If we had to choose the key word of the green movement in the last few decades, it would have to be “recycle”.
Even for households who do very little else to reduce their waste or choose products that are better for the planet, almost every one of us knows how to recycle and does our part at least a little.
What does recycling encompass?
Recycling is the act of converting waste into something new, whether that’s reusing something and repurposing it or sending it to a recycling facility to be turned back into its original state to save from using brand new materials.
It can be as simple as using your household recycling bin or going one step further to recycle electronic waste or turn food scraps into fertilizer.
Recycling has rich origins that date back further than most people realize and today they have become the key focus on conservation efforts.
There are so many things we can do to help planet earth and getting an understanding of how recycling fits in with them will be the best thing you ever did for the cause.
This guide will teach you everything you need to know about how to recycle, why we recycle, and important statistics about how all corners of the globe gets it done.
With some tips and tricks you can learn and even ways to make money, you’ll see that it can be a lot more exciting and beneficial for yourself and the environment than you ever imagined.
The History of Recycling
When you think about the birth of recycling, your mind probably goes to the environmental revolution of the 1970s where everybody began to sit up and take notice of our impact on the earth.
Although this was an important time in getting the message out to the public, early evidence suggests that recycling has been in place since almost the beginning of mankind.
Historians suggest that the basic principles of recycling were used in Ancient Greece as the materials they used to build contained broken vases and tools that had been reused and melted down to form new ones.
In China, it was decreed that people should boil their old linen rags to create paper, a practice that was then brought to Europe and Arabic countries some years later.
During the Depression, products were made intended to be reused, and families were urged to follow suit. Flour sacks were refashioned into clothing and biscuit containers were used as storage and lunch boxes for children.
When World War II arrived, people were asked to collect and store paper, scrap metal, and cooking waste for explosives, leading to a stockpile that was barely touched.
Flash forward to the 1970s and the very first Earth Day celebrations. This is often touted as a significant time for conservation efforts as it got everyone familiar with the famous three Rs of reduce, reuse, recycle.
Today, recycling looks very different any now encompasses things like cars and electronics, although the rate that we create waste has exploded and the need for more people to take into account their own output has never been more important.
Recycling Habits Around the World
Recycling is something that most countries take seriously but it appears some excel compared to the rest. Although the United States creates a massive amount of waste, roughly 254 million tons a year, the recycling rate is only around 34 percent.
Compare this to our rate 50 years ago of 6.2 percent, and it’s definitely better, but when you look at the rest of the world we are lagging behind.
Some of the most impressive countries renowned for their recycling efforts are Austria and Germany, with recycling rates of 63 and 62 percent.
Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore all sit at around 50 percent which is an enviable amount. Canada, France, and Italy have recycling scores around the same as us, although with a lot less waste created per capita produced in the first place.
In countries where recycling systems and plants aren’t found, they still make an effort to recycle. Some citizens of Egypt collect trash from the neighborhood and knocking on people’s doors, and are able to make money from recycling up to 80 percent of it.
What’s important to note when comparing how the nations differ is that no one system works for everyone.
Each country has to identify their biggest source of waste, educate their citizens on how to reduce and recycle, and then implement strategies that are going to get them the best results.
Commercial and Domestic Recycling
The world’s waste can be broken down into two significant groups: domestic and commercial. Each of these groups has their own classifications for what waste is but more importantly, the way that they recycle them also differs.
Domestic waste is anything that’s created due to your daily life, such as anything you use when you’re at home. It can include the waste collected from your trash can or any service you pay to collect waste from the home.
Your food scraps, packaging, lawn clippings, electronics, clothing, and anything else that’s used personally and then thrown out. What you want to recycle, you put in the bin, and the local council takes care of it.
Commercial waste makes up a much larger portion of the country’s overall production and includes anything that’s not domestic.
This is as a result of running a charity organization or a five-star hotel, and everything in between. It can include food wrappers, printer paper, packaging, mining resources, retail goods, veterinary and medical equipment, and trash collected from public places.
Where once businesses were able to recycle all of it because the waste was sent to recycling plants in China, a recent decision by their government to no longer accept certain types of waste means it now stays in the US.
Local waste management companies must charge a higher premium to recycle for businesses, and it’s a cost that many can’t afford.
This type of scenario is becoming more common and makes it harder to recycle, and not just for businesses.
What’s needed then is for people to reduce their usage of resources and switch to methods that leave less to be recycled in the first place, which takes a huge shift in thinking, especially for businesses.
Companies Leading the Way in Recycling
Going green isn’t something that just eco-friendly people do at home anymore, as both big and small companies seem to be following the trend as well.
There are so many ways that businesses can get involved in recycling, and by looking at some of the major corporations who are leaders in this area, it gives hope that others will follow in their footsteps soon.
The famous computer company is continuously working to reduce their impact on the environment and even pays their staff a bonus according to their own recycling efforts.
Since 2018, Intel has a recycling rate of more than 75 percent and aims to hit a 90 percent rate in 2020.
The skincare giant takes recycling seriously and their 23 manufacturing facilities have recorded zero waste being sent to landfills since 2003.
Their current rate is around 88.5 percent of materials recycled and what can’t be recycled will be incinerated and converted to energy, so nothing is wasted.
Eaton takes their waste reduction very seriously and is always working at decreasing the amount sent to landfill.
Since 2015, they’ve had a 25 percent reduction in landfill and over 120 of their facilities report zero waste already. Their goal is to eventually turn all of their facilities into zero waste with a goal of 20 at a time.
Texas Instruments invests a lot of their money researching and developing ways to reuse and recycle materials across all of their operations.
Not only do they recycle materials like metals and plastic to use again in processing but they use recycled water to power their utility plant cooling towers.
What Can I Recycle at Home?
When recycling at home, the rules are pretty easy, and once you get into the habit of it you won’t have to think twice.
Most homes have a color-coded bin that is just for recycling and just by looking up the rules in place by your local government you can find out what’s allowed in them and what’s not. For a refresher, check out the list of things you can and can’t recycle at home.
- Soda bottles
- Beer and liquor bottles
- Cereal and snack cardboard boxes
- Magazines, mail, newspaper, office paper
- Steel, aluminum, and tin cans
- Glass food containers and jars
- Rigid plastic bottles and containers
- Cardboard egg cartons
- Pizza boxes
- Soft plastic like grocery bags and plastic wrap
- Take out containers
- Soiled food containers or paper
- Plastic utensils and cups
If you’re unsure if something can be recycled, it’s best to leave it out if you can’t get confirmation from your local recycling plant or information online.
Throwing an object into the recycling pile that can’t be processed can hold up the operations and even contaminate other items, so don’t throw it in there if you’re not positive that it’s okay to recycle.
The Rules of Recycling at Home
As well as knowing what you can and can’t recycle, it’s also important to note there are other rules in place. Learn these few basic rules of recycling to make sure it’s done the right way and ensure that your hard work doesn’t go to waste.
- Keep soft plastic out: Remove everything from plastic packaging and never put anything in a plastic bag in the recycling bin.
- Never add broken glass: Just a small amount of broken glass can ruin an entire load of recyclable glass and make it unusable.
- Keep everything clean: Wash out old food and drink, and rinse with soapy water if necessary.
- Remove the lids: Lids must be taken off bottles and jars, including milk bottles before they’re placed into the recycling bin.
The Easiest Things to Recycle
The recycling process varies for every type of material but the main goal is to treat it until it goes back to its original state.
With that in mind, there are some products that can be recycled with a lot less effort than others, so consider this as you’re adding to your daily recycling pile at home.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles house soda, liquid cleaners, and antacids, and they make up around 1.5 billion pounds of recycling products each year.
They’re easy to recycle and doing so saves two-thirds of the energy otherwise used to make them brand new. Recycled PET products can be made into new bottles, carpet, car parts, and construction materials, so it’s very valuable to reuse.
Steel is one of the most commonly recycled materials in North America and when combined and over 25 million tons have been recycled so far in this region.
Steel is easy to recycle and has countless uses, so it should always be considered when you’re taking out the trash.
Making a brand new aluminum can out of recycled materials rather than new materials saves up to 95 percent of the energy.
These valuable items are 100 percent recyclable and can be used an infinite amount of times when they’re processed correctly.
An estimated 80 percent of paper ends up in landfill in the United States, despite it being one of the easiest products to recycle.
When the newspaper breaks down in landfills and isn’t recycled properly it produces methane which is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases and one that does the most harm to our planet.
The Hardest Things to Recycle
In addition to the usual household items you throw into the recycling bin, there are other items out there that are a little harder to come by.
However, just because these items take a lot longer to recycle that doesn’t mean they aren’t full of valuable materials. Check out some of the more difficult items that can be recycled, with rewards that are worth the effort.
Electronic waste is a huge part of the United States’ waste output but did you know it can also be recycled?
By stripping down things like phones and laptops, recycling efforts can reduce the number of materials needed to make new ones, and extract rare minerals like gold and copper.
Batteries are a common household item but one that not many people realize can be recycled.
Unfortunately, you can’t just throw batteries into the standard recycling bin and put in on the street, but there are hundreds of organizations and drop points that take batteries for you and recycle them.
From here, they’re able to strip the batteries of otherwise toxic waste and create new ones without relying on new materials to make them.
According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, around 95 percent of vehicles that no longer drive on US roads are recycled.
When done correctly, 90 percent of a typical vehicle can be stripped of parts and recycle so it’s a worthy practice indeed.
Making Money With Recycling
Recycling is a great way to do your part for the environment and there are plenty of benefits for both of you to enjoy.
To take the benefits of going green one step further, some people make money with recycling and some even enough to live off comfortably. Check out these interesting ways you can earn money by recycling while doing your part for Mother Earth.
Depending on the state you live in, you should be able to get a gift card or other redemption from dropping in an old car or motorbike battery to participating auto stores.
They use these batteries to make new ones and make sure they’re delivered to the right recycling plant.
If you’re someone who does a lot of online shopping or you recently moved house, you probably have plenty of cardboard boxes at home.
You can sell these at online marketplaces like BoxCycle to people in need of cardboard and make sure they get a second life before they have to be recycled.
There are some organizations that specialize in recycling the things that don’t go in your bin, like potato chip bags and the single-serve pouches of fruit and baby food.
These places don’t always offer cash but do give out points and rewards for local charities and schools. It’s a great way to recycle the smaller things that your bin won’t take and do something good for the community.
If you have a large family or use a whole lot of oil, there are some companies and individuals who will buy it from you used and use it to create biodiesel.
You’ll need to have a lot to give away in order for it to work but can get up to 75 cents per gallon you have and somewhere safe to dispose of the oil.
Metal is a valuable resource and when it’s in the right condition, it can even make you some money to sell. Non-ferrous metals will earn the most money, with copper and brass being the top earners.
If you have some laying around, take it to your local scrap yard and see what price they’ll offer to take it off your hands.
If your fridge or other whitegoods break down or you come across one that needs dumping, contact your local utility before you do.
In some places, a utility will pay you to retrieve these old appliances as they’re able to strip them and recycle their parts, and they’ll even pick them up for you.
There are just 11 states in the US that will give you money for your recyclable containers, with prices around 5c for those under 24oz and 10c for ones over that size.
These bottles include beer, wine, spirit coolers, and non-alcoholic beverages, but the containers must be made of recyclable materials like plastic, glass, and aluminum.
Tips to Start Recycling at Home
The easiest way to become an expert recycler is to start small and make gradual changes, so be patient with your progress.
By following a few of these tips and rethinking the way you what you do with waste, you’ll adopt a greener way of living and make a huge impact on your household and the environment.
- Anything smaller than a credit card should not be put in the regular recycling bin because when it transfers to the plant, it can contaminate the sorting machine and cause blockages. Save up your smaller items and send them to at a participating drop-off.
- Materials need to be separated in order to be recycled. A plastic-coated cup or envelopes with the plastic window on them cannot be recycled and will end up in the trash, so separate them first.
- Only ever put something in the recycling if you are certain it can be recycled. By guessing and putting random items in there, you can contaminate the whole lot and make it unusable. Do a quick search online to see if what you’re about to throw is actually allowed before you chuck it.
- Make an effort to clean everything before it’s thrown in the recycling bin. You should have it cleaned and dry enough that it could be used again in your own home, so don’t leave food scraps and liquids inside.
- Keep all of the other items that can’t be put into the recycling bin and make an effort to drop them off at collection points. It takes little extra energy and can show your kids how important it is to recycle every last piece of waste you can.
- Be the change you want to see in the world and make a conscious effort to only purchase things that have recyclable packaging. With this, we send a message to manufacturers that we no longer want to use wasteful materials, and withholding money is the most powerful way to do it.
- There are loads of types of paper you can recycle and not just the newspaper. Put gift wrapping paper, birthday cards, phone books, and envelopes into the recycling pile as well.
- It is not just newspapers that you can recycle at home. Also, recycle wrapping paper, envelopes, birthday cards, and phone books. All sorts of cardboard can be recycled, too, even toilet and paper towel tubes.
Going Beyond Recycling
Recycling is often touted as the be-all and end-all when it comes to living green, but it should really be seen as the last point of action.
Although it can be great to recycle things and allow them to be reused and refashioned into something else, there are many steps before it that we also need to start taking seriously.
Following the three Rs, along with the newer other Rs, is a great way to do this. Most importantly, we need to look at the refuse step, and making a conscious effort to say no politely to things we don’t really need.
This means promotional gear, supermarket freebies, and cheap toys for the kids. If we don’t let it into the home in the first place then it doesn’t need to be recycled.
Other actions like reusing and reducing are also crucial for conservation. Think about ways you can reuse items in the home before you throw them away.
Consider whether or not they can be repaired or if someone else might have a good use for them. After we’ve exhausted all other options, then we can turn to recycling, therefore reducing the overall waste that the world has to take on.
The Benefits of Recycling
Recycling is something simple you can do at home that will make you feel good about your contribution to the planet.
It’s not just you that will feel good though, as there are plenty of other people and living things that will receive benefits as well if we all make an effort to recycle.
- Every piece of waste sent to a recycling plant rather than in the trash prevents it from entering landfills or being incinerated.
- Recycling creates jobs in the manufacturing and recycling industries in the US and employs more people than if it were to be thrown away.
- A dramatic decrease in pollution because fewer things are being incinerated and new materials don’t have to be sourced.
- Converses natural resources so they can be used again, like minerals, timber, and water.
- Saves energy in the process because waste doesn’t have to be transported, incinerated, thrown into landfills or compacted.
- Gives you a sense of self-satisfaction knowing you’re doing the right thing.
- Teaches your kids the importance of conversation and the place of recycling within in.
- Promotes brands and companies that are eco friendly when we make choices to purchase products that can be recycled.
The Easy Way to Help the Earth
What makes recycling such a powerful tool in the fight the help the planet is that it requires very little extra energy to make a big impact.
Considering you were going to throw out the trash anyway, why not spend a second sorting it so it can be recycled, doing yourself and the earth a favor?
So many changes are being made in the world of recycling and the list of things that can now be stripped down and recycled is growing.
Cell phones, automobiles, cereal boxes, and aluminum cans all have their place in recycling and can help save a lot of unnecessary pollution and energy expenditure with just a little effort from you.
The goal to recycle is an important one but it’s also the one that should be considered last in the grand scheme of green living.
We must make a conscious effort to reduce and reuse everyday items and lessen the strain on the environment, so we can ensure our recycling plants have enough space to process everything that households send their way.
There are so many facets to recycling that it’s important to educate ourselves and learn everything we can.
The best way to recycle is to understand more about it, what can and can’t be recycled, and how we can reduce our household waste before it gets to that point.
We’ve answered some starter questions on recycling to give you a background on what makes it so important.
How Much Does Recycling Save?
Each type of material is capable of different things when its recycled, and plastic is one of the most efficient.
According to Stanford University, just one ton of recycled plastic can save 30 cubic yards in landfill, 5,774 Kwh of energy, 98 million BTU’s of energy, and 16.3 barrels of oil.
How Much Recycling Does Each Household Make?
Although every household differs on how much they recycle with some making more of an effort than others.
On average though, the average American individual recycles around 710 pounds of trash a year, with the other 1,361 pounds ending up in the trash.
This is a figure that can easily be improved upon with a few simple changes to how you look at recycling in your home.
Which State is the Best for Recycling?
Recycling rates across America are calculated according to state with some performing better than others.
California has the best rate of recycling with around 48 percent of its waste being recycled compared to the nation’s average of 30%. This is compared to around 17 percent in 1990, so it’s promising to see the figures rise.