Tackling climate change is more urgent than ever, so recycling is something you’re probably keen to do. The more household waste we can keep out of landfills, the more of the earth’s resources we can keep in the ground, and the more we can lower carbon emissions. However, recycling takes some effort to get right: just throwing things in the bin won’t necessarily have a positive impact. Common errors can lead to reusable materials ending up in unsuitable places. Luckily, these mistakes can be avoided with a bit of research.
It’s understandable that at the end of a long day when that peanut butter jar looks a pain to scrub out, you might just throw it in the recycling and hope for the best. Sadly, this will be one more item that ends up in a landfill when it’s being sorted at the recycling center because the food inside would contaminate other items. Adopt the mantra that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Make sure all containers are truly clean.
If there was an award for the most confusing material to recycle, plastic would win. It comes in many forms, and it can be hard to remember which types are recyclable and which ones have to go to the landfill. Instead of buying things and then trying to figure them out later, take a moment beforehand to check whether the product has a recyclable symbol on the pack. If not, leave it on the shelf and choose one that does, if possible. Your future self will thank you for it.
While recycling is one way to try and reduce human impact on the planet, it’s still energy-intensive compared to repurposing things around your home. So when sorting through your household waste, think about how each item could be turned into something you need. For example, plastic milk jugs can be cut down and used as watering cans, soft fruit containers and egg boxes can be turned into seed trays, and cereal boxes can be flattened and stored for a rainy afternoon when the kids want to do some crafting.
You probably know plastic bags are one thing that can’t be recycled, but maybe you reason that at least the items you place inside them will. You’d be wrong: anything inside a plastic bag is going to end up in a landfill, along with the bag itself. So transport your recyclables to the bin some other way, maybe a large cardboard box that can be reused. Or simply remember to take them out of the bag before they go in the bin.
When you’re cleaning quickly, it can be tempting to throw recently washed containers into the bin while they’re still wet. You might tell yourself it’s no big deal, but think again. If nearby cardboard and paper get soggy, they’ll be useless to those who have to try and recycle them. And guess where they’ll end up? That’s right: with all the other trash. It only takes seconds to dry containers thoroughly, but it makes a big difference.
In theory, gift wrap should be easy enough to recycle, but unfortunately, anything with a plastic or glittery coating will be unsalvageable. It’s best to avoid it wherever possible, and if you’re given anything wrapped in it, try repurposing it for kids’ crafting sessions or reusing it the next time you need to wrap a gift.
Used batteries are classed as hazardous waste. While it’s good to recycle them, they contain corrosive materials that can contaminate other waste and cause harm to the ecosystem. To prevent this, take them to a consumer electronics store. Most branches now have a specific recycling bin for batteries, and they don’t care where you bought them.
It can be difficult to know what to do with used cooking oil. Some people assume that just because it’s a liquid, it’s ok to throw it down the drain. What they don’t realize is that oil and fat easily block sewers and harm the environment when they could be put to good use elsewhere. Check with Earth911 to see how to donate your used oil to be recycled into biofuel in your area.
As a general rule, objects smaller than a credit card can’t be placed in your recycling, even if they’re made out of materials that can. This is because they’re liable to either jam the machinery at the recycling plant or fall straight through and end up in a landfill. The exception to this is that lids from many bottles and jars can usually be screwed back on before recycling, but check the rules in your area, first.
It can be frustrating to acknowledge that while your pizza box is made from cardboard, the grease stains mean it can’t be recycled. That broken bottle seems like it could be reprocessed easily, and it’s annoying to have to put it in with your general waste because the pieces are too small. Unfortunately, waste management technology still has a ways to go to catch up with these scenarios. In the meantime, it’s better to try and deal with the world as it is, rather than as it should be. Place only those items you’re sure can be recycled in the recycling bin.