Recycling Basics

Lighten your environmental footprint

Before buying, think about what is going to happen next with the item. How long will you use it? If it's a piece of furniture, is it going to have any value in five or 100 years? If you change your mind, can you sell it or pass it on? Is it designed to be recycled and if so, how? What is the item made of? It's composition will determine how it's reused or recycled.

Chances are you recycle to some extent. Most major metropolitan areas offer recycling services of some sort. Depending on your area and the local markets, some materials may be recyclable while others are not. There may be rules for sorting and categorizing plastics, paper, and separating glass. All of this is dependent on the sophistication of the recycling systems and equipment used.

For many of us, recycling is our contribution to environmental awareness, but it can't be overstated: Recycling is the least potent of the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle trinity. Do as much as you can to reduce consumption and reuse what you have. If you do, by the time you get to the recycle stage, you will have cut your recycling and overall contribution to the landfill significantly.

A special note about hazardous wastes

Never dispose of hazardous materials by flushing down your drains or into storm drains, or by pouring on the ground.

Correctly disposing of hazardous materials protects you, other waste handlers, and the environment from a range of pollutants and toxins. Contact your local garbage collection agency or municipal organization whenever you have questions. They can route you to the appropriate collection point. Many communities hold annual events to collect and dispose of hazardous wastes and that information is often publicized on city websites as well as in the local media.

Hazardous materials include

If you are caught disposing of hazardous materials improperly, you could face a fairly stiff fine.

Recycling what you can

Local recyclers publish what they take and how it should be handled. Read your garbage hauler's or recyclers brochure and don't hesitate to call for more specific information.

The following is a brief list of typical materials and a few recycling solutions:

Material What to do with it?
Aerosol cans Some recycling companies may accept these empty with plastic lids removed. For safety, don't flatten or puncture.
Appliances, Large Old appliances can be repaired or taken apart and moved down the recycling chain. When purchasing a new appliance, vendors will usually haul away the old appliance for recycling.
Appliances, Small Repairing small appliances is becoming very difficult. Everything about our system is geared to replacement. Check with your hauler for disposal of microwaves and other electronics.
Carpets Natural fiber like cotton and wool, coir, and jute can be composted. Or use them in the garden as paths to keep the weeds down.

Nylon carpet can be recycled. If purchasing new carpet, check to see if carpet can be recycled.
Cell phones Frequently old phones still work. Recycle by contributing to an organization that provides these phones to victims of domestic abuse.
CDs and DVDs Repair or recycle. Music CDs or videos can be given to charity or traded at a music/video store.
Clothing Give to a thrift store if usable.
Computer equipment Old equipment needs to be taken apart and stripped. It should not be tossed into the landfill because of the many toxic elements they may contain. Equipment that is not completely obsolete can be given to local organizations that cannibalize systems for working parts to build systems for non-profits, churches, and disadvantaged students.
Food Compost vegetables and fruits if you can. (Dairy, fats, bones, and meats should be put in the garbage.)
Furniture Sell or give to a thrift store. Your castoffs could be Martha Stewart's cool new project.
Glass Most often glass needs to be sorted from other recyclables. Breakage can cause problems for machinery and handlers at many recycling sites. Some areas may still require sorting by color.
Metal Recycle aluminum, steel, and foil easily. Check to see if other metals are accepted.

Some recyclers will accept scrap metal but with caveats. Call to confirm.
Milk, juice, and drink boxes These are may or may not be recyclable in your area. Check for expanded recycling events that offer collection points throughout the year.
Paper Most paper can be recycled as long as it is clean and not contaminated by food or chemicals.

Shred personal papers with sensitive or financial information before recycling. ID thieves continue to become ever more resourceful.
  • Newspaper can be bundled and recycled easily. Service organizations, churches, and schools often have newspaper bins which they sell for needed cash. (Service groups often also collect used phone books.)
  • Cardboard can be flattened and bundled. It needs to be clean though. Sorry, your pizza boxes really are garbage.
  • Magazines are taken by many municipalities. If not, check around for recycling events that will take them.
Plastics Plastics should be marked with an impressed or printed number, usually on the bottom. All plastics are not created equal. Your waste hauler will specify which plastics they will take.
  • Plastic bottles and milk jugs are usually taken
  • Plastic bags may be an issue. Often they will clog machinery.
  • Plastic containers and lids
  • Plastic tubs

The market for various plastics determines what a recycler will take. Despite that limitation, there are often annual events sponsored by the Extension services or other organizations that will take your oddball plastics off your hands.

Some states have bottle recycling, so recycling centers at groceries will take pop bottles and cans and return the deposit you paid when you bought the drinks.
Rechargable batteries Typically these batteries can be recycled. Check with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation for information.
Styrofoam Reuse styrofoam peanuts for packing or check with a local pack and ship store. They will often take them off your hands. Large pieces are not typically accepted by your waste hauler, but service organizations may sponsor annual collections.


Make recycling easier for yourself. A carpenter can build a recycling shed with space for bins and garbage in an afternoon. For a seasoned pro, ContractorNexus can help.

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