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Recycle: it sounds easy but how does it really work?

Updated on December 3, 2014
The recycle symbol
The recycle symbol | Source
Recycling bins
Recycling bins | Source

New to recycling?

Helpful information:

  • Often the process depends on the company that picks up the items for recycling. One company may take styrofoam (for example, foam egg cartons) but another may not. Sometimes, separating glass bottles and jars by color is necessary. Another company will instruct customers just throw anything recyclable into the one bin!
  • Should you need to take the items to a recycling site, those requirements can vary as well. I went with a relative to a center in another state and she took old carpet remnants which we cannot do in our area. Another person I know who lives in another Colorado city can take foam items but not glass. Most recycling sites have containers for the following:

cardboard -- this applies to items like cold cereal boxes

corrugated cardboard -- this is the type of cardboard used when heavier shipping material is needed

aluminum cans -- such as those used for soda

glass -- some companies specify glass bottles but others take jars as well

metal cans -- such as those used for fruits and vegetables


When moving to a new area or when recycling for the first time, it is helpful to acquire a leaflet or information sheet listing the requirements. Below is an example:

One company's requirements

Acceptable Items
Unacceptable trash
Corrugated cardboard - broken down into 3'x3' pieces or smaller
No styrofoam
Plastics with a 1-7 in triangle
No plastics without a 1-7 in triangle
Small metal cans (clean)
No metal cans other than small cans
Alunimum cans (clean)
No bubble wrap or plastic bags
Glass bottles
No glass other than bottles
No napkins or other paper trash
Junk mail
No garbage
No shelving, car parts, baby seats, etc.
No electronics
Shredded paper
No computers

Types of cardboard

The one picture shows corrugated cardboard. The boxes should be 'broken down' to reduce bulk and the pieces should not be bigger than 3 feet x 3 feet. This type of cardboard should be placed in the appropriate container and not in any of the other cardboard containers nor in any commingled bins.

Non-corrugated cardboards are often used as containers for hot and cold cereals, file folders, many drink boxes, notebook covers ... the list of its use is quite long. This type of cardboard can be placed in the commingled bins (if permitted by the company), and can always be placed in the cardboard bin.

An example of corrugated cardboard
An example of corrugated cardboard | Source
Examples of cardboard that is not corrugated
Examples of cardboard that is not corrugated | Source

Which parts are recyclable?

The milk container is marked with a number inside a triangle. It is, of course recyclable. The lid also has a number inside a triangle so it is obviously recyclable as well.

The apple juice container has the appropriate images on the bottom but the other two pieces do not. One wonders, then, if they can be recycled and usually we assume so.

Plastic milk container with lid
Plastic milk container with lid | Source
Plastic juice container with lid and pull strip
Plastic juice container with lid and pull strip | Source

Preparing the items before recycling

  • Always remove any food and wash the items. No one wants to sort insect and rodent infected material and they also would smell horribly, especially when in heated areas. I've wondered if companies now refuse to take foam items because some people just dumped in the bin take-out unwashed food containers or egg cartons containing broken eggs.
  • After finishing a soda can or bottle, it would be helpful to rinse it and turn it upside down to drain.
  • Removing labels, or not: Sometimes, it is almost impossible to remove a label but, if the label can be taken off, then many do. It does not seem to be a requirement by companies, however.
  • Regarding metal fruit and vegetable cans: Again some people remove the label and others do not. In the past, I removed the label, opened the top and bottom of the can, put the ends inside of the can and stepped on it to flatten. Now, however, many companies make cans with only the top openable with a can opener. Apparently, they can be stacked easier and will stay in place without tipping over so often..
  • Plastic milk cartons can also be flattened easily if space is an issue.
  • Thin plastic such as grocery bags, bread sacks, and others: Most companies require that they be put in a special container, not in those for commingled items or those for plastic such as bins for milk cartons. One company requirement is ... if you can tear it, it goes with the grocery bags. Of course, many grocery stores have a bin available for any clean grocery bag.

If your trash company allows you to just put everything recyclable in the same bin, just do so. Is is sorted on the other end???

Recycle water too!!

There are many ways to recycle water. One is to let the sink or bathwater run into a bucket while you wait for hot water. The water can be used for pets, house plants, or outside plants.

Currently, it seems that we really have to wash fruits and vegetables to remove dirt, bacteria, or other dangerous materials. Have the food items in a strainer over a bucket. It is surprising how much water is used but don't put it in the pet's bowl!

What do you recycle?

See results


Some readers may believe that I am over-thinking this issue and perhaps I am. Just remember that companies in the business of recycling often use grants (tax dollars) from the federal government so that they can provide this service.

Let's do what we can and keep in mind ... waste not, want not


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    • wabash annie profile image

      wabash annie 4 years ago from Colorado Front Range

      I completely agree ... we all need to do our part! Thanks for your comments.

    • JPSO138 profile image

      JPSO138 4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      Very important thing to do considering that we throw a lot of things that are hatmful to our environment. This is one way of saving our planet and good savings on our pocket.

    • wabash annie profile image

      wabash annie 4 years ago from Colorado Front Range

      Interesting recycling experience! I knew that the processing can be different in different areas but, wow, I've never heard of a system like the one you described. Thanks for educating me ... Annie

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      When I was living in Torrance, California, we had a fairly sophisticated recycling system. Everything had to be sorted. The most complicated was paper. The grouping for paper included newspaper, glossy, non-glossy, computer paper, magazines (staples removed), and brown paper bags.

      We had to load our separated items into the trunk of the car, which was weighed upon entry to the recycling center. The questions was asked, "What are you recycling?"

      I'd have to tell the attendant which I was doing first and explain that I'd be doing the other items later. Aluminum cans, paid per can, brought the most money.

      Each time I emptied an item, the car would be reweighed and a coupon/ticket marking the item, pounds, and rate was given to me.

      After all the items were recycled, I went to the cashier at the exit and presented my tickets. It always brought us $2-3, enough to cover the gasoline for the trip!

    • wabash annie profile image

      wabash annie 4 years ago from Colorado Front Range

      Thanks for your comments, Benjamin. I think that many of us are so busy that we do not recycle as much as we could but, once we 'get in the habit', it is quick and much easier. Again, appreciate your comments ... Annie.

    • profile image

      Benjamin Chege 4 years ago

      Hi Hi wabash annie. Thank you for the information on recycling. What is interesting is the amount of water people pour down when washing vegetables, fruits and other foods such as rice. It can be used for many things as stated inn your hub. Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting.

    • wabash annie profile image

      wabash annie 4 years ago from Colorado Front Range

      Thanks so much AliciaC and Kat11! Yes, recycling is important and we must recycle all that we can.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for all the useful details. Recycling is an important topic.

    • kat11 profile image

      kat11 4 years ago from Illinois

      I recycle everything possible from paper, aluminium cans, to expired medication. I have hopefully taught my children to do the same. I found that your hub was informative and useful. Hopefully the next generation will help recycle so that we can help our planet. Voted up