Top Recycling Tips

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 16, 2021

Poor handling of waste has a major effect on the environment through the creation of landfills and a reduction of resources. By recycling often in your daily life, you play your part in keeping a green home and conserving the environment. Though rules around recycling are different everywhere, there are some easy-to-follow basics that are the same for everyone.

Lowering the amount of material you use and repurposing items can play a big role in reducing your home’s waste output.

You can start by listing which items you frequently reuse around your house and which get thrown out. Are there reusable options you can buy instead? Try to reuse items like plastic and glass containers before recycling them.

Though the specifics of what can be recycled and how vary by location, you can almost always recycle clean paper, like books, magazines, flyers, colored paper, and junk mail. If possible, dispose of newspapers in a separate bin, since the material usually goes directly into newspaper recycling. Avoid adding waxy papers and cardboards saturated with food (like pizza boxes) to the recycle bin. Be sure to remove liners from food boxes before recycling them as well.

When dealing with plastic containers, check for numbers at the bottom to determine their recyclability. Plastics labeled one through five are acceptable for general recycling. Grocery chain stores may accept plastic grocery bags through their recycling programs. Most disposable plastic utensils, on the other hand, are a low-quality mix of plastics that aren’t recyclable. Avoid including any plastic item that is easy to crumple.

Aluminum is one of the most commonly recycled metals used in homes. About 50% of produced aluminum cans get recycled. Ensure that you rinse out liquids from aluminum cans such as juices and soda before tossing them into the recycle bin.

Glass bottles for drinks and beverages are 100% recyclable, but not when mixed with glass from windows, crystal, and Pyrex. Rinse glass bottles and add them carefully to the recycling bin to avoid breakage and mixing with other forms of glass.  Adding different forms of glass to the glass bottle recycling process produces defective bottles. Standard light bulbs aren’t recyclable, but compact fluorescent lamps and other bulbs that contain mercury should always be recycled. 

Most landfills are brimming with outdated TV sets, cellphones, desktops, and printers — but just throwing out these old electronics can pose a serious threat to the environment. Freezers and fridges, for instance, may have certain coolants that are toxic. To safely dispose of such items, the US Environmental Protection Agency has created the Responsible Appliance Disposal program.

Batteries can also be dangerous to throw out and should be recycled at designated drop-off points. Facilities that recycle batteries strip them of their toxic waste and use it as raw material for making new batteries. These facilities can also recycle batteries from old and unused vehicles.

Rather than dumping your old electronics in the trash, or even in general recycling, you can call up your local tech dealer and check whether they offer a recycling option. Most tech stores will take old batteries and other devices, or can at least redirect you to companies that do accept them.

By making minor changes to your plumbing system, you can even recycle water. Wastewater from activities like cleaning dishes, bathing, and washing clothes is called greywater, and it can be used for just about any purpose besides drinking and cleaning. Recycled greywater is commonly used to water plants, flush toilets, and more.

Organic matter is one of the largest sources of methane production in landfills. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, about half of all the vegetables and fruits produced go to waste every year. Recycling food through composting helps put uneaten food to good use.

You can keep your own compost bin at home or use a curbside collection service to support greener practices at commercial agriculture facilities. Commercial compost factories accept:‌

  • Organic waste
  • Meat
  • Dairy products

If you’re just composting at home, stick to plant-based products. Meat and most animal byproducts require special facilities to be safely composted.

Another recycling tip is buying recycled products, which help promote greener business models. You play your part in reducing your carbon emissions, while letting eco-friendly companies know their products make a difference. Most recycled products can be recycled again after use.

Show Sources


‌Cornell Waste Management Institute: “Natural Rendering: Composting Livestock Mortality and Butcher Waste.”

Energy Saving Trust: “Tips to Reduce Your Carbon Emissions.”

Global Stewards: “Eco Tips for Sustainable Living.”

Greywater Action: “About Greywater Reuse.”

Landfill of North Iowa: “Electronics Recycling.”

Paper Recycles: “Recycling Paper Products.”

Plastics For Change: “Which Plastics Can Be Recycled?”

Stanford University: “Frequently Asked Questions: Glass Recycling.”

Union of Concerned Scientists: “A Quick Guide to Battery Reuse and Recycling.”

United Nations Environmental Programme: “Global Food Waste.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: “Aluminum: Material-Specific Data,” “Recycling and Disposal of CFLs and Other Bulbs that Contain Mercury,” “Responsible Appliance Disposal.”

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: “Reusing, Reducing and Recycling Plastic Bags and Wrap.”

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