When I first was introduced to recycling as a kid, I latched onto the idea. Whenever I could, I’d find recyclable products to toss in the recycling bin and always took pride in knowing that I was making an impact. It felt aligned with my values, and was an easy solution to sustainability that I had agency over.
And then in college, I learned I was doing it wrong.
I had never been taught that there were only certain plastics that you could recycle. That you could only recycle paper that is approximately the size of a credit card or larger, or else it runs the risk of jamming machines at the recycling facility. That you had to rinse and dry recyclable containers that had food remnants in it. Turns out, there’s a lot of do’s and don’ts that I just didn’t know about.
What’s more, as I hopped from apartment to apartment in my early and mid 20s, I wasn’t as consistent as I had hoped for with recycling at each location. In some apartments I recycled like a pro; others, I threw more into my trash can than I really needed to. Sure, some of it had to do with convenience of recycling programs in our area, but others were simply matters of my personal organization or preparation.
Moving into the sustainability career world a handful of years ago, I realized that I wanted to do better, for myself and the planet. So armed with new knowledge about recycling practices do’s and don’ts, I began shifting my routines again to ensure that I was actually recycling properly, and frequently. Below are three simple steps I used to help me recycle more frequently and keep my recycling bin free from non-recyclable contamination.
Label the Heck Out of Your Recycling Bin
When I learned I wasn’t recycling correctly (or when I would switch apartments and all of a sudden had a completely new set of rules to learn) it was always a challenge getting up-to-speed on all those “do’s” and “don’ts”. So what’s an easy way to take that mental load off yourself? Create a label, graphic, or list that summarizes the key rules of your recycling program, and tape it directly to the front of your recycling bin!
Every recycling program is different, so you’ll want to check with your recycling provider to make sure you’ve got all the rules figured out before creating your label. They may even have free graphics and resources available on their website to take the label-creating off your plate!
Some common reminders that you may want to add to your graphic:
The container is clean and dry - no food particles!
The plastic is labeled as #1-7. (This is true for Denver recycling - please check your local recycling program for the plastics they take.)
Cardboard is dry and doesn’t have any grease stains.
Drink cans and bottles are emptied.
Broken glass or dangerous objects that could harm recycling facility workers.
Multi-layer packaging with several types of materials.
Tiny pieces of recyclable material.
WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT.
Make your label or graphic specific to what you struggle with. If you never forget to rinse out microwavable food containers after you’ve finished your lunch, awesome! No need to add it to your label. There are plenty of labels for recycling properly out there as well, so if you’re not feeling creative and don’t want to design your own, you can find an already-created one that fulfills your needs.
Switch Around Your Trash Can and Recycling Bin
This hack was the easiest and most successful trick we did in our apartment to help us shift to recycling more, and it took about 5 seconds of our time. We just swapped the locations of our recycling collection and our trash collection.
Our trash can was placed under the sink in our kitchen, with our recycling bin located around the corner in the other room. It took less than 10 seconds to swap the recycling bin to underneath the kitchen and the trash bin to the other room. This meant that when we were working in the kitchen, the first waste receptacle that came to mind was our recycling bin. It instantly became easier for us to pivot to recycling before throwing items in trash. When we needed to throw items in the trash, we had to walk the extra few steps to the trash can in the other room. Over time, this reminder bled into how we shopped, and we began prioritizing food packaging and products that were recyclable simply because it was what we were exposing ourselves more to. When we added a composting service to the mix, we used the same technique. We placed our compost bin in a more noticeable location than our trash bin, and voila - new habits were established!
Some other ideas to try: Make your recycling bin larger than your trash can, or put more recycling bins around your home than trash cans. You can also put your trash can in the garage, and leave your other landfill-diversion bins (recycling, compost) inside your house so those become your go-to options.
Create a Hard-to-Recycle Station in Your Home
So you’ve set up some structures to help you use your recycling program more frequently and effectively - congratulations! But how about all those other items that you can recycle, but can’t just add to your bin at the curb on recycling day? We call those hard-to-recycle items, and yes, they can still be recycled! Sometimes they just need an extra step or two.
Some hard-to-recycle items that are commonly found in homes include textiles (old clothes, towels, etc.), filmy plastics (these are not #1-7 plastics), and electronic waste. These all have landfill diversion opportunities, but most curbside recycling programs cannot take them. Instead, some clothing stores like H&M can take old clothing (and even give you a coupon to shop in exchange!), electronics waste can be dropped off at stores like Staples, and filmy plastics like shopping bags can be dropped off (clean and dry, of course) at your local grocery store. There are even companies designed to pick up your hard-to-recycle items directly from your doorstep, like Ridwell and The Happy Beetle!
To make a hard-to-recycle station in your own home, find a little unused nook in your cleaning closet or somewhere out-of-sight. Grab some old shoe boxes, small trash bins, or other receptacles. Whatever you’ve got on-hand is fine - no need to make it Instagram worthy and buy new containers if you don’t feel driven! Label each box or bin with a particular hard-to-recycle item, such as Plastic Film or Clothes Recycling. You can even list underneath the title where you need to drop off the items to save yourself the hassle of researching it down the road.
After you’ve set up your station, you’re all set! Just start filling it up with your items. When a box or bin begins to get full (or when your hard-to-recycle day comes with your curbside hard-to-recycle pickup program) it’s time to gather that bin up and drop it off at the appropriate location. It’s a simple way to divert even more items from landfill without absurd amounts of work on your part.
Shop Recycle-Friendly With Us!
At Summit Sustainable Goods, we sell household and personal care products that are zero waste - meaning nothing ends up in your trash can! We take extra steps while vetting products to ensure that all our products are truly environmentally friendly and oriented around genuine sustainability. We work with our suppliers to make sure all the products we sell are safe for the environment and your body - because we believe that you and mother nature both deserve the best. It’s just another way we live into our values of being as environmentally and ethically conscious as possible.
Where can you find our curated selection of high quality and sustainable products? You know we’ve got you covered! Check out our website at www.summitsustainablegoods.eco or visit us at a local pop-up around town. (Info available through our website or socials.) Want to follow our journey and learn about future zero waste events and happenings? Adventure with us by signing up for our email list or follow us on Instagram or Facebook to keep up-to-date on all things Summit.