Earth Day Special: What We Can and Can’t Recycle

College, with a host of environmental clubs and recycling programs available on most campuses is the ideal place to explore your passion for the planet. But before you take all your trash to the recycling bins, it’s important to know what really belongs there. Here are some of the more-surprising things that you can and can’t recycle.

Mind Your Plastics

Americans create 10.5 million tons of plastic waste every year. Only 1 to 2 percent of that gets recycled, but much more of it could be reprocessed. Check the code on your plastic container to see whether it’s recyclable. Plastic collection for recycling varies by city based upon equipment and labor. In general:

  • Plastic items with codes 1 and 2 are always recyclable. Bin them with ease (and try to keep your plastic usage minimal and limited to codes 1 and 2).
  • Those with codes 3, 6, and 7 should almost always be put in the regular trash (unless you’ve been notified otherwise by your campus).
  • Plastic waste with codes 4 and 5 are accepted by some recycling facilities but not others so ask your campus recycling program coordinator what you should do with these.

You’ve also got to make sure your plastic is clean. A half-empty plastic container or soda bottle could contaminate an entire bale of plastic that should have been recycled. Dump the waste and give it a rinse.

Recycle Batteries Properly

We all use dry-cell batteries to power our alarm clocks, remote controls, and household gadgets. As a nation, we buy 3 billion of these batteries every year. You might not realize that alkaline, carbon-zinc, NiCad, and NiMH batteries can all be recycled, but not in the regular way. You can order a Think Green From Home Dry Cell Battery Recycling Kit from Waste Management. The kit is actually just a box that you fill with your used batteries. After you fill the box, use the pre-paid return shipping label to send it away for safe recycling.

Forget About Those Pizza Boxes

Pizza boxes are made from cardboard, and cardboard is recyclable, so you head for your nearest recycling bin whenever you have a pizza party. Not so fast. Pizza boxes are nearly always tainted with food and grease, which are real headaches for recycling plants.

“The oil causes great problems for the quality of the paper, especially the binding of the fibers,” Phoenix solid waste administrative analyst Terry Gellenbeck told Earth911. “It puts in contaminants, so when they do squeeze the water out, it has spots and holes.”

Now that you know what you can and can’t recycle, gather up the right waste and properly recycle it. The United States generates 40 percent of the world’s waste, more than any other nation on the planet. Recycling helps us put much of that waste to good use and we all have a part to play.

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