Can I Really Recycle That?
Recycling materials is important. It ensures efficient use of a limited supply of resources and keeps nondegradable and hazardous waste out of landfills.
There’s a big market for recycled goods and materials which can make it profitable for companies. And the fact that there are goods to recycle in the first place, and whether they have a life after use, is strongly linked to what and how much we consume.
Consumption and recycling are inextricably linked
According to Junkyard Planet, there’s a proven correlation between income and recycling rates. Basically, richer people can (and do) consume more and are able to generate more recyclable waste than folks who earn and consume less.
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It’s easy to look at this and think that more recyclables is positive, but remember that recycling is not 100% efficient as it uses energy and creates some waste in the process. While recycling is a much better option than adding ever more nondegradable trash to landfills, it is still waste and it does not make up for all the resources that go into fueling our consumption.
If we really want to make a difference we should think about what and how much we consume. The best thing for the planet would be to reuse products as much as possible before we recycle them, reduce our consumption overall, and make sure that what we do consume is easy to recycle.
Until we get there, here’s a guide for how to recycle a bunch of everyday items that you maybe didn’t know were recyclable to begin with, or have been recycling wrong all along.
What Can I Recycle?
Can you recycle glossy magazines?
Yes! Many people think that magazines can’t be recycled because of the glossy finish of the paper, but this is not true. Recycle your old magazines as paper.
Can you recycle wrapping paper?
Not always, so check with your local recycling station. Consider reusing wrapping paper or use more sustainable methods for your gifts, such as reusing newspaper or wrapping in fabric scraps.
Can you recycle plastic bags and other soft plastics?
In many countries soft plastics such as saran wrap and plastic bags are not recyclable along with other, hard plastics. Where this is the case, these plastics can commonly be recycled at grocery stores.
Can you recycle household batteries?
Yes, in many cases supermarket chains and hardware retailers provide in-store recycling bins.
Can you recycle light bulbs?
Yes, retailers that sell light bulbs will often provide in-store collection of old bulbs.
Can you recycle a computer and/or laptop?
Yes, most retailers have their own recycling and reuse programs and will accept old hardware.
Can you recycle a TV?
Yes, check with your retailer or the manufacturer for TV recycling programs. Another option is to send used, still working TVs to NGOs that accept them.
Can you recycle a cell phone?
Yes, many retailers will accept old cell phones for recycling. There are also NGOs that will accept old, still working cell phones.
Can you recycle aerosol cans?
Yes, make sure that the product is empty and recycle as metal. Depending on your local recycling facilities you may have to remove the plastic top and recycle this separately.
Can you recycle rechargeable batteries?
Yes, many stores where you can buy these will also accept and recycle rechargeable batteries.
Can you recycle a mirror?
Yes. If it’s still intact, consider giving it away to goodwill. If broken, check with your local municipality.
Can you recycle window envelopes?
Yes! Recycle as regular paper and don’t worry about removing the plastic windows as these will be filtered out in the process.
Can you recycle old clothes?
Yes! Many clothing chains, e.g. H&M and Patagonia, provide in-store recycling programs. You can also consider giving old clothes to goodwill, or repurpose them.
Can you recycle old shoes?
Yes! Many brands will recycle their own shoes, such as TOMS, Nike or Adidas. You can also give old shoes to goodwill or NGOs.
Can you recycle bubble wrap?
If your recycling solution accepts soft plastics, bubble wrap can be recycled with these. If not, store and re-use when you need to send a package or check with postal companies if they’ll accept it. But try to resist popping the bubbles in that case!
Can you recycle old CDs?
Not with your regular plastics as these contain a mix of plastics. NGOs may collect them or you can consider donating them to a thrift shop.
Can you recycle old eyeglasses?
Your old glasses can help someone else see. Check for local NGOs that collect old eyeglasses for those who can’t afford them.
Can you recycle mattresses?
Retailers will often take care of your old mattress but you can also consider giving it to goodwill.
Can you recycle Legos?
No, these can’t be recycled with plastics. Donate them instead.
Can you recycle nylons?
Yes, but not with regular plastics. Check for organizations that will accept and recycle these.
Can you recycle pizza boxes?
Yes, but remove areas contaminated by food residue, including grease.
Can you recycle corks from wine bottles?
Yes, and you should! Cork is a sustainable, renewable material, but it takes very long to harvest and produce. Cork will biodegrade and can be thrown out with compost, but the better option is to reuse them or send them in to a recycling programme.
Can you recycle post-its?
It depends! If your recycling program accepts mixed papers it should be able to handle post-it notes as well, but not all plants can. Best option is to check with your local recycling provider.
Can you recycle shower curtains?
Shower curtains made of PVC can rarely be recycled. Consider if you can repurpose them instead!
Can you recycle napkins?
Nope. These are generally produced from low quality material (such as paper recycled multiple times) and thus, can rarely be recycled again to produce new paper products. Instead of throwing these in the trash, you can add them to your compost pile.
Can you recycle soap pumps?
No, in general, these cannot be recycled so do not include them in your plastic recycling.
This list is not exhaustive, but it does comprise some of the most confusing items that might be diverting your best intentions to recycle. If you have any further questions, just let me know!