Seven Ways to Be a Better Recycler

28th April 2012

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Most Americans recycle — but there’s a right and a wrong way to recycle properly.

If you do just one thing to “live green” and care for the environment, chances are it’s recycling. About  three-quarters of people in the U.S. recycle, and the  EPA says  that recycling “generates a host of financial, environmental, and social returns.”

What a lot of folks don’t know, however, is that it takes a little know-how to be a really good recycler. That’s because improper recycling can introduce impurities that gum up the recycling works.

The good news? It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to be a smart recycler. Here are some great tips on how to be a top-notch recycler at your house:

1. If you drink from a plastic bottle, remove the twist-off cap and ring.  They aren’t recyclable. In fact, bottles that arrive at recycling centers with the caps still on often are trashed. It’s too much work for the center’s employees to remove every cap, so do your part and remove them.

2. Don’t recycle anything that has food residue stuck to it.  This goes for  pizza boxes, paper towels, paper plates, and anything you’ve used to mop up a spill. Food waste adds impurities to products made from recycled materials, rendering them useless. Instead of tossing the whole pizza box into the trash, tear off the lid and any part of the box that’s clean, and recycle those.

3. Rinse everything out.  It’s more efficient if the recycling center gets items that have been cleaned, and rinsing prevents your recycling bin from getting stinky and attracting pests. Don’t go crazy with scrubbing; a simple rinse is fine. While you’re at it, peel off any labels, along with as much of the sticky residue as you can.

4. Find out what types of plastic your local recycling center  accepts.  There are many different types of plastics, and not all of them are recyclable everywhere. Look for the number inside the recycling symbol — the three arrows that form a triangle — and make sure you only put the right types into your bin.

5. Pay attention to paper.  Shredded paper  doesn’t have the long fibers needed to make good recycled paper products, so find another use for it instead. Remove brightly colored paper, construction paper, and wax paper from regular white paper. Stick to paper from a notebook or printer. But don’t worry about tearing the little plastic window out of white envelopes — that small bit of plastic won’t hurt the recycling process.

6. Don’t put plastic grocery bags into your recycling bin.  Instead, take a bunch with you next time you go to the store and recycle them there. If there’s not a bin to collect bags, ask the store manager to put one out. Better yet, get some reusable bags and forget about the plastic ones altogether.

7. When in doubt, call your local recycling center.  Every community is different; find out how to maximize the recycling potential of yours.

What are your tips for being a good recycler?

About the Author

Courtney Craig  is an Atlanta-based writer and editor. She believes no effort is too small when it comes to green living, which she blogs about at  The Greenists, a site she co-founded.


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