Recycling Guide: How and What to Recycle

Create less waste with this comprehensive guide to recycling. From plastics to electronics to furniture, you can recycle most household objects.

  • "Your Green Abode" is a sustainable home primer filled with advice on green living, DIY green remodeling and green gardening.
    Photo Courtesy Mountaineer Books

The following is an excerpt from Your Green Abode: A Practical Guide to a Sustainable Home by Tara Rae Miner (Mountaineers Books, 2010). The excerpt is part of Chapter 9: The Pitfalls of Landfills: Stepping Out of the Waste Stream. 

Once you’ve taken a vow to create less waste in the first place, your next assignment is to recycle whatever and whenever you can. Recycling has many cheerleaders. The Natural Resources Defense Council sums it up this way on its website: “Recycling is one of the most feel-good and useful environmental practices around. The benefits go way beyond reducing piles of garbage—recycling protects habitat and biodiversity, and saves energy, water, and resources such as trees and metal ores. Recycling also cuts global warming pollution from manufacturing, landfilling and incinerating.”

And one commenter to Grist magazine gently reminds us, “Recycling isn’t a hassle, it’s a privilege.”

Odds are your city or town has a local curbside recycling program (if not, visit Earth911 online to find one near you). These things have sprouted up like mushrooms recycling nutrients on the forest floor. Before 1973, no curbside recycling programs existed in the United States. By 2006, about 8,660 programs were collecting cans and bottles across the nation. The programs have played a part in upping our numbers: from 5 percent of waste recycled in 1970 to 32.5 percent in 2010.

You can turn that number even higher in your home, apartment, and apartment building. Make recycling convenient. Put bins in multiple places around the house or in common spaces—kitchen, laundry room, home office, garage—and use different bins that follow your city’s recycling policies so you don’t have to sort it out later. Good news, though. Advances in sorting technology have allowed many communities to shift to commingled or single-stream recycling. In this system built for the laissez-faire crowd, you don’t have to sort recyclables at all—just throw them all in a single bin. In some areas where commingled recycling programs have been initiated, recycling rates have increased by 30 percent.

Recycling has expanded beyond the world of bottles, cans, plastic, and paper, although it’s still critically important to give these items an opportunity for rebirth.

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