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It’s time that we become more than aspirational recyclers! This means finding out if a discarded item is recyclable, or if it’s better off being tossed in the trash. When items that should be sent to the landfill are accidentally recycled, they can wreak havoc on the machines processing your recyclables. Plastic bags and bubble wrap, for instance, often tangle around the turbines of the machines and can shut down an entire processing plant. So, do you know when to recycle or when to trash it? Keep reading to find out.

woman holding paper recyclables near sorted out recycling bins

You may be shocked to know that all plastics are not created equal. Materials like plastic bags and plastic straws are commonly tossed in the recycling bin, thereby creating confusion during the sorting process in recycling plants. For instance, plastic bags are made of a much thinner plastic that is not recycled at most facilities. As these items enter the recycling plant, they must be sorted before they tangle around machinery.

As for plastic utensils and straws, they fall through the machines given their smaller size. Unfortunately, workers are then required to clean up the mess of scattered plastic. To avoid slowing down the recycling process, it is safer to throw away all products that do not display their recyclability. Sticking to the basics and only recycling items that display the above logo will help make you a responsible recycler.

How to Recycle Electronics

multi colored power chords

Wondering what to do with your old electronics? Power cords and batteries are amongst a few of the electronics that are acceptable to recycle; however; they must be sent to the correct facility. For instance, if you have old and unusable power chords, the safest way to keep them out of the landfill is to send them to your community’s recycling facility specializing in e-waste materials. With a quick internet search, you can find e-waste facilities that are close in proximity to your location.

As for batteries, the options are a little broader— thereby making it easier to find a way to keep these single-use products out of the landfill. There are designated locations in your community that accept batteries, which can again be viewed by a quick internet search. As batteries are becoming more commonly recycled, there are companies like Battery Recyclers of America that offer pick-up options that make it convenient to help to improve environmental awareness.

When Paper Waste Should Be Tossedwoman cleaning off blue glass plates with paper towls

While recycling paper products may seem like a no-brainer, there are a few rules that must be followed. For instance, pizza boxes are not eligible to be recycled as they are contaminated with grease. The same concept can be applied to paper towels, napkins, and plates, as they are often contaminated with food, water, and other debris. While the recycling efforts of our nation are much appreciated, it is equally important that we are mindful of what we place in our green bin. Instead of allowing contaminated products to enter the recycling plant, it is safer to throw them in the trash or opt for a more sustainable alternative. In fact, using old rags and torn shirts as your kitchen towels can be a great way to cut your cost on single-use towels and napkins.

Don’t Be Discouraged

recycling boxes

Recycling may seem confusing; however, it is crucial to the stability of our economy. If we intend to decrease the volume of single-use plastic entering landfills and polluting our oceans, then we need to increase our global recycling rate. We currently recycle eight percent of our single-use plastic, which is alarmingly low (Parker, 2018). While this statistic may seem discouraging and bleak, we can change our viewpoint. Let’s focus on the opportunity to begin recycling the other 91% of our single-use plastic products! Remembering the minor recycling rules listed above will increase accuracy, thereby increasing the global recycling percentage.

Do you know when to trash it? Have any tips and tricks for recycling in your community? Share in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!


Parker,  L. (2018). Here’s How Much Plastic Trash is Littering Our Earth. National Geographic.