1. Assuming an item isn’t recyclable
You might be surprised to learn that you can keep old CDs, furniture, mattresses, wine corks, aluminum foil, and lots more out of landfills these days. Often, you’ll have to take these items to a recycling center, but some may be left curbside. Check Earth911.com/recycling (or download their handy smartphone app) to find out more about your local policies.
2. Throwing away plastic bottle caps
Tossing caps before recycling the bottles is no longer a household rule. In 2012, thanks to new technology and increased demand for recycled plastics, theAssociation of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers announced that recycling facilities throughout the US would begin accepting plastic bottles with caps on. Just follow these simple instructions: Empty bottle, crush, replace cap, and recycle. And check with your local recycling program to make sure they have started accepting caps.
3. Recycling dirty paper and cardboard
We use 69 million tons of paper in this country every year (it’s 27% of our municipal waste, according to the EPA), so learning how to recycle it correctly is critical. Even small amounts of soiled paper and cardboard can ruin an entire batch of material at a recycling facility. But don’t trash your greasy pizza box yet. Remove the clean parts and recycle with the rest of your paper goods.
4. Throwing out plastic bags (and using them at all)
If only the “urban tumbleweed” littering the streets made me feel like I was in a western film. These bags often don’t even make it to the trash, and few people make the effort to bring them back to the grocery store’s recycling bins. The solution? Try reusable shopping bags. You’ll reduce your waste, and may even save some cash in the process. Today, some stores offer a small credit for bringing your own bags.
5. Recycling before repurposing
Recycling is great, but it still eats up energy, so get creative with your recyclable items before you kick them to the curb. For instance, yogurt containers make for great seed starters, and glass jars can become vases, pencil cups, votive holders, and … well, you’re on Pinterest for a reason, right?
Gordon Grajek is a test engineer in the Good Housekeeping Research Institute consumer electronics lab.