March 13, 2019 4 min read

Recycling. Reducing. Reusing. Upcycling. You name it – it’s like taking trip to buzzword city when some of these terms get thrown around, but even though recycling is more common now than it used to be, it’s still not as incorporated into our normal lives as it could be. So if you’re not yet on the recycling train and maybe not sure how to recycle, this will help you get rolling, and even if you are recycling, hopefully you can improve your game with some of these techniques and items.

I’ve been recycling since I was a kid back in the 90s. It was just something my parents did, so we did it and it seemed normal. We were always sorting stuff into bags (mostly empty dog and cat food bags – talk about reusing!) and taking it into town to the recycling bins. I’ve always been one to throw paper in the paper bin, separate the plastic bottle and toss it in it’s special spot, whatever — and it perplexes me when people don’t take these same basic simple steps, because it’s not that hard.


So how to recycle, you ask? You’ve got these bottles, cans, junk mail, cereal boxes – where can it all go? Can it all be recycled? The answer is mostly yes, but check first. Here’s a quick rundown of the most basic household items: 

  • Paper Items
    • Junk Mail, envelopes, any paper
      • Recycle it!
    • Cereal boxes and similar packaging (called paperboard)
      • Recycle it!
    • Corrugated cardboard boxes
      • Recycle it!
    • Waxy paper or cartons (like a cardboard milk carton)
      • Check first before offering for recycling
  • Plastic Items – review the number system below!
    • Most drink containers
      • Recycle it!
  • Any plastic container
    • Check first before offering for recycling
  •  Metals
    • Soup and similar cans
      • Recycle it! But also check first to be sure it’s accepted
  •  Drink cans (aluminum)
    • Recycle it! Or if you have lots and lots, sell for scrap!

 We’ll review items that don’t fit into these nice categories (like batteries, light bulbs, etc.) in another post, but if you want more information on them, search for you local solid waste district to see what recycling and disposal services are offered in your area.


So we all know that we should be looking at the numbers on plastics, right? *sound of crickets chirping* Well…the important thing is just to make sure that the numbers on your items match what’s available to be taken at your location. For example, most drop off bins will say something like “Accepting Plastics #1 – #5” or something similar; you would just want to make sure you were taking those plastics, and keeping others separate (and hopefully finding a recycling solution for them as well). 


Pro tip: if they offer curbside recycling pickup in your area, DO IT! Like, as soon as you finish reading this, search for how to sign up and get it done! Curbside programs have been shown to be the most successful at getting people to participate in recycling because it’s the easiest (duh!). If you’re seeing big plastic boxes or totes or bins at the ends of driveways in your neighborhood and you don’t have them, contact your municipality or refuse company and get on the program. Even if it costs a few dollars a month, you’ll save the time and convenience and feel good about yourself.


Ready for some sweet recycling action? Let’s use this breakdown and figure out how to recycle best for your house:

1. Do I have curbside available?
      • If yes – DO IT! And figure out the accepted types of recyclables
      • If no – move to Question #2
    2. Do I have recycling bins nearby?
        • If yes – AWESOME! Check them out and see what materials they accept (it should be listed on the side of the bins) and figure out how to store and sort (if needed) the items in your house.
        • If no – hmmmm. This is less than optimal. Are there some on your way to work? Or the gym or grocery store or anywhere else you go on a regular basis? I used to use a drop on the way to work, so it may take a little searching, but hopefully you have access to bins somewhere.
        • If you really don’t have access to bins anywhere – Booo. But use this as a sign to call your local solid waste district (everyone has one – search for “ *your county* solid waste district”) and ask when and where they’ll have local recycling available.

      Some of the links will be affiliate links, which means if you use that link to make a purchase, I get a small commission. The commission comes at no extra cost to you, and it helps support my family and our quest to be as sustainable as possible. I only recommend products based on my own experiences and/or opinions. Please only buy products you feel can be helpful to you and your family.


      So depending on what system is available to you, you’ll have to hold the recyclables until you either set them out for pick up or take them to the bins. If you have curbside pick up, typically the provider will give you one of those awesome boxes and you can just keep your stuff in those. Here’s some lookalike bins if you want to get the same feel but don’t have curbside available. 

      Now if you have to sort and take the items to the bins yourself, here’s a few things you can use. At our house we only have to sort two ways (paper and bottles/plastics) so we use a couple of barrels with lids like these.

      If you like to do more sorting, you can break it down into these nice stack-able bins. 

      Finally, if you want to go full boss mode for recycling, pull out all the stops and get the big boy bin!

      What’s your recycling plan? Plus, are you interested in recycling your food scraps, aka composting? Leave a comment and tell me how you get your items to recycling, and enter your email for more sweet sustainable info like this. Thanks for reading!