Nov 06

Recycling Tips for Commonly Used Items

By Val Thorpe, Director of Communications & Membership

Is a plastic bag recyclable? Do I need to separate my recyclables? Most of us have the best of intentions when it comes to recycling. However, if we’re not recycling correctly, it can actually be detrimental to the recycling process. Placing an item in the recycle bin “just in case” is actually a bad idea. And recycling rules are always changing, so…


Every town has its own specific rules when it comes to recycling. But with certain items, it’s pretty universal. To achieve significant improvements  we need to sort our trash mindfully. It may take a little extra effort but if we all get on board, the impact can be considerable. Following are some basic dos and don’ts for common household items; and check out the links for the safe disposal of some less common items.

If you haven’t yet kicked the single-use plastic water bottle habit, keep recycling the bottle but check with your town about the cap. Some towns will take them, and others won’t.

Fact: Every drop of water that will ever exist on our planet is already here. When water is left in a capped plastic bottle that is not recycled, it could take thousands of years for that trapped water to find its way back into the water cycle.



Don’t be fooled by the smiley face – this plastic bag is not your friend. Consider switching to reusable shopping bags. In the meantime, many supermarkets have drop-off recycling bins for these and other types of “film” packaging. (Visit to learn how to recycle all film packaging materials.)

Fact: The average time a plastic bag is used is 12 minutes. It takes a minimum of 500 years for it to breakdown in a landfill, becoming  thousands of microplastic pieces that that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.



  • Alkaline batteries: Throw in the garbage (they contain no hazardous materials)
  • Rechargeable batteries: Can be recycled with or call 877-2-Recycle
  • All other batteries: These are considered “Household Hazardous Waste” and you must check your town website for drop-off locations.

Fact: Most rechargeable batteries can be charged up to 1000 times when appropriately used. That means that you won’t be throwing as many of them away compared to using single-use ones.


A pizza box requires some inspection because it can be greasy. But it’s a big box. If the bottom is greasy or dirty but the lid is clean, simply tear off the lid and recycle it. Then trash the bottom piece.

Fact: Pizza boxes are among the most common offenders when it comes to contaminating recyclables. 


Cleaning supplies. Use them up or give them away to a neighbor, local charity, church, or homeless shelter. Most household cleaners can be poured down the drain, but be sure to look for specific disposal instructions first. Then properly dispose of the container.

Fact: You can make a big difference to the lives of people in need by donating your usable products like dishwasher detergent, surface cleaners, and bleach. 


Single-use plastic straws and stirrers cannot be recycled, they just sit in a landfill. What’s the best way to eliminate this problem? Decline straws in restaurants and add your cream and sugar before pouring your coffee into your cup.

Fact: Over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used each day in the United States.



  • Aluminum cans
  • Aluminum foil (wipe clean)
  • Cans: coffee/soup/aluminum
  • Cardboard boxes (break down first)
  • Magazines
  • Newspaper
  • Paperboard: cereal boxes, etc. (one side is usually grey)
  • Cardboard dairy & juice cartons
  • Junk mail
  • Phone books
  • Glass bottles & jars
  • Paper



  • K-cup pods
  • Individual coffee creamers
  • Plastic straws
  • Plastic coffee stirrers
  • Paper towels
  • Tissues
  • Food wrappers: candy, chips, sandwich
  • “Zip-lock” bags
  • Plastic bags
  • Anything with food/grease on it
  • Styrofoam
  • Paper insulated cups



  • Remember the three R’sreduce, reuse, recycle. “Reduce” and “reuse” come before “recycle”. While recycling is necessary, it uses costly energy which still contributes greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Reduce your consumption of unnecessary items and try to reuse items before throwing them into the recycle bin.
  • Rinse your recyclables – washing out food scraps or oil can be just as important as putting the right thing in the recycling bin. When dirty containers are then mixed in with clean recyclables, the entire batch containing thousands of pounds of items becomes contaminated and is sent to the landfill.
  • Labels can stay – you do not need to remove them from containers before tossing them into the recycle bin.
  • Do not put your recyclables in plastic bags – place them loosely in your curbside recycle receptacle.
  • Proper recycling saves energy, resources, and landfill space.
  • Recycling programs are managed at the state and local level – find information on recycling in your community.

HELPFUL LINKS – Finds locations near you that accept and recycle more than 350 products and materials – Finds locations near you that recycling batteries and cell phones, and other material – A recycling company specializing in recycling hard-to-recycle waste – Shows what film packaging materials can be recycled and where – Learn how reducing, reusing, and recycling can help you, your community, and the environment by saving money, energy, and natural resources.


Thank you for recycling right!