Recycling 101: Know what to throw

Recycling 101: Know what to throw

recyclingWhen it comes to recycling, do you know what to throw?

A plastic milk jug is recyclable, but an old plastic toy isn’t. The cardboard box from your latest online order can go in your recycling container, but a greasy pizza box shouldn’t. Aluminum cans, yes; aluminum foil, no.

It can seem confusing, but that’s where Recycling Simplified comes in. Republic Services aims to simplify recycling with easy-to-follow tips for consumers.

Consumers are trying to do the right thing by recycling, but they don’t always know what — or how — to recycle. In fact, about one-third of what gets tossed in curbside recycling containers doesn’t belong there. That’s one out of every three items!

Many items are placed in the recycling bin with the hope that they’ll be recycled. This is known as “wish-cycling.” But people sometimes confuse “reuse” with “recycle.” Examples of this include old clothing and shoes, stuffed animals, tools and plastic toys. All of these items could be reused if donated, but they won’t find a new home if you put them in your recycling bin. Take them to a donation box or thrift shop.

So, what does belong in the recycling bin? There are three main categories of recyclables: Paper and cardboard, metal cans including aluminum, and plastic bottles and jugs. With bottles and jugs, leave the caps on or throw them away — they’re too small to recycle by themselves.

Also, recyclables should be empty, clean and dry. Even when an item is recyclable, like a soup can or plastic ketchup bottle, any remaining food or liquid becomes a problem. When those items come into contact with clean recyclables, that leftover chicken noodle soup will saturate otherwise good paper and cardboard. This is known as contamination, and once it happens, perfectly recyclable items become trash and wind up in the landfill — which is what we’re all trying to avoid by recycling.

And don’t bag your recyclables. The sorting process at a recycling center happens quickly, and most of what is bagged or bundled ends up in the garbage because sorters cannot see the contents. Plastic bags also can get tangled in the machinery, causing delays or even damage.

“Many of us want to be better recyclers, but we aren’t sure how or think we don’t have the time,” said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services. “With a few simple steps, we can all do our part to make environmentally responsible choices and help make a positive impact in our community for generations to come.”

Make sure you know how and what to recycle with these simple Do’s and Don’ts from Republic Services:

DO recycle paper products. Clean, dry, flattened cardboard, newspapers and magazines, office paper and mail are accepted. Break down cardboard boxes before putting in your bin and remove any plastic such as the see-through windows in envelopes.

DO recycle empty soda or food cans. Be sure any remaining food or liquid is removed and the can is rinsed and dry.

DO recycle “Empty, Clean, Dry” plastic. You can leave the tops on bottles and jugs.

DO remember, when in doubt, throw it out. If you’re unsure whether an item is recyclable, put it in the trash.

DON’T recycle wet or food-tainted items. A greasy pizza box should go in the trash.

DON’T recycle cans that held hazardous waste. Metal cans that contained paint, oil or any other potentially hazardous waste need special handling. Consult your city or county website for information on hazardous waste disposal.

DON’T recycle yard or food waste. Composting options for tree trimmings and other yard waste may be available in your community, but not via your recycling container.

DON’T bag it. Reuse plastic bags if you can, then return them to grocery stores for commercial processing.

For more quick and easy guidelines to becoming a better recycler, visit