How To Recycle
We all want to do our part to keep our planet clean for ourselves and for generations to come. In 2022, the EPA estimated that the recycling rate in the US has increased from less than seven percent in 1960 to 32 percent—proof that more and more of us are looking to prioritize sustainability and responsibility in the way we treat waste. However, many people still are looking to learn exactly how to recycle.
Even with this spike, though, the actual process of recycling can be confusing: What can you recycle? What can be picked up with the curbside collection? How should you sort them? What needs to be picked up by specialized recycling programs?
A deep dive of the recycling programs across the country holds the answers.
Understanding Recycling Labels
Recycling labels help us understand what kind of material a product is made of, and how and where it should be properly recycled.
Recyclable materials will be marked by the universal “recycle” symbol: three arrows chasing each other in the shape of a triangle. You may see a few other markings in this “chasing arrows” symbol, each of which has its own meaning.
Plastic products are usually marked with this universal recycling symbol that contains a certain number, between one and seven. The number within the triangle represents the kind of plastic the product is made of—this is important for knowing how to handle it.
- 1: PET
- 2: HDPE
- 3: PVC
- 4: LDPE
- 5: Plastic polypropylene
- 6: Styrene
- 7: Other
We’ll go into the details of how to properly recycle each type of plastic a bit later on.
You may also come across a How2Recycle label, which is the result of a standardized labeling system created by a coalition of businesses who strive for transparency in recycling.
These labels are made up of several components. First, the “chasing arrows” triangle recycling symbol. On How2Recycle labels, these include symbols designed to communicate whether or not the item can be recycled.
An empty triangle means the item can be recycled; a triangle with the phrase “Check Locally” encourages you to check with your local recycling centers to be sure they can take the product; a triangle with the phrase “Store Drop-off” means the product should be taken to a drop-off location for proper disposal; and a triangle with a diagonal line through it represents an item that cannot be recycled.
These labels also break down each part of a product’s packaging, so you can be sure that you are properly disposing of all of it. For instance, a bottle might have a label that tells you how to dispose of the bottle itself, the lid, and the label. This information will be on the very bottom of the image. Right above this you can also find the type of material the product is made of (i.e. foil, paper, cardboard, plastic, etc.)
How to Recycle Paper
Of all the materials recycled in the US, paper is one of the most popular, with nearly 70 percent of paper going to recycling plants in the US. Recycling these products is pretty simple—you can either set it out in your recycling bin for curbside pickup, or take it to a drop-off recycling center—but there are a few guidelines you can follow to make things easier for your local recycling center.
Paper products that can be recycled include:
- Office paper
- Phone books
- Paper with staples
- Envelopes (even those with windows!)
Paper products that can’t be recycled include:
- Wet paper
- Used tissues or other hygiene products
- Toilet paper
- Paper towels
In general, paper that has been contaminated (wet paper, used tissues, etc.) is a no-go for recycling, so be careful to keep it separated. Plus, paper with very short fibers (toilet paper, paper towels, etc.) can not be recycled.
If you have any shredded paper lying around, check with your local recycling center about their rules. Some locales don’t accept any shredded papers, while others will as long as it is placed in a separate, sealed bag.
How to Recycle Cardboard
Nearly all cardboard can be recycled, as long as it is clean and dry. This is because cardboard, and any other products that are contaminated, can lead to issues with the recycling equipment, and render whole bins useless.
If your cardboard gets wet due to rain or a spill, though, it can still be dried out and recycled. That means large boxes, milk cartons, cereal boxes, and other food packaging can be recycled as well, as long as you clear them out.
To recycle your cardboard boxes, first make sure you remove all the contents of the box and any packing materials. Labels can stay on! Then, break down the box so that it is flat, which will save space when transporting and save time at the recycling plant.
Cardboard should be recycled whenever possible. You may be asked to sort your cardboard and recycle along with your paper products, but that exact rule will depend on your municipality.
How to Recycle Pizza Boxes
Clean pizza boxes, like most other cardboard, can be recycled. However, the “clean and dry” rule still applies here— and it rules out pizza boxes and other fast food containers that are too greasy.
In some cases you may be able to compost the greasy parts of the box, and recycle the parts that haven’t been contaminated.
How to Recycle Plastic
If your town prefers that you sort your recycling, you will likely have a bin dedicated specifically to plastics. If not, you can toss your plastics into a shared bin.
You may already be familiar with the seven different types of plastic most commonly used, but you may not know which of those plastics can be recycled, or how to do so for optimal results.
#1: PET Plastic
PET plastic, or #1 plastic, is one of the most common plastics used in packaging, and as a result is one of the most commonly recycled plastics in the world. When recycled, this can be used to create everything from clothing to new bottles. This can be recycled in your normal curbside pickup.
#2: GDPE Plastic
#2 plastic, known as HDPE, is accepted at most recycling centers. This plastic is most commonly used in packaging for detergent, household products, and even piping. This can be recycled by placing them in your curbside collection bin.
#3: PVC Plastic
#3 plastic, or PVC, cannot be recycled with your residential recycling pickup. Instead, you’ll need to contact your local plastics recycling center to schedule a drop-off, or a home pick-up if they offer that service.
#4: LDPE Plastic
When it comes to plastic bags like those you get at the grocery store, those are made of #4 plastic, or low-density polyethylene (LDPE). These bags will likely not be picked up by your curbside collection service, and instead are best recycled at your local grocery stores, which often offer bins for drop-off.
#5: Plastic polypropylene
Plastic polypropylene, or #5 plastic, is extremely common in packaging, and is characterized by its rigid structure; think shampoo bottles and yogurt containers. This plastic can be placed in your curbside pickup bins.
Plastic #6 is known as polystyrene, and is the plastic used in products like disposable cups and cutlery. This can usually be recycled.
#7: Other Plasti
#7 plastic refers to anything that doesn’t fall into the above categories. Many of these can not be recycled at home. One example of a #7 plastic is polylactic acid (PLA) plastic, a bio-based plastic that can be recycled by sending it to a commercial composting facility nearby.
Make sure any plastic, regardless of number, is clean and washed before tossing it into your curbside bin or taking it into a collection site.
Just as with plastic, the way you recycle glass depends on what kind you are dealing with.
Many glass jars and other containers can be recycled with your regular household recycling. You may even have a specific bin for glass recycling, depending on your municipality. Just make sure the glasses are clean of food residue before tossing them in the bin.
Not all glass can be so easily recycled, though. The following can not be:
- Window panes
There may be some exceptions to these rules, though. Some building materials reuse centers will accept used windows and other glass used in construction. Some light bulbs, like those that contain mercury, cannot be disposed of in the household trash, and instead should be taken to a retailer with a drop off center for bulbs.
How to Recycle Aluminum
Did you know that throwing one aluminum can away wastes as much energy as pouring out half of a can’s volume of gasoline? Recycling aluminum is a quick and easy way to do your part to help the environment.
The most commonly recycled aluminum products are aluminum cans, which can be rinsed and tossed into your household recycling bin to be picked up on the street.
You can also recycle other aluminum products, though, like aluminum foil, packaging, and even lawn furniture. When it comes to those bigger items, you’re better off finding your local scrap yard and contacting them to arrange drop off, as your curbside recycling program isn’t likely to take them.
How to Recycle Batteries
It probably comes as no surprise at this point: the correct way to recycle batteries depends on the type of batteries.
Some, like household alkaline AA, AAA, C, or D batteries, do not need to be recycled, and instead can be thrown away with household trash. Others, such as lithium ion or rechargeable batteries need to be more carefully recycled by bringing them to battery recycling centers, retailers with battery takeback services or one of your local household hazardous waste collection programs.
Because some batteries contain metals that can be volatile when improperly handled, it’s important to know when to toss certain batteries in separate bags, or when to tape up batteries to avoid dangerous combinations.
How to Recycle Electronics
When a computer, cell phone, game console, or any other electronic reaches the end of its life, don’t toss it in the trash. The materials used in the production of some devices, like lead, arsenic, and mercury, are seriously harmful to the environment when they make their way into landfills.
To avoid this, take your old electronics, such as old computers and old TVs, to residential electronic waste drop-off spots, or to retailers who offer buyback or recycling programs like Best Buy, Staples, and Goodwill.
How to Recycle Lawn Trimmings
You may think that trimmings from grass, shrubs, flowers, or trees can be recycled along with your other waste, but the fact is that leaving lawn trimmings in landfills has lasting negative effects. If these trimmings break down in a landfill the by-product is methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide. Plus, these trimmings may take up a lot of valuable space in landfills.
Instead of tossing them, call your local yard waste removal service, or turn to composting or grasscycling: leaving grass trimmings on your lawn after you mow.
How to Recycle Tree Debris
For tree debris specifically, your best bet is to contact your composting programs or local yard waste recycling. You may also be able to find a drop-off location in town for trees or branches that have fallen or need to be removed from your property.
How to Recycle C&D Debris
Construction debris includes materials like concrete, asphalt, steel, masonry, and plaster. When you have a lot of any of these leftovers, you can contact your landfill, your local C&D recycling center, or a retailer specializing in collecting and selling recycled materials.
How to Recycle Concrete
The best and most efficient way to recycle concrete is through your local C&D recycling center, or through a recycling company that offers these specific services, like Wall Recycling.
How to Recycle Used Cooking Oil
We all know that we can’t toss used cooking oil in the trash or on the ground, but what’s the best way to recycle it? The good news is you can actually use cooking oil three or four times before you need to get rid of it—just be sure to filter it between uses.
When it is time to throw it out, place it in a sealed container and take it to your local recycling center that accepts used cooking oil.
How to Recycle Metal
Metal is one of the few materials that can make you a little extra cash when you recycle it. Take your clean scrap metal to a scrap yard, where it can be reused. Wall Recycling has a number of scrap yards that offer top dollar for your junk cars and scrap metal. Find a scrap yard near you today!
Do you have scrap metal around your yard or property? Learn about the different types of scrap metal recycling with our scrap metal recycling guide!
CALL WALL RECYCLING IN RALEIGH TODAY!
Looking for a recycling center for any or all of these materials? Wall Recycling has been keeping North Carolina clean with our comprehensive waste management, garbage collection, and recycling services.
Contact us today to learn more about recycling in Raleigh, Durham, Wilmington, Apex, and more locations throughout North Carolina!