A Guide to Organized and Easy Recycling

Recycling is important, but you shouldn’t have to live with an inconvenient mess while you wait for recycling day to arrive.


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If you’re an average U.S. citizen, you produce 3.2 pounds of household garbage a day. And if you’re like most Americans, most of that garbage goes to a landfill. “Even though a lot of people are recycling, the amount of waste generated is going up, too,” says Mike Risden, executive director of the Eco­­logy Action recycling drop-off center in Austin, Texas. So while the national recycling rate for municipal refuse tripled between 1980 and 1997, the waste sent to landfills and incinerators still increases substantially every year.

Dealing with disposables and conserving resources is a national problem, but the solution begins in the home. With minimum effort, individuals can reduce the amount of trash they generate by 50 percent or more and keep valuable resources from entering the waste stream before their time.

The key to efficient recycling is a straightforward storage system that fits your daily routine. “Recycling is an effort,” admits Betsy Hall McKinney, a homeowner near Telluride, Colorado. “But when you make it less unsightly and create a system for it, recycling gets more realistic and you’re more inclined to do it.”

When you’re setting up an effective household recycling system, consider these four points: location, presentation, separation, and transportation.


“If you don’t have a place to store your recycling right where it is generated, you tend not to do it because it takes too much extra time and thought to handle it,” McKinney says. Because most recycling is generated in the kitchen, the key is to create a recycling center right there.

“Ideally, the recycling storage plan starts when you’re designing a new house,” says West Long Branch, New Jersey, interior decorator Florence Karasik. “That way you can build it in as part of the kitchen cabinet work.” For instance, McKinney says, “When we were designing our new home, we planned an under-the-counter space near the kitchen sink that is close to where we rinse out our glass bottles and metal containers.” For newspaper, the most appropriate place for collection may be a box in the living room or hallway. For plastic and paper bags, a spot in the pantry may work best.

If a new home or kitchen remodel is not in the future, homeowners can easily update their existing cabinets to create efficient recycling storage spaces.

“Almost everything we sell is intended for retrofitting by a homeowner,” says Michael Gleeson, president of Kitchen Accessories Unlimited, which specializes in storage options. He notes that the new floor-mount slide-out drawers for base cabinets are particularly effective for holding recycling containers. “All you need to install them is a screwdriver, drill, and kneepads,” he says.

For renters and those who don’t want to renovate, Karasik suggests searching department stores for freestanding storage containers to place in the kitchen, hall, or laundry room. In addition to garbage bins, check out laundry sorters, hampers, and stackable racks. Lids will make the bins look neat, but consider ease of opening.


Another consideration for effective storage is appearance. “In my old house, the recycling would pile up into inconvenient and ugly messes,” McKinney says. “When we built our new house, we wanted our kitchen to be aesthetically pleasing. Now our recycling storage looks just like kitchen cabinets.”

If there’s no extra storage available in the kitchen, consider creating a recycling system outside the back door. “The only trouble,” Karasik says, “is that when the weather is nice and you want to sit out there, you don’t want to see the boxes and bags.” One enterprising couple from Boston solved this stack-up problem by cutting an opening in the floor of their back porch and carving a shallow recess around its edges to accommodate an old heater grille. The grille measures approximately one foot by two feet and is sturdy enough to walk on but light enough to lift. Their recycle bins are located underneath the grille. A side-hinged door in the latticework below the porch opens for easy access to the recyclables on pick-up day.

There are many creative ways to hide your recycling storage, but don’t trust your designer or architect to come up with the right solutions. “You have to do the research,” McKinney says. “We found that the people helping us build really didn’t know anything about creating recycling storage spaces. We had to hold their hands.” She and her husband researched on the Internet and consulted the perio­dical Environmental Building News (www.buildinggreen.com).


The rules for recycling differ greatly across the country. In some towns, such as Madison, Wisconsin, all glass, plastic, and metal recyclables are collected in the same bin. Many areas, however, require consumers to separate glass, plastic, metal, and paper.

When you’re planning your system, consider McKinney’s advice: “You want to be able to sort your recyclables instantaneously and not have to touch them again.” That means if you have to separate glass, plastic, and metal, you need three.

Some cabinet storage companies, such as Rev-A-Shelf and Feeny, offer multiple-bin recycling centers that vary in price from $140 to $240, including hardware. In most cases, the three or four bins fit into a standard single-base cabinet (191/2 inches tall by 23 inches deep). Width dimensions for host cabinets vary from fifteen inches to twenty-four inches. The bins sit on pullout baskets or shelves with flour mounts. A rotary recycling center is also available for corner cupboards with a standard thirty-six inch base. The total volume for these systems ranges from 60 to 108 quarts.

Gleeson notes that an increasingly pop­ular way to store waste and recyclables is to use tilt-out hampers that attach to bottom-hinged cabinet doors and allow you “to open the door and access the basket in a single motion. Though they’re designed for the bedroom, they provide large storage for people who can accommodate three different cabinets.”


Many curbside recycling programs provide specific bins for pick up. For people who don’t generate many recyclables, it may make sense to plan the kitchen recycling center around these bins so that recyclables can be tossed directly inside and the bins carried to the curb.

Another option is to keep the pick-up bins in a recycling holding area, either a covered box alongside the house or a section of the garage. That way, after recyclables accumulate in the kitchen, they can be transferred to the larger containers in the holding area.

If you have no bins, a holding system can be as simple as three trashcans. Consider getting cans with wheels so that heavy loads are easy to move.

For the most efficient transportation to the holding area, Karasik suggests building the kitchen recycling cabinets against an outside wall. Then install a door in the wall that allows for outdoor access to the bins.

Those without curbside service need to transport their recycling to a drop-off center. To find the center or roadside service closest to you, call (800) CLEANUP [253-2687] or go to www.1800cleanup.org

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