How to Recycle Responsibly

How to Recycle Responsibly

Many people feel good about their recycling, but do you recycle responsibly when it comes to the items you throw in the recycle bin?

Most people I talk to have said they would like to do their part and help the environment. When you ask what they are already doing, almost everyone says they recycle at home. Recycling is a wonderful first step. But we also need to make sure we recycle responsibly. If you aren’t doing it correctly, then it doesn’t help and can actually hurt the recycling industry.

According to the EPA:

Putting items in the recycling bin that can’t be recycled can contaminate the recycling stream. After these unrecyclable items arrive at recycling centers, they can cause costly damage to the equipment. Additionally, after arriving at recycling centers, they must be sorted out and then sent to landfills, which raises costs for the facility. That is why it is important to check with your local recycling provider to ensure that they will accept certain items before placing them into a bin. Some items may also be accepted at retail locations or other at local recycling centers.


How can you make sure you recycle responsibly? There are a few steps that you can take at home to work on this process.

Originally Published On: February 12, 2019

Last Updated On: June 17, 2020

Check with Your Local Recycling Facility

Who Picks up Your Curbside Recycling?

The first step to recycle responsibly is to find out who does your curbside pick up. Sometimes this is through the same company as your trash pickup, other places it’s done through the city or county, and others are their own company.

Contact Your Recycling Facility

Check out the website for your company. Many will have a basic list of what they can accept at the curb. Most companies have a list of items that can’t be picked up. Ours even has a printable PDF that can be placed near your recycling bin inside.

If anything is unclear, try to find the contact information. See if there’s an email or phone number. I prefer email so I can write it all out and make sure I am not forgetting any questions.

Learn About Your Local Facility

A few questions to ask:

  • What can be recycled?
  • Does anything need to be separated?
  • Which plastic “numbers” can be recycled?
  • Can you recycle plastic grocery bags?
  • Is there anything that can’t be recycled?
  • Bonus: ask for a tour of the facility!
Stacks of cardboard bundled for recycling

General Rules to Recycle Responsibly

Read the Labels

More and more products are using the same recycling label with all the information you need to know. (View More Here) Make sure to do as the label says, whether it’s to rinse, replace the cap, remove a lid, etc.

Keep Items Loose

It’s so easy to grab a bunch of recyclable items, throw them in a bag, and put that in the recycling bin. When you do this, though, it makes it difficult for the items to be sorted. Recycling facilities prefer the items to be loose when they are placed in the bin.

Save Space

Flatten any cardboard boxes, milk jugs, etc. to save space in the recycling bin. This also takes up less space in the collection truck, meaning they can visit more homes before driving back to the facility which cuts down on gas.

Non-Recyclable Items

Not Recyclable at Curbside

Many items that can be recycled, just not with your curbside pickup. If you have a specific item that you constantly need to recycle, then you may be able to ask your local facility when you contact them with other questions.


A wonderful resource for locating a recycling facility is When you visit the website click on “Where to Recycle” at the top. You can enter your zip code and the item you need to dispose of. This will give you a list of locations that you can take your materials.

NEVER Place in Recycling Bins

  • Garden hoses
  • Sewing needles
  • Bowling balls
  • Food or food-soiled paper
  • Propane tanks or cylinders
  • Aerosol cans that aren’t empty
  • Household hazardous waste
  • Syringes, broken glass, and broken light bulbs

When in Doubt, Throw it Out!

I hate adding to the landfill, but as you can see, there are only certain materials that can be accepted, especially at the curbside. Entire batches of recycling are considered “contaminated” and not accepted when the wrong materials are added to the curbside recycling bins. It can also damage machines and potentially pose a safety risk for those who work at the facility.

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26 thoughts on “How to Recycle Responsibly”

    1. Yes! I’ve worked places that don’t have a recycling program in place. The elementary school that my son goes to only recycles paper and cardboard. It’s a start, but their cafeteria has so much unnecessary plastic waste.

  1. I think proper recycling is so important to our health and environment! I alway get excited when I visit a new place and they have separate trash cans for each type of recycling, makes me feel good that they are taking an active roll in having a clean community!

    1. Me too! Or when they at least have one for recycle and one for trash. It’s not the best, but at least it’s a start.

  2. These are great tips. I’ll be honest…sometimes recycling makes me nervous because I’m not sure what can/can’t be recycled! I never want to do it wrong!

    1. The best thing to do is to call your recycling company. Since it differs based on location and collection facilities, they can tell you exactly what they take.

  3. This is such a great post! I recently watched a documentary and I was horrified to learn that recycling glass in australia is more expensive than importing glass … and this made me so sad … we seriously need to do something.

    1. Oh wow, I hadn’t heard that one. I also was shocked when I started hearing how much recycling is “not worth the cost” anymore.

  4. Recycle is a great way to help our environment. but it depends on how can you start and do it mostly others they don’t know on how to proper recycling. What a great tips from you nice one!

    1. I agree, recycling can be so helpful, but only if it’s done properly. Hopefully this gives some ideas on the best ways to go about it correctly.

    1. I didn’t know it for a long time, either. My parents always filled a bag in the kitchen, then we took it to the bin. It’s only recently that I learned to keep it loose so it can be sorted easier.

  5. We don’t have city-wise recycling, so the earth911 resource sounds great! It’s so important to prioritize sustainability.

    1. Oh my gosh, I don’t know what I would do without recycling pickup! We have been cutting waste in all areas, including what gets recycled, but if it’s a choice between something packaged in a recyclable container or not, I always choose the recyclable one.

  6. Excellent points all around, Stephanie! Thanks esp for the reminder of the earth911 link. Our county just cut waaaaaaay back on what they’ll allow us to recycle, and while they’re like “oh, it’s OK, we burn the trash for electricity!” I’d still rather recycle when I can.

    1. Oh man, that’s not the greatest solution, either! Burning puts all those chemicals in the air. I’ve been using earth911 for the items we have that can’t go in the recycling bin lately.

  7. Excellent tips! This article is awesome and everybody should read it! I must say that although in Switzerland the recycling model is well organized, more and more people try to “re-use”, “re-vamp” stuff, which I find to be a better option!

    1. It’s definitely better to find ways to reuse instead of just tossing in the recycle. I’ve heard Switzerland is great with their programs for recycling and cutting out waste in general.

  8. This is great! My family and I have always made recycling a priority in our home, because we love helping the Earth. I’m definitely going to be more conscious about what I’m putting in the bin!

    1. I’m so glad to hear it! My 5-year-old has started asking if things can go in the compost and if I say no then the recycle before he even thinks of throwing it in the trash. It’s always great when families work on it together and make it a natural part of life.

    1. I agree, but at the same time, it can be confusing! That’s why I always suggest that people call their recycle facility to find out how to do it. Once you have a plan, the task doesn’t seem as daunting.

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