Everything You Wanted to Know About Recycling

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Even for people who want to help preserve the planet, the recycling process can be a bit mysterious.

It’s not always clear what you can and can’t recycle, or how rules differ in different places. Should you clean that jar of peanut butter or let the recycling facility handle cleaning? Can you recycle tin foil or plastic wrap? How about leaving tape on cardboard boxes vs. stripping all labeling off?

Here’s a handy guide on what to recycle and how. 


Check your local rules

recycling bag
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First thing's first: Look up the recycling rules in your local area. Some places require residents to separate paper and plastic, while others have mixed recycling. There may be other specific requirements in your hometown too. 


You can recycle bottle caps

bottle caps can be recycled
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It used to be that different types of plastic in bottles and their caps caused problems at the recycling plant, but that issue has long since been resolved. Go ahead and recycle your bottle with the cap still screwed on. 


Remove tape from boxes if you can

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Every time you receive a package, you should break down the box and recycle it, but it’s not always feasible to remove all of the tape on the box. Do take the time to strip off tape and labels if you can, but don’t fret if you recycle it all together. The facility can take care of it. 


You probably can’t recycle styrofoam

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While some areas do have special drop-off spots for styrofoam that can handle cleaning and recycling polystyrene (the petroleum product that styrofoam is made from), most standard recycling facilities can’t deep clean enough to remove contamination. Polystyrene is also flammable and quite difficult to break down, so it really does take a specialist. Check in your local area, otherwise try to avoid using styrofoam as much as possible since it takes about 500 years to disintegrate in a landfill. 


Don’t recycle pizza boxes

dirty pizza boxes can't be recycled
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Soiled paper causes a lot of issues at the recycling plant, and pizza boxes are one of the more common culprits. The oil and grease that infuses the paper makes it pretty much impossible to clean or work with. Unfortunately you should probably just throw it out.


Be careful with that coffee cup

paper coffee cup
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Many coffee cups from chain cafes use polyethylene liners to make the paper cup waterproof. That’s great for keeping your joe in your cup as you move about your day, but not so great for recycling. Instead of throwing them away, though, take a reusable thermos or cup to the cafe and have them fill it up.


Clean food packages before recycling

rinse strawberry carton before recycling
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Unlike pizza boxes, plastic food containers can be recycled just fine since food contamination doesn’t usually penetrate the material and the containers can be cleaned  You should do your best to clean them before recycling, but don’t throw out that peanut butter jar if you’re not able to get every last bit of peanut butter out of every corner.


Take plastic bags and plastic wrap to a special facility

plastic bags
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Your curbside recycling bin is the wrong place for plastic bags, but that doesn’t mean they need to end up in the landfill. Take plastic bags, plastic wrap, dry cleaning bags, clean sandwich bags, and other single-use plastic bags to a special facility. Just search in your area for the proper place to dispose of them responsibly. 


Juice boxes and milk cartons can cause issues

drinking juice box
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While the individual materials that make up paper-based juice boxes and milk cartons are recyclable, it can be difficult for many facilities to separate the paper from plastic liners. Check with your local facility before recycling these common items. 


Be careful about your trash bag

trash bag
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A standard trash bag can’t be recycled along with the recycling inside. Either dump your recycling straight into the bin or pick up special recyclable trash bags.


For more ideas on how you can save the planet, visit 1Thing.