Trash vs. Recycle: Do You Know When to Trash it?

Every day, the average American will throw away nearly five pounds of trash and waste. And while it’s no secret that recycling plays a crucial role in keeping these materials out of the landfill, recycling also helps make products more affordable for both manufacturers and shoppers, reduces overall energy use, and cuts down on the greenhouse gases that are released into the environment.

But knowing the best way to dispose of something can be confusing. Should you trash it or recycle it?

Next time you’re staring at the trash bin wondering if that’s the best place for your soda can, remember the breakdown below to know which items go where.

Recycling Bin
Check with your town or waste-removal service to find out exactly what they accept. As a starting guide, the items below are commonly recyclable. Note: while aluminum foil is okay to put in the recycling bin, keep in mind that it is also easy to wipe clean. The greenest solution? Re-use it!

  • Paper and cardboard: recycle newspaper, office paper, junk mail, magazines, brown bags, and regular or corrugated cardboard.
  • Aluminum, steel, and tin: soda cans, food cans, foil, and baking pans can be recycled, but be sure to clean off food residue.
  • Glass: glass of any color is typically recyclable. Keep broken glass out of your curbside bin for the safety of sanitation workers.
  • Plastic containers: containers labeled #1 through #7 are commonly accepted, but make sure they’re clean.
  • Cartons: wash out milk and juice cartons, and place them with other paper recyclables.

Trash Can
Believe it or not, casually tossing items into the recycle bin you are unsure about is actually worse for the environment than just throwing them away. For this reason, it’s important to know what can and can’t be recycled. Unfortunately, the following items are hard to recycle. Next time, try to use alternative materials and/or reusable items when you can.

  • Coated paper products: disposable coffee cups, sheets of stickers or address labels, and frozen-food boxes are not recyclable.
  • Styrofoam: styrofoam cups and containers are technically recyclable, but few facilities accept them for cost reasons.
  • Disposable diapers: the paper and plastic from these items cannot be salvaged.
  • Food wrappers: candy wrappers, potato chip bags, and plastic wrap cannot be recycled.
  • Food-related paper products: because of the food residue on these products, pizza boxes, take-out containers, napkins, and paper towels cannot be recycled.

Special Recycling Bin
Some businesses and government services accept these special items for disposal and recycling. Look for specially marked bins in your local area.

  • Plastic bags: these may be accepted at your local supermarket, but reusable cloth bags will always be your best bet.
  • Empty ink cartridges: most business supply stores will recycle these.
  • Household batteries: drop them off at a public facility, like the library, post office, or recycling center.
  • Lightbulbs: some home improvement stores will recycle lightbulbs for you.
  • Clothing and shoes: if they are in pretty good condition, someone else might want these items, so donate them to a local charity or thrift store.
  • Textiles: textiles can sometimes be donated to be reused or down-cycled to make other items, such as rags.

A Beginners Guide to The Zero Waste Movement

Cutting down on straws and water bottles are just a few stepping stones that are working towards reducing waste and creating a more sustainable lifestyle you can feel good about. Though vital to working toward what zero waste stands for, straws and bottles are not the only efforts we can make as consumers to live more sustainably. Here are a few ways the zero-waste movement guides you to do more.

What does zero waste mean?

Zero Waste is not exactly a process you can wake up and confidently implement by the end of the day. The goal is to reuse products to the best of your ability and reduce waste by being conscious of what you are doing as a consumer. The name “zero” is a bit deceptive—the term was intended towards something that’s a systemic problem, so if something does happen to get trashed, don’t beat yourself up.  It’s a gradual process that takes time, and ultimately, can be incredibly satisfying knowing that the outcome benefits both the environment and your personal well-being (not to mention no longer having to drag hefty amounts of trash out semi-regularly).

The point isn’t perfection, rather, a long-term goal to better yourself to the best of your ability. It’s a huge goal to tackle, so breaking down the process into smaller goals will be much easier.

Top four easy changes

Plastic water bottles, bags, straws, and coffee cups are some of the top linear products that get one use only and are consumed all too often. These products can easily be replaced by other material and are a great place to begin your zero-waste journey. Use reusable grocery bags, travel mugs, paper or aluminum straws … the options are endless. If you can tackle these four simple switches, you can tackle getting rid of some of the trickier consumer products.

Take a step further

When you are ready to start ridding your home of old plastic products, the best place to begin is with food. Cutting boards, cups, plates, containers—our kitchens are riddled with plastic products that end up being reused and reheated, ultimately releasing harmful chemicals. Start by replacing these products with glass and ceramic for a much safer and sustainable switch for your body and the environment.

Questions to ask yourself

A big part of the movement is to make the shift towards being more conscious of what you are using and how you are using it. Some questions you can ask yourself before you buy or use plastic products (or any linear materials) are:

  • Will it be multi-purposeful?
  • Will it enrich your life?
  • Is it a necessity?

Keep in mind, the Zero Waste Movement is not about perfection, rather, a long-term goal to do better for yourself and the environment!