What Can I Recycle?

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When it comes to recycling, many Americans fall short of goals to keep unnecessary items out of landfills. It can be confusing to know exactly what can and cannot be recycled. In celebration of “America Recycles Day,” held on November 15 every year, we’ve compiled this helpful guide of what you can and cannot recycle.

Plastics

Plastic water bottles.

DO: Plastic water bottles and other plastic jugs can absolutely be recycled, but it’s one of the top items that Americans don’t recycle even though they should. Internationally, people buy a million plastic water bottles a minute and only recycle 9 percent of plastic, according to Forbes. The best thing you can do is to invest in a reusable water bottle, but if you must get one to go, make sure to recycle it when it's empty.

DON’T: Single use-plastics, like plastic bags, plastic wrap, plastic plates, and dishware or Styrofoam materials are not recyclable and should be used sparingly.

Metals

DO: Aluminum cans are a popular product that many Americans consume on a regular basis, but the good news is that the soft metal is a very easy material to recycle. Tinfoil and other aluminum food containers are accepted along with your empty soda cans but must be free of food residue, so make sure to wipe and wash before throwing them into the recycling bin. Steel and tin cans are also recyclable and a better option than plastic in the long-run because they require less energy to reuse.

DON’T: E-waste materials like old computers and televisions are often made of metal, however any electronic device that you want to get rid of must be done so through specific e-waste disposal. There are services that will pick up your unwanted scrap metal items like refrigerators or other appliances for free, and some communities have curbside pick-up.

Paper

A stack of newspapers.

DO: Americans are pretty good at recycling newspapers and mixed paper but forget to recycle phone-books and magazines. Glossy materials are fair game as are cereal boxes and cardboard — just make sure they are clean and folded (unfortunately a greasy pizza box is not accepted).

DON’T: Milk and juice containers contain a plastic coating and are not accepted in most community recycling programs and sadly, neither is the take-out paper coffee cup you might grab every morning before work. Any paper coated in something else like plastic or foil is usually non-recyclable.

Glass

DO: Glass is a tricky material to recycle because it depends on municipal restrictions in your community. First things first, check restrictions and if glass is accepted. Make sure to clean out and empty glass jars and beverage containers and remember that mason jars are great for storage.

DON’T: Ceramics, Pyrex, and mirror or window glass are not acceptable. Never try to recycle broken glassware no matter how clean it might be.

There will always be some questions when it comes to recycling and often rules change. Keep in mind that it’s better to throw something in the garbage rather than the recycling bin if you are unsure, as contamination can make recyclable goods useless. Another good rule of thumb? Make reusable containers a part of your daily routine, not just on November 15.