Recycling Basics: Items You Can and Can't Recycle

The Earth and I
Photographer: Noah Buscher | Source: Unsplash

Thanks to growing environmental conservation awareness, most of us are familiar with the term ‘recycle'. The general idea is that every item that we use can be recycled. Sadly, it is not true. There are a lot of items we use that just cannot be recycled! The only solution is to reuse them or stop using them in the first place.

Here’s a list of items that can and cannot be recycled, to make the choice easier for you!

List Of Items That Can And Can’t Be Recycled

Items That Can Be Recycled

1. Paper

Mostly all kinds of paper, be it newspapers, magazines, books, notebooks, note pads, paper calendars, cards, etc. can be recycled. Try to avoid throwing them into a community dustbin. Collect them and give them away to recyclers, once every two weeks or a month. You can also try contacting organizations that collect old newspapers and magazines.

Another way is to reuse them. You can reuse old envelopes by reversing the sides. Donate old books to libraries or schools. If you have vintage books, online bookstores like Amazon will be ready to accept them. Use them in DIY projects for your home.

2. Aluminum

One of the most popular metals in household and industrial use, aluminum can be recycled in many ways. It should be because tons of aluminum are discarded each day.

Aluminum foil too can be recycled. You can also reuse it after cleaning. If you are giving away aluminum foil to recycle, then make sure it is cleaned. Also, try to buy recycled aluminum foil.

3. Plastic bottles

When you give away plastic bottles for recycling, ensure they are clean because even one dirty bottle can contaminate the entire heap. Be it oil cans, plastic water bottles, plastic lunch boxes, etc. you can and should recycle them. Plastic is one of the major pollutants of the environment and so shouldn’t be thrown away carelessly. It should not end up in landfills.

An environment-friendly practice would be to shun plastic use as much as possible. Instead of buying water bottles, carry your water in a steel or glass bottle. Use metals such as steel for household use, instead of plastic.

4. Cardboard

We are using more cardboard boxes now than ever, as products from online shopping arrive in cardboard packaging, and so do pizzas! Please ensure that these boxes are sent for recycling because if they aren’t, they will cause irreparable damage to the environment.

You should break down the boxes and ensure they are clean before recycling them. Pizza packaging that has food stains may not be recycled. Talk to your local recyclers about the right way to hand over these boxes.

You can also reuse blank cardboard sheets like painting canvases for your children and then hang them on your walls.

5. Electronic waste

The world is so full of electronic waste today that it may soon explode! Today every household has several electronic items such as televisions, computers, laptops, music systems, tablets, phones, grinders, ovens, and so on. The first step would be to reduce the number of appliances at home. If possible, limit the number of TVs in your home to one or at the most, two. And, do you really need 5 laptops, one for each member of the family?

There are organizations that will collect old computers, laptops, printers, phones, etc. to repair and reuse them for charitable purposes. Recycling electronic waste saves resources and energy.

Items That Cannot Be Recycled

1. Plastic bags

Our convenience and laziness have harmed the environment in the worst ways. No wonder, it is getting back to us in the form of hazardous pollution. There is the rampant use of plastic bags because they are easy to use. But when discarded, they are probably the most harmful contributors to a polluted environment.

Plastic bags, including plastic wraps, zip lock bags, etc. cannot be recycled because they could get entangled in recycling machines. Hence, it is best to clean and reuse them whenever and for as long as possible. If the grocery store takes back the grocery bags, then return the bags to them. You can also do DIY projects using old plastic bags. Also, try to use other options instead of plastic bags such as cloth or paper bags.

2. Styrofoam

Also referred to as expanded polystyrene, styrofoam should be included in the ‘No use’ list because it is neither recyclable nor biodegradable. Styrofoam peanuts are used to protect household items when moving house. It is also used for making coffee cups, food containers, egg cartons, etc.

The only thing you can do is limit its use or not use it altogether. There are many environment-friendly options that you can use in place of styrofoam, such as cornstarch peanuts (which are edible, by the way), biodegradable packaging, and peat plastic.

3. Shredded paper

It’s a common misconception that shredding paper makes it easier to recycle. You cannot recycle shredded paper because recyclers would not know if all the papers therein are recyclable or not. Certain paper types are not recyclable. Then the shredded paper cannot be put in recycling machines because these tiny pieces may get inside the equipment and end up damaging it.

You can use the shreds in creative ways for DIY projects such as filling for your pets’ beds. You can also use it in your compost.

4. Plastic takeaway containers and plastic straws

The plastic containers that you get your ordered food in contain oil stains and food stuck to it, and sometimes, it is difficult to clean them. Such items should not be put with the recyclable items because they can contaminate the other things as well.

Plastic straws end up in landfills and oceans, adding to pollution and even killing marine animals. The only solution is not to use plastic straws at all. Buy steel or bamboo straws and carry them with you. They can be cleaned easily and reused.

5. Aerosol cans

Though made of metal, aerosol cans cannot be recycled because most of them contain chemicals and thus, are harmful to the recycling machine. Hopefully, industries may come up with environment-friendly cans, but till then, just put them in the trash bin. You can also enquire with recycling organizations if they have a solution for the aerosol cans.

Recycling today is about the survival of our planet. It is vital to try to recycle every item that we no longer use, from paper to clothes. Resources are limited, and the earth can only take so much. If you do not take accountability for your actions, the future generations will not be able to experience this beautiful planet.

Make the RRR (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) principle your motto!


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