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Here’s Your Guide to Recycling Properly – Are You Doing It Right?

Morgan Casavant
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Are you recycling correctly? For a lot of us, the answer is “no.” That’s because a lot of us aren’t taught exactly how to recycle, where our waste goes, or what happens to it after we toss it. Most of us simply toss our used plastic salad container in the recycling bin and move on with the day.

So what is the “correct” way to recycle, and why does it even matter? I’m so happy you asked!

Recycling is a bit more complicated than tossing tin, glass, paper, and plastic in a separate bin. It requires a bit of know-how, but once you get the hang of it it’s one of the simplest things you can do to help reduce your waste on our planet!

Let’s quickly talk about the 4 R’s of waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

In this order, recycling is actually the last thing we do in the sequence to reduce our personal footprint. Before you buy anything, first decide if you really need it, then decide how much you actually need, upcycle things you already have, and then recycle properly.

Great! Now that we’ve covered that, let’s talk about recycling.

Learn more about simple conservation tips to save the planet here.
 

Here’s Your Guide to Recycling Properly

Like I mentioned, recycling becomes very simple when you keep some simple things in mind. So let’s get to it.
 
 

Metals

recycling-metal
 
By recycling metals, you can save up to 74% of the energy used to produce them. These products are 100% recyclable, which means that they can be given life as a brand new can on the shelf after you’re finished with them.
 
After you drop your recycling off, the metal is sorted, shredded, washed, and becomes metal chips. Then, the metal is melted down and rolled into sheets for manufacturers to make new products out of.
 
Metal You Can Recycle:

  • Aluminum
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Steel (Tin) Cans
  • Metal Containers (Even empty aerosol cans!)
  • Scrap Metal (Old bakeware, utensils)

 
How to Recycle Metal:
Just make sure you clean your metal, and make sure there are no food scraps left behind. In most regions, you can even leave the paper label on your cans!
 
 

Paper

recycling-newspaper
 
When you recycle paper, it gets sorted at the recycling plant. Most paper is classified as “mixed paper,” and gets shredded. Water is added to the shredded paper to create a pulp which is then used to create new paper products.
 
Milk and juice cartons are a bit different since they do have a thin polyethylene plastic lining. They are also reduced to pulp, but then the polyethylene gets separated to use in energy, furniture, and other products. The remaining paper pulp gets recycled into paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper.
 
Paper You Can Recycle:

  • Cardboard
  • Milk and Juice Cartons
  • Junk Mail
  • Magazines
  • Newspaper
  • Office Paper
  • Phone Books
  • Cereal and Snack Boxes (or any kind of paperboard)

 
How to Recycle Paper:
Make sure your paper is clean and free of oils or stains from food. If you’re recycling shredded paper, send it to the plant in a separate, contained paper bag rather than loose in the recycle bin. You don’t have to remove the plastic window from your junk mail, but it certainly helps!
 

 

Glass

recycling-plant
 
Glass recycling isn’t available everywhere, because it’s a fairly energy-intense process. It’s also very easy to contaminate glass recycling when it’s mixed with other materials (like ceramics). Check your region to see what restrictions there may be, including if your region only accepts certain colors of glass.
 
When glass recycleables are delivered to the recycling plant, it’s broken down into small chips, crushed, sorted, and cleaned. It’s then added to raw glass material and heated to create new products. The recycled glass chips actually help reduce the amount of energy needed in this creation process!
 
Glass You Can Recycle:

  • Clear Glass
  • Amber Glass
  • Green Glass

 
How to Recycle Glass:
Make sure your glass is clean – this is so important. Your glass should be free of stones, dirt, food waste, or any other contaminant. Do not recycle ceramics, heat-resistant glass (like Pyrex), mirrors, windows, or crystals. Make sure to remove any plastic or metal lids.
 
 

Plastic

plastic-landfill
 
When you recycle plastic, it has to be downgraded in quality. This means that the plastic water bottle in your recycle bin can never be a water bottle again. It gets sorted and shredded like paper, then it gets melted like metal. But, recycled plastic is doomed to a second life of lower-quality products like speed bumps, fencing, outdoor decking . . . things like that.
 
After that second life, it’s sent to a landfill.
 
How to Recycle Plastic:
Since what you can recycle varies greatly from region to region, let’s dive straight into how to recycle the nasty stuff. (I’m a bit biased – I can’t stand plastic!)
 
First, make sure it’s clean. One dirty plastic in a batch can contaminate the whole thing, and make the recycling plant send thousands of pounds of plastics to the landfill.
 
For the most part, don’t worry about the number on the bottom of the plastic. This is just an indicator of its chemical compound. Instead, just stick to recycling bottles (like drinks), jars (like peanut butter), and jugs (like milk) to be safe.
 
Thin plastics cannot be recycled, and they will also contaminate a batch, or shut down a recycling plant for hours. This means plastic film, shrink wrap, plastic grocery bags, produce bags, food storage bags (like Ziplocs), and other products like this have to go straight to a landfill.
 

Happy Recycling!

I truly hope you found some valuable information in this article, and I appreciate you taking the time to learn the proper way to recycle the products we all use. It’s truly time for us to get our sh*t together when it comes to recycling. It’s gotten so bad that China is refusing to process our recycling!
 

 

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Morgan Casavant

Morgan is a graphic designer and yoga instructor committed to inspiring compassion, balance, and centeredness - on and off the mat. She loves minimalism, the zero waste movement, and all the things working to protect the environment.

morgancasavant.co

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