I have had family and friends ask me how they can get started on a zero-waste lifestyle and I tell myself, where not to begin! I try not to overwhelm them so I usually start by telling them about recycling, it is a concept that is well known. However, the technicalities are what makes people hesitate to recycle. What can I recycle? What can I NOT recycle? Having these most frequently asked questions in mind I want to provide examples and sources that describe what can and cannot be recycled.

WHAT

I want to begin with a disclaimer of sorts, in order to recycle appropriately, CLEAN your recyclables before throwing them in the bin! Otherwise, dirty items will contaminate the rest of the recyclables and just end up in the landfill. Before I give specific examples, it is important to double check with your local recycling center for specifics. Items that their facility are not equipped for recycling can cause expensive damages to their equipment. Now without further ado, here is a table that lists what you can, cannot, and maybe recycle. Items under the MAYBE column depend on the materials you’re recycling and your local recycling centers.

YES! RECYCLE NO! MAYBE/DEPENDS
* Paper
* Newspapers
*Magazines
* Card boards
* Boxes
* Clean tin cans
* Clean steel cans
* Clean aluminum
*Plastic bottles/containers #1-7

* Needles
* Broken glass
*Styrofoam, Take-out containers
* Textiles
* Foods, Liquids
* Shredded paper
* Packing material
* Glass
* Plastic grocery bags
* Plastic wrap
* Electronics
* Batteries
* Clothes
* Books
* Gift wrapping paper
(depends if it is laminated & what is made of)
* Burnt out light bulbs

Table 1. List of Recyclables

A special category is that of household hazardous chemicals. Usually, there is a local program that offers waste management for such items. Things that are considered hazardous are as follows: pesticides, paints, solvents, oil filters, aerosol cans that aren’t empty, ammunition, ammonia, antifreeze, and nail polish! Check out this awesome link to search for recycling centers based on your zip code! https://search.earth911.com/

The other category that personally bothers me is furniture that is left stranded in the desert or other inappropriate place. Again, usually there is a city-wide schedule to pick up such items, so you should contact your city’s waste management or recycling centers. I really enjoyed the simple approach to managing old furniture as put by Earth911. Key things to consider are: what is the base material made of metal, wood, or leather? Once you have removed all personal belongings from the furniture you can either donate/sell it or take it to a metal scrap facility (if it is a metal item), or if all else fails then schedule for a bulk waste pick up with your city.

WHERE

Now that you know what you can recycle, logically the next question is where can you recycle. Some stores allow for you to drop off plastic bags & plastic wrap at their locations e.g. Walmart. Other retail stores e.g. Best Buy, Office Depot, and Staples accept laptops, TV, and cell phones. Remember that electronics can leach toxic chemicals into the soil which can reach our water supplies.

Lastly, find out what recycling services are provided by your city, do they pick up with your regular trash? Or do you have to take items to local recycling centers? Do these centers provide pick up services? I do not intend to be so vague in this section but really these questions can only be answered correctly by your local recycling centers.

Resources:

https://www.epa.gov/recycle/frequent-questions-recycling 

https://earth911.com/recycling-center-search-guide

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