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How Do I Recycle This? Your Guide to Recycling

recycling symbol on wood table surrounded by various recyclable products
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Not sure what you can and can’t recycle? It’s different depending on where you live. However, it helps to get an overview of recycling in general and learn where to go locally to get the info you need.

What can and can’t be recycled depends a lot on the state, local, and even municipal regulations as well as the most practical aspect: what local waste management companies will collect. You’ll need to do a little online research to find out what you can recycle where you live. The stuff you can’t recycle may be able to be reused for something (you may just need to get a little creative).

It’s not too difficult to sort out plastic and paper, but what about the other things in your house and garage that you need to dispose of. Things like car oil, paint cans, batteries, and light bulbs, things might not be as easy as tossing something in the recycle bin.

What Can’t be Recycled?

There are some things you might toss into the recycle bin that don’t belong there.

Plastic Bags

While many plastic items are recyclable, plastic bags shouldn’t be put with your recycling. They can clog up the machines and cause thousands of dollars of damage. Instead of throwing them in the trash to end up in a landfill, save them up and take them to the grocery store with you. Many grocery stores have bins for “recycling” plastic bags. You may also want to contact locally-owned thrift stores and see if they can use them.

Take-Out Containers

Including cardboard pizza boxes, your take-out food containers are not recyclable. You might think that everything but styrofoam is OK to drop in the bin, but anything that had food directly on it is a big “no.” Food particles may damage or contaminate other recyclable items.

Bottle Caps

No matter what bottles your caps are coming off of, they should be removed before you toss the bottles into the recycle bin. These are made from a different type of plastic which isn’t recyclable. This goes for water bottle caps, caps on your laundry detergent, and more.

Certain Paper and Glass Items

Not all paper and not all glass is recyclable. The composition of paper matters. Paper products like napkins and paper towel are not recyclable. Coated paper (including some magazines) is also not recyclable. Glass from baking dishes, window, eyeglasses, mirrors, and light bulbs are some of the types of glass that shouldn’t go in the recycle bin (they melt at a higher temperature than other glass products).

Most Paint

Some recycling companies will take unused latex paint, which can be used to make more latex paint, but you’ll need to check with your local center. Older paints are not recyclable; they may mercury or lead. You also don’t want these things seeping into the ground at a landfill. Contact a company like Habitat for Humanity about your paint. You may be able to donate it to them, and they’ll deal with it.


Batteries tossed in the recycle bin are treated as hazardous waste. Instead of wasting the recycling center time, find a place that recycles batteries (they do exist). Battery recycling centers specialize in dealing with all of the hazardous materials inside your batteries.

Motor Oil

Although motor oil can be recycled, it’s not the kind of thing you can toss in the recycle bin to go down to the local sorting center. Many oil change shops will accept used motor oil, and most municipalities have a hazardous material center that will too.

Can You Scrap That?

Want to make some money on your trash? There are some non-recyclable items you may be able to haul to the scrap yard for some cash in your pocket. While prices on scrap material may fluctuate and may be different state-to-state, here are some things to consider taking in to scrap.

  • Copper (included insulated wire)
  • Brass
  • Aluminum
  • Stainless steel

There are also companies (and individuals) that will sometimes pay for used appliances. They’ll either fix them to resell or strip them down for scrap parts. A quick local online search will get you in touch with the right people.

Getting Help Recycling

Now that you have some idea of the things you can’t recycle, and what to do with that stuff, it’s time to learn what you can recycle. Since all states are different, and even some cities, you’ll need to do some research.

If your trash company offers a recycling bin program, make sure you ask them for a list of things you’re OK to toss in there. Most companies no longer have you sort metal, glass, paper, and plastic. This is referred to as single stream recycling. Dual stream recycling separates paper from the rest of the stuff. Multi-stream separates things down even more.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers plenty of information on recycling and will help point you in the right direction locally.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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