Between the confusing numbers on containers and the ever-changing rules, it can sometimes feel like recycling just isnâ€™t worth the effort. Weâ€™re here to show you why that isnâ€™t the case.
To prep, just empty, rinse, and remove the caps, which are made from a thicker plastic that can literally clog up the works at the plant. Those ubiquitous polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic beverage bottles are generally shredded, washed, and melted; the resulting material can be spun into a polyester yarn used for clothing and accessories. The thicker, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic -- used for milk and laundry jugs, and for shampoos and cleaning-product bottles -- gets shredded, ground, melted, and molded into such items as pipes, playground equipment, and outdoor furniture.
A recycling superstar, glass retains its integrity when crushed and heated, meaning it can be reused indefinitely. Most recycled glass is turned into new glass containers and bottles, but a small percentage is used to make items like jewelry and countertops. Make sure you degunk the insides and remove lids and bottle caps. (They can be tossed in the bin with your steel cans.)
Recycled paper (staples removed, boxes flattened) is shredded and mixed with water to create pulp. That pulp is cleaned, mixed with additives, and pumped onto a moving screen that drains the water. The resulting sheet is pressed and heated. Office paper and cardboard often get made into more paper and boxes, as well as tabletops and cutting boards. Glossy paper can become newsprint, paperboard, tissue, or stationery.
Though some areas of the country have impressively comprehensive curbside programs (weâ€™re looking at you, San Francisco), the materials below are less likely to be accepted with your regular recyclables. With some know-how and a little effort, though, you can save them from the doom of the landfill.
Includes: Yogurt cups, some bottle caps, and lidded containers
Why Itâ€™s Hard to Recycle: Polypropylene (PP) has a melting point between that of PET and HDPE, the most commonly recycled plastics. Plants may be reluctant to adjust their equipment.
Where It Should Go: Either drop these plastics in Preserveâ€™s â€śGimme 5â€ť bins at Whole Foods stores or follow the mail-in instructions at preserveproducts.com.
What It Becomes: Toothbrushes, razors, tableware, cutting boards, and food storage containers
Why It's Hard to Recycle: These cartons are made of mixed materials -- paper, plastic, and aluminum linings -- that require some effort to separate.
Where It Should Go: First, check recyclecartons.com to see if your city accepts them curbside. If not, follow the siteâ€™s mail-in instructions.
What It Becomes: Tissue and other paper products
Includes: Shopping bags
Why It's Hard to Recycle: Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) has a melting point too low for some recycling plants to accommodate.
Where It Should Go: Bags are accepted at many large grocery, drug, and retail chains. Check plasticbagrecycling.org for locations.
What It Becomes: Bike racks, eco-friendly â€ślumber,â€ť and (fittingly) reusable shopping bags
Includes: Shower curtains
Why It's Hard to Recycle: A brittle material, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) canâ€™t readily be made into new plastic. It also releases toxic chemicals, such as dioxins and phthalates, when heated.
Where It Should Go: Search for local recyclers by entering your zip code and â€śPVCâ€ť at earth911.com.
What It Becomes: Vinyl flooring, siding, and piping
Why It's Hard to Recycle: The discs are considered #7 polystyrene (high melting point), and the cases are #6 polycarbonate plastic mixed with metal (materials that need to be separated).
Where It Should Go: Certain places will recycle both the discs and the cases. Check out cdrecyclingcenter.org to find one in your community.
What It Becomes: Office equipment, street lights, and automotive parts
Why It's Hard to Recycle: Found in phones, laptops, and digital cameras, these batteries might contain such toxic heavy metals as nickel, cadmium, lithium, and lead.
Where It Should Go: Major retailers, including The Home Depot and Staples, accept the batteries. Visit call2recycle.org to find other stores with recycling programs.
What It Becomes: New batteries and various stainless-steel products
Why It's Hard to Recycle: Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) -- often identified with a #6 stamp -- is manufactured from petroleum and therefore highly flammable.
Where It Should Go: Check with your local UPS stores or search â€śpolystyreneâ€ť in your zip code at earth911.com to find local recyclers.
What It Becomes: New polystyrene products
Why It's Hard to Recycle: The cartridges contain recyclable plastic, metal, rubber, foam, and toner, which require effort to be separated.
Where It Should Go: Most printer manufacturers have their own recycling programs, but you can also drop cartridges at an Office Depot.
What It Becomes: New printer cartridges
Whether itâ€™s recognizing the value of a used material (the absorbency of old coffee grounds or the softness of a worn sneaker sole, for example) or considering the entire life cycle of their products, the following innovative brands are taking reuse to a whole new level.