By Cat, Jan 2019
I have been an avid recycler since the 1970s when I settled in Portland OR, a city where recycling was encouraged by all the hippies (including me). This was before plastics were rampant, so most recycled items were glass and paper. In the early 2000s, Portland made it mandatory to recycle (and would fine you if they found recyclables in your regular trash). All you had to do was put your recycling container on the curb for the city recycler to pick up. A few years later, they added composting pick-ups as well.
Here in Montana, recycling is not as common but interest in the task is growing – that is, until our county could no longer find buyers for many recyclables including plastics, glass, and most metals. I still separate out recyclables, to keep in the habit, even though it ultimately goes with the rest of the trash. I also compost all food waste.
Read on for more about what can/cannot be recycled (in general), and how to prepare the items for recycling. Note that these requirements vary from region to region.
See also: 1. Miscellaneous Articles and Recipes Menu
Reduce waste, in general
Reduce and reuse what we have first. Look for ways to cut down your total garbage; for example ((1), unless noted otherwise):
- Use reusable shopping bags for groceries;
- Bring your own mug when indulging in a coffee drink — and skip the lid and the straw;
- Bring drinking water from home in glass water bottles instead of buying bottled water;
- Store foods in glass containers or Mason jars rather than plastic containers and plastic freezer bags;
- Take your own leftovers container to restaurants;
- Avoid disposable utensils
- Avoid processed foods (which are typically sold with plastic wrapping or plastic-lined paper boxes). [I consider any food as processed if it contains more than 3 ingredients]. Buy fresh meats, dairy and produce instead (preferably from local farmers)]
- Use reusable vegetable bags brought from home rather than plastic bags;
- Request meat-department items are wrapped in butcher paper, and avoid styrofoam [Cat’s item].
- Request no plastic wrap on your newspaper and dry cleaning;
- Opt for nondisposable razors, washable feminine hygiene products, cloth diapers, handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues and rags in lieu of paper towels (old shirts and socks can be repurposed as cleaning rags);
- Buy infant toys made of wood or (untreated) fabric rather than plastic;
- Frequent secondhand stores instead of buying new.
Commonly recyclable items
Note: make sure recyclables are empty, clean and dry, and place all recyclables loose into your recycle bin (do not put them in plastic bags)
- Glass, rinsed (some communities require removal of labels)
- Steel cans, rinsed
- Aluminum cans, rinsed
- Some hard plastics – typically bottles, jugs and jars with lids, rinsed
- Clothing and gently used household items, cleaned; take them to a thrift store or to a community yard sale.
- office paper
Regarding plastic bags, bear in mind:
- Plastic bags are not recyclable because they are made of soft plastic, which clogs the sorting machines.
- Never place recyclables in plastic bags. The recycling facility will toss the entire bag with its contents into a landfill rather than recycle them. Instead, collect your plastic bags and bring them to your local supermarket for recycling.
- Cat’s note: I save a few used plastic produce bags in my reusable shopping bag, for reuse when I buy wet produce.
Non-recycleable items – NEVER
The following should NEVER be placed in the recycling container (1) [other options are mentioned for some items]:
- Cardboard, cloth & paper items:
- Greasy pizza boxes
- Soiled paper
- Electronics, Batteries, and lightbulbs (take them to a local electronics recycler).
- NOTE: compact fluorescent bulbs contain toxic mercury; NEVER place them in the garbage; rather take them to a recycler or other business that recycles. One of the easiest ways to identify a local recycler is to visit search.Earth911.com. Here in the Flathead, you can take them to Batteries Plus Bulbs on West Idaho, Kalispell.
- Food items – any and all (compost them instead)
- Medicinal items: (many communities offer depositories for these, instead)
- Medical needles
- Misc items
- Most toys [all-wood/paper toys are an exception]
- Plastic items:
- Bags and wrappers
- Straws and bottle-caps
- Bubblewrap envelopes (if you separate the bubblewrap from the paper, the paper is recyclable and some communities also accept bubblewrap)
- Tools and construction waste
- scrap metals
- Yard waste (compost them instead)
- Mercola: Tips on how to recycle (articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2019/01/02/tips-on-how-to-recycle.aspx)