Recycling 101: Here Is What, How, And What Not To Do When Recycling

Want to start recycling? This is what you should know ♻️

Explore in this Article

  1. Why do we need to fix our recycling habits?
  2. What are some basic recycling rules that can help save the planet?
  3. What to recycle? How to recycle correctly?
  4. 5 Unspoken Recycling Basic Rules

Recycling is a good thing, right? After all, recycling does help preserve our environment. But there are some mistakes you might be making while recycling that can actually be harmful to the planet. According to an article published on, 25% of our recyclables are tossed into the wrong bin.

recycling and giving back
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When it comes to recycling, the possibilities are endless. Just about everything can be recycled in one way or another. But there is a bit more to how recycling works, it is more than just putting your waste materials into bins. And recycling done the wrong way can end up hurting our planet even more. To make your recycling easy, we are here to tell you a few recycling rules: what not to recycle, how to recycle, and where to recycle.

Why do we need to fix our recycling habits?

By 2017, Americans generated an average of 4.51 pounds of waste per day. And although we dutifully put recyclables into our recycling bins, most of them actually don’t get recycled, rather they get contaminated with other waste or with unrecyclable items.

Plastic recycling rules
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China has been handling about one-third of the US’s recyclables for decades. US’s contaminated recyclables only contributed to more of China’s waste and waterway pollution. But this scenario changed in 2016 when China introduced its National Sword Policy that imposed a ban on the import of plastics and other materials that are not up to new, more stringent purity standards. Mitch Hedlund, the founder and executive director of Recycle Across America said in a phone interview with “We didn’t clean up our recycling and continued to leave it confusing for the public. So [China] went from purchasing about 30 % of U.S. recycling to purchasing less than 3%.”

recycling bins
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Also, all the contaminated recyclables go through a material recovery facility where people separate and sort through recyclable materials. This process takes time when residents don’t recycle the products properly, and sometimes it gets too dangerous for the facility workers too. In the same article, Tori Carle, a waste reduction supervisor in Greensboro, North Carolina, mentions “Last week, I saw a frame of a bicycle in a recycling can and that large piece of scrap metal could actually fall and hurt someone.”

What are some basic recycling rules that can help save the planet?

recycling rules
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Things that you shouldn’t toss into the recycling bin

The first step to knowing how recycling works is to learn and keep all those unrecyclable things away from the recycling bin. Here are a few recycling basics to know to get your recycling game straight and be a pro in waste management. Below is the list of things that cannot be recycled or don’t get recycled:

1. Bubble Wrap

bubble wrap recycling rules
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One of the most recycling basic rules to remember is if something can be recycled, it is not necessary that it will get recycled. Bubble wrap is usually made from LDPE (low-density polyethylene) film which can tangle in recycling machines. However, there are locations that still accept bubble wraps to recycle. You can find them on Plastic Film Recycling.

2. Aerosol Cans

aerosol cans
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Aerosol cans are used to store everything from food to bathroom products, to paint. What makes aerosol cans difficult to recycle is the potentially hazardous content and pressurized air inside them. However, some cities still accept completely empty cans, so it’s always better to check with your local recycling program.

3. Grocery Bags

plastic grocery bags
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Recycling plastic grocery bags normally has serious consequences, and curbside recycling programs typically don’t accept plastic bags. The safe option is to always carry a tote, or any reusable bags when shopping.

4. Batteries

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Single-use batteries can be recycled, but again, they cannot be recycled in curbside recycling bins. So to recycle single-use batteries, you can find your nearest battery recycling location through a recycling locator.

5. Medical Needles

Needles along with other medical waste go to a hazardous waste facility, not in your green bin.

6. Paper Towels

paper towel rolls
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Paper towels usually contain food or other residues on them which can contaminate other recyclable. Moreover, paper towels are probably already been recycled, and their fibers are too weak to go from the recycling process again.

7. Mirrors

Mirrors are usually hard to recycle. And that’s because of the coating used on them to make them reflective. We suggest donating them, or if the mirror is broken, use them up for some crafts.

8. Clothes Hangers

Plastic hangers aren’t usually made of pure plastic, same as wire hangers aren’t usually made of pure metal. So both types of hangers are not recyclable.

9. Ceramic Dishes

ceramic plates
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Although ceramics are recyclable, more curbside recycling programs don’t accept them. Similarly, Pyrex and other heat-treated glass dishes too are not accepted as they contaminate the entire batch of recycled glass.

10. Clothes

It is always better to donate clothes or send them to your local thrift stores or shelters, not to your recycling bin.

What to recycle? How to recycle correctly?

Now that you have kept unrecyclable items from the recycling bin, let’s see what and how to recycle all the recyclables. You might also be wondering what and how to recycle at home. Having proper waste management at home (waste audit, separate bins for recyclable, etc.) will make it so much easier for you. Do note that things that can’t be recycled at home, need to go to the curbside recycling program.

1. Paper

waste paper
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Did you know that paper can be recycled up to seven times? But not all paper. You can only recycle clean papers, like magazines, or newspapers. Toilet papers, tissues, or any other paper that is contaminated with food and can’t be clean is a big no.

2. Glass Bottles And Jars

recycling rules for glass bottles
Adam Wilson/ Unsplash

Glass bottles and jars are usually accepted in most curbside recycling programs, however, recycling glass containers cost more in terms of sorting and cleaning. How you can help here is clean and wash the glass (while trying to not break it). Remove all wine corks and separate metal caps from your glass containers.

3. Metal Cans

coca cola cans
Alleksana/ Pexels

Metal recycling can happen. You can recycle those soda cans, aluminum foil, soup cans, etc, but remember for metal recycling, you have to clean them thoroughly before you put them into the green bin.

4. Plastic Bags And Bottles

recycling rules for plastic
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According to EcoWatch, almost 75% of the plastic that you send for recycling, ends up in landfills. The best thing to do with plastic bags is to return them to the retailers (or to carry a tote bag when shopping). Plastic bottles can only be recycled if it is totally empty. It is also necessary to learn what types of plastics can be recycled and cannot be recycled. Like plastics like PET and HDPE can be recycled, however, PVC and LDPE usually don’t get recycled.

5 Unspoken Recycling Basic Rules

1. The thumb rule to recycle anything correctly is to know its rules. For example: in the case of plastics, know which type of plastic is recyclable.
2. Know that anything that can be recycled, doesn’t mean it actually gets recycled.
3. Empty, clean, and dry any item before you give it for recycling.
4. All papers and cardboards can’t be recycled just like plastics (just like paper coffee cups are not recyclable).
5. Remove non-recyclable parts like wrappers, lids, liners, etc.

And it’s a wrap on how recycling works. That being said, recycling should be your last resort. We suggest reducing and reusing as much as possible. DIY your unused things or waste into crafts or decor before discarding them, or you can also give them to someone who can use them. And if you are tossing things out for recycling, ensure that they are going to the proper bins or recycling center. If you liked reading about these recycling rules, then you might also like these simple ways you can contribute to Global Recycling Day.

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