recycling bin

Recycle This! (Not That!)

By Hannah Schardt ad Tillie Freed

Almost everyone thinks recycling is a good idea. But most people who recycle don’t actually do a great job of it. So, what’s the problem? For one thing, recycling can be confusing. What stuff is really recyclable, and what should just go into the trash?

The answer: It’s complicated! Different cities and counties have different rules about what’s recyclable. Always check with your local public works department or private recycling company. Many things are nearly always recyclable—but other things should NEVER go into that blue bin.

  • TRASH TALK: On average, each person in the United States throws away 5 pounds of trash every day.
  • NUMBERS GAME: Plastic containers marked with a “1” or “2” are usually recyclable, and those marked with a “5” sometimes are. But most other kinds of plastics aren’t recyclable.
  • THE SMALL STUFF: Nothing smaller than a credit card should ever go into a recycling bin. Small items can get stuck in the machinery.

Look at each “throw-away” item in this Kahoot quiz and decide if it belongs in the recycling bin or in the trash. How many did you get right?

recycling bins


No matter where you live, there are things you can do to give your recyclables a better chance of making it through the process.

  • Paper should be clean and dry. Used is OK, but not greasy, shredded, or wet.
  • Food containers should be empty and rinsed out.
  • Don’t crush your cans! A flattened soda can may be mistakenly sorted as paper or cardboard.
  • Push the lid of your soup or tuna can inside the can, then put it in the recycling. A metal lid on its own is too small and sharp to be safely recycled.
  • Milk cartons and other cartons are recyclable in many places, but not all. Scan this code to find out whether you can recycle them where you live.
  • Not sure whether something can be recycled? Look it up! Most communities publish guides that list items that are accepted in local recycling. Sending nonrecyclables to a recycling center can cause problems.



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