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Do You Know What You Should And Shouldn’t Recycle?

Recycling

Since we recently got our first curbside recycling can(!!!), one of my New Year’s resolutions is to make the most of it by recycling as much as I possibly can. To get started on the right foot, I thought it would be a good idea to brush up on what I can and can’t divert put in my recycling bin this year.

Related: 25 Things You Can Recycle You Might Not Know About

While brushing up on recycling guidelines, I learned about a lot of different things I can recycle, both via my curbside recycling program and through dedicated programs run by businesses and other organizations, as well as some things that I never knew I shouldn’t recycle. I thought I’d share those two lists with you today in hopes that it might be beneficial to you with your own recycling efforts in 2022!

Check out my tips for making curbside recycling a little easier in my video at the end of this post.

9 Things You SHOULD Recycle

Recycling

1. Milk Cartons

In the past, recycling centers didn’t have the equipment necessary to process these waxy cartons, but now many recycling centers will happily accept milk cartons, broth and soup boxes, and other waxed paper products.

2. Plastic Bags

Plastic bags can cause jams in standard recycling equipment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recycle them! Just keep them in a a cupboard or drawer until you have a sizable collection, then take them to a local grocery store. Most stores have a dedicated drop-off bins where you can recycle your plastic bags.

Recycling

3. Water Filters

Your local recycling center might not be equipped to handle spent water filters, but many filter manufacturers have their own recycling programs. For information on recycling Brita filters, see the recycling page on their site.

4. Batteries

I put all my used batteries into a small box when I replace them, then when the box is full, I just zip over to the nearest business with a battery recycling box to drop them off (usually the Walgreens in town). Use Earth911’s Recycling Search to find a nearby business or organization that accepts used batteries for recycling.

Recycling

5. Mattresses

Instead of sending your old mattress off to sit in a landfill, find out if the manufacturer of your mattress offers a recycling service. Recycled mattresses can be used to make materials for clothing, foam products, and more.

6. Prescription Drugs

Throwing away or flushing your old, unused prescription drugs can have seriously negative effects on the environment. While drug take-back programs don’t necessarily qualify as “recycling,” it’s far more environmentally friendly to have take your medications to one of these programs, who will safely and properly dispose of them on your behalf.

Use the search utility on the DEA website to locate a disposal location near you.

Recycling

7. Phones, Laptops, Tablets, Etc.

If you have an old iPhone or iPad taking up space in a drawer somewhere, consider returning it to Apple. You can receive Apple Store credit or gift cards for trading in qualified devices, and even if they don’t end up offering you any credit for the device, they’ll still recycle it for free. Get more information about recycling your old Apple devices on their recycling page.

For smartphones, laptop computers, tablets, and other devices generally, most Staples and Best Buy locations offer recycling services—use Earth911’s Recycling Search to find one near you.

8. Christmas Lights

If you’ve been considering upgrading to new Christmas lights, you can send your old ones in to HolidayLEDs or Christmas Light Source to be recycled. In return, you’ll receive a discount coupon so you can get a good deal on new, more energy-efficient lights.

These programs are active year-round, and you can get more information on the HolidayLEDs or Christmas Light Source websites.

Recycling

9. Eyeglasses

You can take your old eyeglasses to be recycled at many major eyewear retailers, including LensCrafters, Sears Optical, and Pearle Vision.

11 Things You SHOULDN’T Recycle

Recycling

1. Ceramics

Unless your recycling center has a program for processing bricks or concrete, they generally won’t be able to accept ceramics like mugs, plates, bowls, etc. If your old ceramics aren’t broken, consider donating them.

2. Glittery Or Metallic Wrapping Paper

Normal wrapping paper can be put in your recycling bin at home, but papers made with foil or glitter may not be accepted. If there is any ribbon or tape left on normal wrapping paper, make sure you remove it before scrunching it up in a ball and putting it in the recycling.

Recycling

3. Spray Bottle Tops

When it comes to spray bottles, the bottle itself is generally recyclable. However, the sprayer mechanism usually has a metal spring inside that could cause problems. Consult your local recycling guidelines to determine if the sprayer can be recycled, and if not, remove the sprayer from the bottle and either put it in the trash or keep it to use on another bottle.

4. Polystyrene Containers

You probably know these containers by the brand name Styrofoam. A lot of restaurants have switched over to compostable food containers, but a lot of places still use polystyrene containers. These containers are technically recyclable, but the programs that accept them are often hard to find.

Recycling

5. Small Items

The problem with small items (even when they are recyclable materials) is that they tend to slip right through the recycling machines and end up in the landfill. In order to make sure those items get recycled, bunch them up together or place them inside other items.

6. Aerosol Cans

Unlike normal food and drink cans, aerosol cans may not be accepted for recycling in your area. Whether they contain whipped cream or hazardous liquid like spray paint, the pressurized air inside the cans makes them difficult to recycle.

Recycling

7. Shrink Sleeves

A lot of store-bought food items have labels called “shrink sleeves” that are perfectly shaped to the bottle or carton. Shrink sleeve labels are not recyclable, so make sure to tear or cut them off your containers before you put them in your recycling bin.

8. Paper Coffee Cups

Even though coffee cups look like paper, they may not be accepted in your recycling bin. Many are made from a combination of paper and plastic to insulate the cups and prevent leaks.

Recycling

9. Broken Glass

Glass is recyclable (though it may not be allowed in your residential recycling bin—check local guidelines to make sure), but broken glass can pose a danger to those who sort materials at recycling centers. If you have broken glass, put it in a paper bag and toss it out rather than recycling it.

10. Dirty Pizza Boxes

If the top of the box is clean of grease, cheese, sauce, or other food residue, you can tear the top off and recycle it. The bottom should be thrown in the garbage. If you’re in any doubt as to whether the top is clean enough, throw it out.

paper towels

11. Paper Towels And Napkins

Paper products such as paper towels, napkins, tissue paper and toilet paper are not recyclable. The paper fibers used to create these products are too small to be recycled again, and most are contaminated anyway. However, the cardboard tube at the center of the roll can (and should) be recycled.

Bonus Tip: For even more information on what to recycle and how, How2Recycle is an excellent resource.

Looking For More Information On Recycling?

  • For general information on what you can recycle and how, How2Recycle is an excellent resource.
  • For specific information about what you can and can’t put into your curbside recycling bin, look them up on your local government website. (If you can’t find your local recycling guidelines online, call your local government offices—they can point you in the right direction.)
  • To find locations near you that collect specific materials for recycling, Earth911’s Recycling Search is a great place to start.

Which item on these lists surprised you the most?

YouTube video
Making recycling easier means we’re more likely to do more of it.

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Bright Ideas

  • For old phones check with your local domestic abuse woman’s shelter to see if they can use them. Even if they don’t have a service they can dial 911.

  • When I started with Dell I started on the printer/toner team. Yes..you can and should recycle your toner cartridges. Dell, Office Depot, HP, Epson…all the big players do it. Just google toner recycling and you should find a local place to drop it off. I know not a lot of folks use printers anymore, but you can recycle new as well as used cartridges as well.

  • I have a state-run recycling center although every town seems to do it differently. I have them on FB and I constantly question them. They have every item listed alphabetically. We can throw regular batteries in trash but not recyclable (which I don’t like anyway.They are e-waste). We can recycle glass jars but take the lids off and recycle them, too. I asked about candles (Yankee) and they will take them, too, as long as the wax is removed. Rigid plastic – you have to bring to the facility. Boxes should be broken up & put into the bin (you’d be surprised how lazy people are!!!) as are paper (think newspapers/mags/junk). We have companies that hold events – paper shredding, e-waste (electronics/electric) for anything requiring a plug and hazardous waste (oil paint is one example). We shouldn’t crush cans (I’m guilty with soda cans) – they need to roll. Dispensing items (whipped cream & such) can be recycled as long as they’re empty. CVS has a bin at the pharmacy to dump old meds/pills – just keep in the bottle and toss it. My city will pick up old furniture, mattresses if you make an app’t. and pay them $18 – it’s free in March & Sept. but make an app’t.
    I’m always checking with them if I have a question and they’re good about responding.
    This state has made new laws – no plastic straws unless you ask for them and plastic bags have been replaced with paper. Since I’m now on paper bag overload, I bring them with me when I’m shopping and recycle them when they get shabby. I’ve switched from paper towels to rags (old wash cloths, t-shirts, etc.) I rarely use a paper towel.
    I’m like another commenter – I have to put out my recycling bin more often than trash.

  • There are artists and crafters who may accept broken pottery, ceramics, and household glass. I found someone in my neighborhood who makes mosaics, and will use all I can provide. I’m not a fan of plastic in general, and especially for food storage, so I use mainly glass and stainless steel. Of course, glass tends to break. It takes FOREVER to break down, and ideally should not go into the landfill. It might take some searching to find a taker. Try craigslist & too good to toss in your area.

  • Before putting used batteries in a bin to be recycled, put tape over the 2 top knobs on all 9Volt batteries. It was a fireman’s home that caught on fire and it was traced back to his bucket of batteries for recycling. The tops can actually start a fire if making the right connection with another battery.

  • Thank you for this information. I have been holding on to my fathers medications who has passed away some time ago not knowing what to do with them. So now I will march my little self on over to my local Walgreens and give it to them. Thank you again.

  • Recycled batteries that are stored while waiting a trip to the battery recycling location should have a piece of electrical tape on each end. Spent batteries can actually still have a small amount of charge and if they are jostled, can spark and cause a fire. I actually read an account of man’s garage destroyed by fire. The fire marshal was able to determine the start of the fire from the box of batteries awaiting the trip to recycling.

  • I’ve been told by my pharmacy to empty all meds into a bag which means taking out any meds in blister packs too. Pharmacies usually take back their own pill containers but not the competition. Some pharmacies will take back shampoo bottles, batteries, etc.

    I’m looking forward to finding a bottle dispensing machine where you put bottles IN and get cash in return, I find holding onto to empty bottles takes up a lot of room though, even if i crunch them down..

  • Ceramics is one I get asked about a lot as well (I am a professional organizer and help people sort through their things). Glad you mentioned this one! The spray nozzle is another great one to point out. I generally tell people to disassemble anything before putting it into the recycling bin, and if it isn’t easy to separate mixed media, then it should go in the trash. Thanks for sharing this!

  • /ill be changing some recycle habits…thx. Note: soft plastic wrappers and bags that we return to the grocery store really amount to a lot; we take,a full bag every 2-3 wks.

  • Great information. It really depends on where you live what can be recycled. In our area we have a big bin on wheel, they take a lot of stuff. Target stores has boxes for old cell phones etc. My work has a station outside for glass recycling.

  • Loved the 25 things to recycle. I too live in a small town. We have no recycling centers. I take mine to the big city i eork in 60 miles away. Im trying to get family members on board with recycling buts its hard when it is easier to just throw it away. Any & all tips woulf be appreciated.

  • I watched a video about old batteries starting a fire because they may still have a tiny bit of power left in them and if their ends touch each other that can spark a fire. The solution is to put a small bit of masking tape over the positive end before throwing them in your recycling container.

  • I live in Brooklyn NY & this city is pretty heavy-duty into all kinds of recycling. Currently we are in the process of rolling out a food waste recycling program for citywide composting of food & garden waste.

    I’ve always sent my old eyeglasses to New Eyes for the Needy, 549 Millburn Ave, Short Hills, NJ, 07078. You can check their website to read up on them.

  • Is it recycling when we us a 20,000 pound truck with 600 Horsepower to roar up and down our streets to collect a pizza box, a Tide bottle and some empty water bottles?

      • My recycle bin always has more in it than my regular garbage can. I recycle anything and everything that is listed on the waste disposal company’s website. Sadly, they no longer recycle glass though. They do take cardboard though, which is awesome because i have a really intimate relationship with Amazon. ;)

    • Unless you burn your trash, another 20000 lb truck will come and haul it off in the trash and then it will lay in the landfill and leach chemicals into the ground for the next hundred years. You got to start someplace.

  • I was told by my phatmacy to make
    ” mud pies ” using unwanted meds, dirt and blue dawn dish soap mix up, making sure meds are completely disolved. Then just toss it in garbage..

    • I was told to mix them with kitty litter but then i heard about how these medications are leaching into the soil and into the water supply.
      Thanks for the DEA website!! I have old meds in my cabinets from 8-10 years ago because i never knew how to dispose of them properly.

  • Most Walgreens have a kiosk for prescription and over-the-counter medications. It’s good to know that Walgreens will take used batteries. I will have to ask if mine take them. I also did not know about the old mattress!

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