How to Recycle and Why You Should Do It

Why recycling is important and how to get started.

The recycling rate in the United States has increased from less than 7% in 1960 to over 34% in 2015. While the progress is promising, we still have a long way to go. This resource should help get you started so that you can recycle at work, home, and school.

Importance of Recycling

Why should we recycle? It’s a fairly simple concept. When you transform something old into something new, it benefits the environment in a number of ways. Materials and natural resources aren’t wasted. Energy is saved during the manufacturing process. There’s less waste going to landfills. Not to mention, it helps keep wildlife safe.

Recycling also helps create well-paying jobs. A study in 2016 found that recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for 757,000 jobs.

We can all make a difference by practicing proper recycling. As the County of Arlington Virginia Trash and Recycling site says, “Recyclables are collected locally, but impacted globally.”

How to Recycle

The main barrier to recycling is understanding the process. That means knowing where and what to recycle. Each city has their own regulations and processes for recycling. Make sure you do your research.

Where to Recycle

There are a number of places that you can set-up for easy recycling. Your home will be based on local city regulations.

Check with their recycling department to find out things like:

  • What type of container should you use?
  • When and how are materials collected?
  • Which items are accepted?
  • Do you need to schedule a special pickup (e-waste or metals)?
  • Are there any specifics that would prevent your items from being recycled?

You may also want to browse the most extensive recycling database in North America. Enter the item you’d like to recycle and your zip code to find nearby drop-off centers. Knowing your recycling options can reduce stress and increase the likelihood of follow-through.

What to Recycle

There are few materials that cannot be recycled. The most common recyclables include paper, batteries, plastics, and glass.

Paper

According to the latest data from the EPA, paper products make up the largest percentage (26%) of all waste materials in the United States. This is an upward trend that can continue to improve. Make sure to keep magazines, cardboard boxes, and mail out of the trash.

Plastic

Progress on plastic recycling has been slow in the United States. Back in 1970 less than 1% of plastic waste was recycled, and that number 45 years later was only 9%. Plastic places an added stressor on landfills as it can take anywhere from five to 600 years to break down.

Glass

Only 1% of glass in the United States was recycled in 1970. That number slowly increased to 26% in 2015. Now, it presents an opportunity for additional growth. You may have jam jars, dressing containers, or drink bottles that can all be rinsed and recycled.

Metals

You can recycle those soup cans, soda cans, and even aluminum foil! Make sure to clean off any food particles before you toss it in the recycle bin. Americans currently discard about 2.7 million tons of aluminum each year and only about 50% is recycled.

Batteries

Did you know that car batteries are the most recycled product in America? They aren’t the only type of battery that you can recycle. Determine what type of battery you have and find a recycling location.

Electronics

A United Nations study reported that globally, only 20% of e-waste was recycled in 2016. This e-waste includes consumer electronics including: laptops, mobile phones, and TVs. These products can contain toxic substances, so disposing of them properly is even more important for the planet.

Tips For Recycling

Even masters of recycling can find room for improvement. Here are some tips to recycle more efficiently and effectively. 

  • Make sure it’s clean! One single dirty product can contaminate an entire bale. It can ultimately cause recyclable items to get redirected into a landfill.
  • Flatten cardboard. This will save space in your bin and make room for more recycling.
  • Set up designated recycling containers at home, work, and school.
  • Look for products made out of recycled materials when you shop.
  • Identify which types of plastic your building and neighborhood will accept.
  • Before you recycle, think about reducing your waste and re-using items in a new way.
  • Local artists and schools might be able to use your materials for their work and classes.
  • Spread the word! Encourage others to recycle with you.

Want to learn more? Read about the environmental impact of aluminum — and why it’s still better than plastic, here.