Just by recycling, we can improve our carbon footprint and make our world a cleaner and greener place. The three R’s of recycling tell us to reduce, reuse and recycle, but there’s more to the rules of recycling than you might think.
Recycling is a way to be more sustainable in your everyday life, but simple slips can turn a well-intentioned task into an eco-friendly error. Using information from Waste Management, the leading provider of comprehensive waste management in North America, we found a few ways you’re probably recycling wrong. Master your recycling game by avoiding these mistakes.
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After using canned goods to make a delicious casserole or instant pot recipe, don’t rush to discard those empty cans into your recycling bin. Although cans are recyclable, they should be cleaned of most food waste before hitting the bin to eliminate the risk of contaminating other recyclables. According to Waste Management, cans don’t need to be spotless, but you should use a spatula or spoon to scoop out any food and wash it with your dishes. And before discarding, be sure each can is dry.
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Just because an item is made out of plastic doesn’t mean it’s recyclable. Plastic bottles, jars, jugs and tubs that have been cleaned fit the bill, but the plastic cups commonly used at parties, for example, do not. In fact, plastic cups are one of the least eco-friendly things you can buy at the grocery store.
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You might think you’re doing your local trashman a favor by placing your recyclables in a plastic bag before throwing them into your recycling bin, but you’re causing more harm than good. If you place your recyclables in a bag to keep your home clean and organized, dump those items straight into the bin on trash day.
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Plastic bags fall under the category of plastic items that should not be recycled. According to Waste Management, plastic bags are not accepted as part of curbside recycling programs. And if they are recycled, plastic bags can get trapped in machinery and threaten worker safety. If you want to make use of the excess plastic bags collected after a trip to the grocery store, bring them with you on your next trip to the store and recycle them there or reuse them.
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According to Waste Management, the plastic containers used to package take-out food or the tasty leftovers from your favorite restaurant should never be recycled. Polystyrene foam — the name of the material used for the containers — is made of non-recyclable materials. The same goes for the plastic to-go cups that hold coffee.
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Even if your plastic sandwich bag contained the best sandwich in the nation, it still shouldn’t make its way to your recycling bin. If your goal is to not be wasteful, wash out the sandwich bag and reuse it for another bready creation.
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Leaving a little milk or juice in a container is bad roommate etiquette that can easily lead to crossing relationship boundaries, but don’t immediately toss the jug into the recycling bin. According to Waste Management, all plastics containing liquids — like milk jugs and juice bottles — should be rinsed and dried with the cap placed back on before being recycled.
We can’t always predict the weather, so when it starts pouring outside and an umbrella is nowhere in sight, using a day-old newspaper to keep you dry might seem like a safe bet. Just don’t recycle it once the rain has done its damage. According to Waste Management, although paper, newspapers and magazines are safe to recycle, paper that is soiled or wet should be composted.
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The acceptance of glass in recycling programs differs based on your jurisdiction, according to Waste Management. Depending on where you live, glass might not be acceptable in your recycling bin. Some communities prefer glass to be placed in a separate box alongside your bin, while others — like those in California, Iowa and Vermont — have “bottle bill” laws, which incentivize recycling by charging a refundable deposit on beverage containers that is returned when bottles are brought to recycling centers. Check beforehand before you recycle.
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Here is a gardening tip and a recycling rule: don’t recycle your old garden hose. Garden hoses are considered “tanglers.” According to Waste Management, “tanglers” can wrap around equipment, threaten the safety of materials recovery facility workers and close down recycling centers. If your garden hose is in a somewhat usable condition, donate it. And if it’s worn and torn, trash it.
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Christmas light displays might be amazingly beautiful, but those lights shouldn’t be recycled after they’ve stopped shining bright. Just like a garden hose, Christmas lights are considered tanglers and detrimental to recycling facilities.
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If you’re a “do it yourself” kind of person who’d rather save a few bucks by working on your own car than taking it to the shop, don’t discard any scrap materials into your recycling bin. Scrap metal, propane cylinders and tires are safety threats that can cause harm if recycled.
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Your life changes when you have children, and changing diapers is part of the job. But those dirty diapers, no matter the material, should never be recycled. A dirty diaper will ruin your entire bin of recyclables, turning it all into trash. Eliminate the risk by putting your child’s diaper in the main trash can.
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Regardless of how outdated you think your wardrobe might be, you should never recycle your clothing. If you’re over your apparel, donate it.
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Not to be confused with the nut that causes food allergies, packing peanuts are the cushioning material used when you order fragile items. According to Waste Management, packing peanuts aren’t recyclable. If you’d like to make the most of the material without wasting it, some stores will take the foamy pieces back for reuse.
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Similar to packing peanuts, bubble wrap should also not be recycled. Instead, save the plastic wrap and reuse it the next time you plan to package and move fragile objects.
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Juice pouches are perfect for your child’s lunchbox, not the recycling bin. According to Waste Management, juice pouches are considered flexible packaging, meaning they’re made from various materials. Toss old juice pouches in the trash.
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Potato chips might be one of the unhealthiest foods at the grocery store, but no one can deny how tasty the snack can be. Just don’t throw the empty bag in your recycling bin. Similar to juice pouches, potato chip bags are flexible packaging made of many materials. Keep these bags in the trash.
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On the list of things you didn’t know you could recycle, aerosol cans are probably at the top. It gets a bit tricky when it comes to aerosol cans, but here’s the bottom line: if the can is made of steel, mixed metal or aluminum, it’s recyclable. If it’s made of multi-material packaging, it isn’t. In order to recycle your aerosol can, it must be emptied and dried. And ditch the cap — it isn’t recyclable whatsoever.
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Cardboard boxes are recyclable, meaning that box containing a yummy pepperoni pizza can be recycled. But if you’re leaving a few leftover crusts or pieces of cheese behind, you’re doing things wrong. Dump the leftover scraps in the trash and flatten the pizza box before placing it in your recycling bin. Recycling old boxes is a home organizing hack that will simplify your life.
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