Recycling 102 - What’s Hot and What’s Not

recycle bin with a mountain in the background

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans create approximately 254 million tons of waste each year, and only recycle or compost 34.3% of that waste. Keep America Beautiful estimates recyclable materials in the US waste stream would generate over $7 billion if they were recycled.

The best way to reduce waste is not to create it in the first place. But once the waste is created, it is our responsibility to reuse, recycle, and repurpose as much waste as we can. Recycling has picked up in the U.S. in the past decade, but we can still do a lot more. Many of us have good intentions, but still make common mistakes when it comes to recycling, either by recycling things that are not recyclable, or by not recycling things that are recyclable. Recycling facilities have different standards for what can be recycled, so the best thing to do is to contact your local hauler directly to find out what they do and do not accept.

Fun Facts

  • Recycling a single run of the Sunday New York Times would save 75,000 trees.
  • If every American recycled just 1/10 of their newspapers, we would save about 25,000,000 trees each year.
  • In 1993, U.S. paper recovery saved over 90,000,000 cubic yards of landfill space.
  • Recycling just one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television set for 3 hours, and that can returns to the grocer's shelf in as little as 60 days after collection.
  • There is no limit to the amount of times aluminum cans be recycled.
  • On average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash, $50 to send it to the landfill, and $65 to $75 to incinerate it.
  • Each year, we use 1 billion plastic shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste.
recycling graphic

Do’s and Don’ts of Recycling

  • One of the most common mistakes people make is they think plastic caps from bottles are not recyclable. According to Do Something, Americans throw out 25 million plastic bottles each hour, but their caps often don’t make it with them. Some recycling plants cannot recycle caps, so please check with your local hauler to see if they accept bottle caps.
  • Dirty cardboard and paper should not be recycled. A small amount of dirty or greasy papers can ruin the entire batch of recyclables.
  • Glossy paper is recyclable. Magazine Publishers of America notes that only 20% of magazines are recycled.
  • Sort recyclables properly and keep fiber products separate from plastic and glass containers.
  • Do not recycle plastic bags. Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags each year, and unfortunately most recycling programs do not accept them. Return them to a store that has a receptacle.
  • Glass containers are one of the best things to recycle because they can go from a recycling bin to a store shelf in 30 days. Please check with your local hauler to see which glass products they accept. Many recycling plants do not accept Pyrex products, light bulbs, lab glassware, and mirror and window glass.
  • Do not include shredded paper in your recycling. Most recycling facilities do not accept shredded paper, since it is not compatible with recycling plant machinery. Instead use shredding for composting or art projects such as papier mâché.
  • Do not include frozen food boxes in recycling since they have a coat of plastic polymer sprayed on them to protect against freezer burn, and they do not break up in the recycling or composting process.

For additional information on recycling, please see the GreenLine News Update article Recycling 101.