Recycling is awesome... And also a bit confusing, if we're being totally honest. If you've ever scratched your head over whether or not you can recycle some of the regular household items you use everyday, you're not alone in your confusion.
Mainly due to a lack of clear information about the processes involved in recycling a variety of different items, many of us have probably been ditching a lot of recyclable items straight into the trash and sending them off to landfill, without even realizing that options exist to give them a second lease on life.
We've created a list of the Top 5 lesser-known everyday items that you can indeed recycle, and outline how and where you can get go about getting them into your recycling rotation. Check out all this recyclable stuff you might not have known about, that'll have you amping up your recycling cred to Expert Level...
You can recycle single-use household batteries, as they’re made up of a number of different components that are recyclable! Battery recycling plants use a mechanical process to separate and grind up the different parts; so the steel, brass and zinc manganese can all go on to be repurposed and used in many different ways after we’ve finished with them.
- Reach out to local recycling centers to find out if your community has a battery collection program in place. If there aren’t any upcoming collection events, they’ll be able to advise you on where to drop off your used batteries to be transported to the proper recycling center.
- Research a mail-in recycling program that accepts alkaline batteries. You can purchase a container to store spent batteries in, and mail it to their facility once it’s full for a hassle-free option.
LEVEL EXPERT: For the ultimate environment-love, consider switching over to rechargeable batteries. You can recharge them on your electric charging dock and reuse them over 1,000 times!
They do need to undergo a special recycling process however, so be sure to drop off any plastic shopping bags in special recycling containers located near the front entrance of your local grocery store. A few communities in the U.S. do accept plastic shopping bags in their curbside recycling bin pickup, but it really depends on your local recycling rules, so be sure to check the lid of your bin or call up to ask the professionals before tossing them in with your paper and cardboard. If your local council doesn’t specifically state that they can recycle grocery bags along with your other recyclables, tossing them in there can cause a lot of trouble at the plant.
- Don't throw your plastic grocery bags into your curbside recycling bin unless you're 100% sure your local pickup can handle them at their facility. Flimsy bags can tangle up recycling equipment at local recycling stations and cause the entire load to end up in landfill.
- Play it safe and return plastic bags to the collection bins near the entrance of your grocery store, to ensure they’ll be sent to the right place for processing.
ENVIRONMENTAL WARRIOR: Switch to reusable shopping bags for your groceries and ditch the single-use plastic for good!
This one’s a little complicated. At this stage, the general answer is...
It really depends on the brand, what materials the pod is made of, and what your local area will and won’t recycle. Many of the big name companies have corporate sustainability programs being implemented, and are encouraging consumers to bring used pods to a drop-off location for collection, or to mail them back to the company in their own designated recycling bags, free of charge.
- If You’re Using a Plastic Coffee Pod: First up, check in with your town’s recycling center to see what types of plastics they can recycle in their facility. Flip your capsule upside-down to see if there’s a triangular recycling symbol stamped on the base. If it’s recyclable, it’ll have a number written within the triangle, so cross-check that number with your town's plastic recycling rules. If the type of plastic used to make your type of coffee pod is approved in your area, you’ll be able to recycle this bottom plastic portion in your normal curbside recycling bin. Just peel off the aluminum top, dump out the coffee grounds in your compost bin, and give it a rinse.
- If You’re Using an Aluminum Coffee Pod: While aluminum pods are able to be fully recycled, there is a small catch... You’ll need to send them back to the company so they can be given a new lease on life. Why? Aluminum coffee pods aren’t entirely made of pure aluminum (which is easily and widely recycled like soda cans)... Because they often also have a silicon lining on the inside that preserves the coffee’s freshness. Mixed materials complicate the recycling process and make these kinds of pods unsuitable for processing in your local town’s recycling rounds. Silicon-lined aluminum coffee pods are able to be fully recycled however, the silicone lining just needs to be specially removed with a customized process first. Big name coffee companies have their own dedicated recycling facilities to handle this specialized separation process, so you’ll just need to return the pods to their manufacturer to be sure they won’t be going into landfill and contaminating the rest of the load of recyclables at your local recycling station.
BOTTOM LINE: Check on the coffee pod company's website to see what sort of recycling initiatives or recommendations they offer for their particular pod variations.
Rather confusingly, styrofoam and polystyrene are not recyclable in our regular curbside pickup, and they're actually considered a recycling contaminant that does more harm than good. So, why do we see that triangular recyclable symbol on some styrofoam takeout, produce and meat packaging? The short answer is: It’s all in the numbers. Usually, the number in the middle of this triangle will be a 6, meaning it needs to go to a recycling facility specifically for foam packaging.
Polystyrene and styrofoam are made of petroleum, which does indeed contain parts that can be recycled, however they do need to be taken to a specialized facility that can extract the recyclable elements. If just a piece or two of styrofoam makes it into your curbside recycling bin with your paper, plastic and aluminum cans for recycling, it can taint the entire load and cause whole truckloads of viable recyclables to be rejected, sending the lot straight into landfill.
- The good news is, many local grocery stores have a take-back program for the recycling of foam packaging that comes from their store. Check with your grocer to see if you can bring back styrofoam packaging to be sent to their recycling plant with the rest of the produce department's packaging cartons.
- Some shipping companies often accept foam packing peanuts in the store too, so check with your mail service to see if that’s an option in your area!
It’s Paper, so it’s recyclable- right? ...Surprisingly, not so much.
Shredded paper can’t go straight into your curbside recycling bin unfortunately, especially if you're in a recycling program that has single stream recycling (where everything goes in the one bin). Shreds of paper can clog up the machinery that separates the recyclables, so it’s time to get a bit creative with ways to give it a second lease on life.
- You can use paper shreds around the house as packaging material for breakable objects, in the garden as mulch or fire kindling (if it’s not glossy or highly colored), or you can also call your local animal shelter to see if they’d like to use it for bedding or litter.
- If you’ve got a large volume of paper or some sensitive documents you need to have shredded, call in the big guns and have a shredding company do all the hard work. They’ll not only make sure your important documents are destroyed, but they’ll take care of the recycling part for you!
So, now you know! A few of these were surprising for us too... Who would have thought you could recycle foam containers?! It truly goes to show that you can do your part in an even more meaningful way with just a little research into learning what your local recycling center is capable of. And, it only takes a bit of extra effort to drop off your recyclables for processing further afield if they're not completely cut and dry like our usual paper, plastic and aluminum recyclables.
It's inspiring to hear the stories of many large corporations who are recognizing the environmental impact of their consumers' use of their products, and as a result are taking action to make sure their products don't desecrate the earth after we've finished enjoying them.
Every little bit we can do counts, and each small effort we put in to our recycling contributions will make a dent in the enormous volume of landfill we create every year from using these everyday household items.
Here's to the future, and to embracing recycling possibilities we never dreamed were possible!
Fefe | Greens Steel Recycling Groupie
P.S. Continue your mission to cut down on consumable plastics by toting your Greens Steel Stainless Steel Beast Tumbler along with you everywhere, to reduce the workload of the recycling centers with all those unnecessary plastic bottles!