8 ways to make sure that you’re recycling correctly

Sustainability |  2 min. read

Do I need to take out the staples before I recycle papers? Can I leave the cap on the shampoo bottle?  What if the pizza box has some pizza still stuck to it?

While recycling is important for our environment, doing it properly isn’t always obvious. To that end, here’s some recycling tips to help make sure your old bottles, cans and papers get put to good re-use:

1. Plastic bottles for drinks are almost always recyclable, and they are already being turned into everything from to NBA jerseys to gowns for Oscar night, to shoes and flip-flops. That’s because the bottles are made from polyester film, which starts with xylene as the petrochemical building block.  Just give your bottles a rinse first.

2. Plastic bottles for other uses (shampoo, soap, detergent) are also almost always recyclable. These are made from polyethylene, which starts with ethylene.  Same rules as #1.  (Same reuses too — everything from new cars to the streets they drive on.)

3. No, you don’t have to take out staples or take off stickers from paper before recycling it.

4. Most hard-plastic food containers are recyclable because they are made out of high-impact polystyrene, which starts with ethylene and benzene. But like the bottles, wipe or rinse the food off first.

5. Cap on the shampoo bottle or off? Yes and no. Cap on or off depends on where you live, so you need to check with your local recycler.

6. Plastic bags and wrap can be recycled (and turned into products like plastic lumber!). Those bags and wrap are made from polyethylene.  But they don’t go into your recycling bin.  Those plastics you bundle up (in a bag) and take to one of the 18,000 (or so) grocery and retail outlets that send them on for the special handling required to reuse them.

7. And speaking of special handling, some plastics that are hard to recycle today, are about to become the new raw materials of tomorrow. Dow, for instance, is working on the potato chip bag problem (a problem, because the bags are made of more than one material) with a process that uses heat to turn those bags into fuel for cars, trucks and buses, and also a petrochemical feedstock called naphtha.  LyondellBasell is working to “deconstruct” old plastic (polyethylene and polypropylene) into its original monomers, to make brand new plastic.  And Chevron Phillips Chemical is taking the same approach to another tough-to-recycle plastic, Styrofoam — breaking it down to its chemical building block (styrene) to make new Styrofoam.  Take a peek at the future of plastic recycling here.

8. What if the pizza box still has pizza on it? If it’s crumbs you can wipe out of the box, then yes, recycle it. If the box is soaked through with grease, that was probably good pizza, but it makes for bad recycling.

In the end though, all recycling is local.  So the single best way to be sure about what you can recycle, is to ask your local recycling agency.  Earth911 is also a good place to look for what’s recyclable where you live.


Up Next

New research shows that banning plastic packaging could be harmful to the environment

Plastic bags, paper bags, cloth bags, everything has an impact on the environment.  And what’s better isn’t always what you might think.