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Recycling 101: The Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making

recycle 101

When done right, recycling is the most important thing we can do to help the environment. Putting one wrong thing in the recycling bin can ruin an entire batch. In this post, we brushed up on recycling 101: the mistake you don’t know you’re making and how to properly recycle at home.

Can I Recycle That?

Below are items that can be recycled. These can be placed in your recycling bins at home, recycling bins around your city, or taken to specific recycling centers. You can also call your local municipal center to see if they accept certain recycling materials.

Before tossing them in their respective bins, always rinse your recyclables to avoid molding and contamination. Most facilities won’t accept recyclables that have not been at least 30% rinsed. Not doing so can ruin an entire batch of clean recyclables and the machines used to reincarnate your trash. It may sound like a waste of water, but, it takes more water and energy to produce virgin materials than it does to recycle them.


  • Clear Glass. Known as Flint.
  • Brown Glass. Known as Amber
  • Green Glass. Known as Emerald

Do Not Recycle: glass that have been contaminated with stones, dirt, or food; that is heat resistant such as Pyrex (these cannot be melted and mixed with new raw materials); and mirror glasses, metal cup/lid, crystals.


  • Aluminum Cans
  • Steel Cans
  • Tin Cans
  • Aluminum Foil/Other Bakeware

Do Not Recycle: scrap metals and flattened or crushed metals cannot be recycled. Although tempting, refrain from crushing your soda cans after each use. Crushed cans get lost in the designated machines and cause a disruption in the cycle.


  • Newspaper
  • Corrugated Cardboard
  • Magazines. With today’s recycling technology, many community recycling programs accept glossy magazines and catalogs for recycling. Make sure to remove stickers and perfume inserts before you do so.
  • Office paper. Separate high grade paper from low grade paper.
  • Paperboard. Includes cereal boxes and paper cardboard juice/milk boxes. Note: do not recycle milk or juice boxes found in the non-refrigerated aisles such as soup or soy milk packaging, unless otherwise noted on the package.
  • Junk Mail
  • Phone Book/Yellow Pages

Do Not Recylce: bright colored papers (only a few recycle pastel colored papers, check with your local munipal). In addition, do not recycle paper that has been contaminated, dirtied, soiled, and shredded. For papers containing sensitive information, rip it up three or four times and toss them in the bin. For highly sensitive papers that must be shredded, contact your local center for best recycling options.  

What about items like a pizza box –– can you recycle it? Yes and no. While the box itself can be recycled, once contaminated with oil and grease, the entire contents cannot be thrown in the bin. To solve this, cut off the contaminated sections, and throw that into the trash. The rest can be thrown in the recycling bin. 

Don’t Try (To Recycle) This At Home

These need to be taken to specific municipal centers and need to be completely separated from other recycling materials or waste.

Batteries and Bulbs

  • Car Batteries
  • Button Batteries
  • Rechargeable Batteries
  • Incandescent and LED
  • Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Electronic Devices

  • Computers and Computer Parts
  • Office Equipment: Printers, Photocopiers, Fax Machines
  • Televisions
  • VCR
  • Stereos
  • Telephones

What About Plastic?

Recycling plastic is a bit tricky. Make it a habit to check the numbers inside the “chasing arrows” symbol on the plastic container each time. The numbers (listed from 1-7) helps identify the material used for the product, but not all materials can be recycled. Get a better understanding of them below. It will aid you in knowing where to sort specific plastics and what to avoid purchasing them in the future. As a reminder, please check with your local municipal to find out what you can or cannot recycle.

#1 – PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

This is the most commonly used plastic. Items include: soft drink bottles, water bottles, salad dressing, cooking oil, and other thin plastic materials.

Products made of PET should only be recycled, not reused. Repeated usage of the product increases the risk of leaching toxins and bacterial growth. Once recycled, PET is turned into recycled fibers used to make textiles such as t-shirts, jackets, fleece clothing, insulation for clothes, carpet, and other similar products.

#2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

HDPE can be both recycled and reused (whoo!). Items include: milk and juice jugs, laundry detergent, shampoo, motor oil, and other common items.

When recycled, HDPE is used to make picnic tables, plastic lumber, waste bins, and other products that require durability and weather resistant plastic materials.

#3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

And here we have our “poison plastic.” PVC is not recyclable and should not be reused for the purpose of food storage due to the leaching of toxins during its entire life cycle. Items include: plastic food wrappings, shower curtains, tablecloths, credit cards, fake Christmas trees, imitation leather covers, tarp, and bibs.

#4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

LDPE is commonly reused, but not commonly recycled. Call your local municipal to see if their recycling program accepts this material. Items include: grocery bags, plastic packaging (bread, newspaper, sandwich bags), dispensing bottles, trays, snap on lids, and other similar items.

#5 – PP (Polypropylene)

You most likely have a PP plastic around your home right now. PP is safe for reusable purposes and is 100% recyclable. Surprisingly, many communities don’t have centers for this common household plastic (contact your local center to see if they do). If you live near a Whole Foods, they provide a drop off center to make the process easier for you. Items include: yogurt containers, cottage cheese/hummus containers, straws, fast-food syrup containers, disposable diapers, disposable cups and plates, some baby bottles, packing tape, and outdoor carpet.

#6 – PS (Polystyrene)

PS plastic is weak and ultralight. (1) They break up easily in the environment and is dispersed all over our beaches and landfills, (2) they can cause a possible human carcinogen when heated, and (3) they are not recyclable or reusable. Items include: styrofoam cups and plates, clamshell carry-out containers, foam egg cartons, building insulation, disposable picnic cutlery, foam packaging (peanut chips), some over-the-counter medicine cases and CD cases.

In any case, avoid this plastic like the plague.

#7 – Other (BPA, Polycarbonate, and LEXAN)

We try to avoid this plastic whenever possible. It’s not safe for reuse (unless they have the PLA compostable coding) and contains toxins that can leach into food and drinks (especially when heated). Luckily, today, many companies make items under the certified BPA-Free standards. Items include: plastic baby bottles, sippy cups, water cooler jugs, lids, sunglasses, Nylon, signs, medical storage containers, some plastic cutlery, any toys or electronics that are only partly plastic, and car parts.

A final note on plastic: If plastic does not have a code, there is no way of knowing if it can be recycled or not. In this case, follow the rule: “when in doubt, throw it out.” The safest thing to do is to throw the plastic in the trash — you do not want to contaminate the rest of your recyclables. It’ll hurt but think of it as sacrificing one for the greater good.

Items That Cannot Be Recycled

And for the final curtain call of trash sorting, here is a list of things that cannot be recycled under any circumstances.

  • Microwaves
  • Smoke Alarms or Smoke Detectors
  • Thermometers
  • Large Appliances. Such as ovens and refrigerators.
  • Medical Equipment.
  • Any Sludge or Liquid Filled Units

It’s a lot, but don’t let that discourage you from being active because it does make a difference. According to Home and Garden, “Recycling one aluminum can save enough energy to keep a 100-watt bulb burning for almost four hours or run your television for three hours.” Imagine the difference you can make just by recycling. It’s a small step, but every step is important in the process.

Don’t stop there. Recycle, but continue to practice the 3 R’s in their respective order: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Reduce your personal waste and live more green. Reuse materials when you can. And lastly, recycle what you have leftover. This habit will have a large, positive impact on the Earth. Recycling turns what could have been waste into other useful materials and helps reduce the amount of waste in the world.

We highly suggest you get familiar with your local municipal and find out what you can or cannot throw in your curbside recycling bins. To find recycling facilities near you, download the iRecycle app. We’ve personally used it and it’s been very helpful for both of us.



  1. Patrick says

    Wow that was a pretty in depth and lengthy read. Great job! I would also just emphasize the importance of calling/checking with your local hauler because depending on the company that comes to take your trash/recycling materials away, the rules can vary greatly. One hauler may accept all sorts of paper, but another may not accept chipboard (think the cardboard box of cereal). Or one hauler may accept plastic bottles, but not plastic salad containers. I currently live in Nor Cal, and in my office, there is that situation.

    Great read! 😀


    • Thanks for sticking it out and reading the whole post! We will definitely keep this in mind. We agree that it’s important to make sure your recyclables can actually be recycled in that facility. Glad to hear that your office recycles too!


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  3. connie.n.w. says

    Reblogged this on the portfolio – in progress and commented:
    This is such a good amount of information regarding recycling. I noticed myself constantly looking beneath plastic containers now because I want to make sure what can and cannot be recycled. Also, many stores now will take plastic bags and even bulbs, electronics, so be on the look out where you shop because they may have a mini recycling center as well. I recently found out that this website called Earth911 has a database for where things can be recycled in your area. Thank you to the writers of tinycaravan 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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