One Tree Planted

How to recycle

a step-by-step guide for all recyclable materials

We all want to do whatever we can to protect our planet, but it can be confusing to figure out how, and sometimes it can feel like our daily actions are too small to make a difference. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry!

There are plenty of things we can do as individuals to help our planet—and recycling is one of them. But it’s important to do it right so that your efforts don’t go to waste. Thankfully, we’ve put together a handy guide on how to recycle to help you get started! But first, let's take a look at the facts, here are just a few short stats about plastic waste. 

In 65 years we've produced 6,300,000,000 tons of plastic waste
It takes 400 years to break down plastic
8,000,000 metric tons end up in the ocean every year
91% of plastic doesn't get recycled
One Tree Planted

Recyclable Materials

How to Recycle Properly

What is it? Any article of clothing or fabrics that you no longer want or need.

How to Recycle it: Sort into 3 categories based on condition: great, good, and poor. Pieces that are in great condition can be sent to consignment shops or traded at clothing swaps. Those that are in good condition can be donated to thrift shops. For pieces that are torn, stained, or otherwise unwearable, recycling is the best option—but not through your municipality. Locate local clothing recycling bins (or retailers like H&M and AEO), or simply turn into rags for use around the house.

Best of all, lower your consumption so you can reduce waste in the first place.

Pile of colorful clothes

Plastic #1:Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
What is it? Food and drink packaging, water bottles, cosmetic packaging, containers of household cleaners.

How to recycle it:Rinse, remove bottle caps, and place in your recycling bin. Check with your town to find out what to do with the caps, as they are usually made from a different type of plastic. Some will accept them, while others may ask you to throw them away. Bonus points if you save them for crafts or other household reuses!

Plastic #2: High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
What is it? Grocery bags, opaque milk jugs, juice containers, shampoo bottles, medicine bottles.

How to recycle it:HDPE waste is accepted by most curbside recycling programs, although some municipalities will only allow containers with necks. In these cases, you know the drill: rinse, remove caps, and place in your bin! Flimsier HDPE plastics like grocery bags and plastic wrap generally cannot be recycled (and regularly jam up machinery recycling facilities), but some stores will accept and dispose of them properly.


Plastic bottles on the beach

While each municipality varies in what it will accept, plastics #1 and #2 are the most consistently recycled. Plastics #3-7 are harder to deal with and often end up getting incinerated or filling landfills as a result.That’s why we recommend phasing out these plastics altogether—at least until we figure out better ways to deal with them. 

What is it?Bottles and Jars

How to recycle it:Check with your local recycling facility for specific glass recycling guidelines, but in general: remove metal caps and place clean, unbroken bottles in a bin (depending on whether your municipality practices single-stream or dual-stream recycling, you may need to have glass and plastic in separate bins), carefully separated from paper products.

No matter what you do, keep trying your best and you'll be a recycling hero in no time!

Broken glass on the street

What is it? Tree limbs, untreated scrap lumber, wooden home goods like wooden bowls and toys.

How to recycle it: It varies! Tree limbs and untreated scrap lumber can either be chipped and used as mulch or added to compost. Or, in some municipalities, bundled for curbside pickup. If not, find a nearby wood recycler. Scrap lumber can also be donated to your local Habitat for Humanity Restore or other nonprofit home improvement store. If in good condition, wooden home goods should be donated to your local thrift store. Treated or painted wood, particleboard, and chipboard often contain toxic compounds or glues and cannot be safely burned or recycled. These will have to be taken to your local landfill. 

Looking for more ideas? Learn from the world's most famous conservationists!

Wood

What is it?Office paper, newsprint, wrapping paper, tissue paper, paper packaging, shipping boxes etc.

How to recycle it: Check with your local recycling facility, as guidelines vary by municipality—but the general rule is that if you can rip it in half, you can recycle it. Keep your paper recyclables separate from glass and plastic, as shards from these will render paper worthless. And so will grease or food stains.

There are exceptions, of course: most wrapping paper can’t be recycled because it’s coated, so look for recycled or recyclable wrapping paper and gift bags and reuse as many times as possible. The same goes for plastic coated ice cream tubs, to-go coffee cups, and coated paper packaging.

Collapse boxes, remove labels and shipping materials, and downsize any oversized boxes by either folding or cutting them in half. Cut out any oily or otherwise dirty spots (read: pizza boxes) and don’t put any paper out if it’s raining as this significantly decreases its recycling value. 

Piles of stacked paper

If you don’t have curbside pickup, search for your nearest cardboard recycling center.

And finally: when shopping, look for products that are made from recycled paper.

Get the guide: How to recycle

Download our free guide to recycling! Pin it to the fridge or near the recycling bin to regulate recycling habits in your family.

How to Recycle Different Materials Guide

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