Preserving the Environment

Can I Recycle This? 5 Things You Should Always Recycle (and 5 Things You Shouldn’t)

March 25, 2014
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Can I Recycle This? 5 Things You Should Always Recycle (and 5 Things You Shouldn’t)
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Take the guesswork out of recycling with a simple list of do’s and don’ts from TerraCycle’s Albe Zakes.

If you’re anything like us, you’re constantly trying to figure out, Can I recycle this or not? We wish the rules were simple and consistent, but what you can recycle (takeout containers? shipping boxes? junk mail?) and where (curbside? recycling center?) largely depends on what your local municipality can — or will — handle.

The good news is that with a little effort, you can achieve zero waste. If you can’t leave a particular item curbside or in your apartment building’s recycling bins, for example, you can probably take it to a recycling center or donate it to a specialized recycling company like TerraCycle, an international firm that collects hard-to-recycle items and repurposes them into resalable products.

In 2012 alone, Americans recycled and composted 87 million tons of municipal solid waste, eliminating more than 168 million metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, and saving 1.1 quadrillion British thermal units of energy — enough to power about 10 million households in the United States for a year. Decent numbers, but given that U.S. households create more than 251 million tons of trash a year, half of which ends up in landfills, we still have a long way to go. So, we asked Albe Zakes, global vice president of communications at TerraCycle, to help us get there. Here’s his simple guide of recycling do’s and don’ts. We hope you’ll pick up some key pointers. We sure did.

MORE: How One County Makes Sure Their Trash Doesn’t Go to Waste

5 Items You Can’t Recycle

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ALSO: You’ll Never Guess What NYC Is Turning Its Biggest Trash Heap Into

5 Items You Should Always Recycle

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These 10 tips are just a starting point. The ultimate goal is to rethink your lifestyle and reduce the amount of waste you produce to begin with. As the mantra goes: Reduce, reuse and recycle. “They’re in that order for a reason,” Zakes says. If you can’t reduce your consumption, reuse what you can; if you can’t reuse it, then recycle — even if it takes additional effort. “In reality, almost everything can be recycled,” Zakes says. “The only reason that something is considered ‘nonrecyclable’ is the economics behind it. So the cost of collecting and processing the material is too high versus the revenue that the end material creates.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that all aerosol cans cannot be recycled. NationSwell apologies for the error.

ALSO: One Company’s Quest to Reduce eWaste in Landfills

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