It won’t always be feasible, but it is possible.
DON’T put everything in the trash
Plastic, glass, aluminum, and steel are not the only items that can be recycled. There are companies dedicated to recycling fabrics, furniture, and hard to recycle plastic.
Before you throw something in the trash, do a little research. Terracycle is a great place to start. They are a waste management company that deals with hard to recycle items. They have free and paid-for recycling options.
USAgain is a textile recycling program. They accept many hard to recycle fabrics and upcycle them into new clothes for third-world countries.
Even Ikea has a take-back program now.
You can also check your local town as they might have their own special recycling programs. Everything from batteries to tires and more.
We’re going to talk about research a little later. I want to stress that knowing what your town offers can greatly reduce the amount of stuff you put in the trash.
DO take the time to recycle things properly
It seems much easier to just throw all plastic into your recycling bin. But the truth is, when you do that, you’re making it harder for the machines to sort through the materials. This is what Romer calls in her book, “wishcycling.”
Wishcycling is not helpful to the cause. As Romer writes, “If there is no buyer, the recyclables are essentially garbage and go to either landfills or incinerators.”
How do you know if you’re wishcycling? Are you putting something in the recycling bin that you wish was recyclable, but know isn’t? Plastic bags for example. Or tiny pieces of plastic. Paper napkins. All of that is NOT recyclable, yet they still end up at recycling facilities.
If you’re not sure if something is recyclable, double-check those guidelines you looked up. If it’s not listed on either the “Accepted” or “Not Accepted” lists, assume it’s trash. Taking those few extra seconds to check won’t get in the way of your day.
DON’T buy single-use items
One of the best ways to avoid figuring out what’s recyclable and what isn’t is to avoid buying single-use items. This is easier said than done, but if you swap out even a few items you’re making a difference.
Instead of buying paper plates, use your ceramic ones more often. Use cloth napkins instead of paper ones. Buy as much food or ingredients in glass, aluminum, or steel over plastic. Those three are endlessly recyclable whereas plastic can only be recycled a few times.
While going completely plastic-free is near impossible (even the best zero-waste families use some plastic), it is possible to make a few minor changes that bring lasting results.
How can you do this? Take a look at what you usually buy. The next time you go shopping, see if there’s an alternative. Can you get the same ingredient in a glass jar or a steel can? Can you buy certain items in bulk rather than individually?
What’s good to know is the larger the plastic, the easier it is to recycle. And the more buyers it will have. The smaller the plastic, the less likely it is going to be recyclable. So challenge yourself next time to avoid as many single-use items as possible.
DO your research
Finally, do your research. While recycling has certainly helped, it is not the only option. We can be responsible consumers and find newer and better ways to reduce the amount of plastic we recycle.
That’s why I encourage you to do research beyond your local town’s guidelines. Read books, follow zero-waste blogs, and watch YouTube videos. There are so many people out there giving sound advice on how to reduce plastic.
On a budget? No problem. Many zero-waste experts can teach you how to limit plastic cheaply. Whatever excuse you have, I’m sure there are options available to show you otherwise. I also recommend reading Jennie Romer’s book. I’ve linked it below. She offers a well-researched look into the recycling industry.
When it comes to recycling, it’s better than nothing. But if we don’t learn to recycle the right way, it won’t matter.
Recycling, while important to preserve our planet, is not the be-all-end-all means. There are far better resources you can turn to for that kind of information. The important thing is to do your part as best as you can.
If you’re not entirely sure how to properly dispose of items you want to get rid of, know that I offer downsizing and donation runs. It can be hard finding the right way to declutter old or worn items. Let me help.
Contact me today and let’s schedule a donation run.
How well do you think you recycle? Do you think the responsibility should be more on the consumer or the manufacturer? What’s something you learned when reading this post?