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Recycling: The Scoop

Recycling has become the new golden child for folks looking to make an environmental impact in their daily lives, and we are totally here for it! Recycling is a great way to divert materials we use every day from landfills and place those materials back into our production stream, which we think is pretty awesome. However, done incorrectly, recycling can actually be detrimental and clog machines at recycling facilities. This can lead to lower volumes of recyclable materials, and even put employees at bodily risk.

It can be hard to know the ins-and-outs of proper recycling, so we’ve laid out some basic rules below to simplify the process (and your life!)

Always Check with your Recycling Provider

This first rule is crucial to the success of recycling the right way. Confused whether you have to separate out your paper from your aluminum? Unsure of what types of plastics your provider can take? Typically, a cursory online search for your curbside recycling company can answer your questions in just a couple minutes. If you (like me) sometimes forget what’s recyclable and what isn’t, consider creating for yourself a cheat-sheet based on your recycling company and taping it to your recycling bin, or placing it where you find yourself collecting the most recyclables in your home. Knowing what you can and cannot recycle in the moment helps keep the process efficient and safe for everyone.

Know your Plastics

Did you know that not all plastics can be recycled? In fact, depending on which recycling facility you use, your recyclable plastics may vary from someone who lives just one city over. But how can you know?

Ever seen those triangular recycling symbols on the bottom of microwave meal trays or pre-packaged food containers? Although these are commonly found on nearly all plastics today, what really matters is the little number inside the triangle. Each number corresponds to a specific type of plastic, and depending on your recycling provider, it may be accepted or it may not (see above section for more info on this.) For example, in the city of Denver, recycling providers can typically take plastics #1-7. If I run across a plastic with a different number in the recycling symbol, it’s best that I throw it in the trash. The same goes for recycling symbols without any numbers inside - unfortunately, this can be a form of greenwashing.

What about grocery bags and other film-like plastics? Any filmy plastics that bubble or stretch slightly when you push on it cannot be recycled along with your typical curbside recycler. Instead, you can drop off clean, dry film at drop-off destinations, like grocery or department stores. The next time you find yourself grocery shopping, keep an eye out for a “plastic bag recycling” bin toward the front of the store. These bins are the perfect place to dispose of plastic film.

Keep it Clean, Keep it Dry

It’s not just the material itself that matters when preparing to recycle, it’s also what’s on the recyclable materials. Materials need to arrive at the recycling facility clean and dry. Had a can of soup for lunch? Make sure to rinse out the aluminum tin and dry it before tossing it in the recycling bin. Received a package in the mail? Take off any plastic tape before recycling the cardboard. Ate a pizza and ready to dispose of the cardboard box? Tear off any large parts that are covered in grease and compost these pieces instead. Finished your iced Starbucks drink? Dump any remaining drink or ice cubes, then rinse and dry. Any debris left inside or on recyclables can damage machinery at the facilities. Non-functional machinery = less recycling taking place.

Avoid Small Materials

Similar to dirty or food-contaminated recyclables, small bits of paper, cardboard, plastics, and more can be harmful to the recycling process. As a general rule, if a recyclable item is smaller than the size of a credit card, it’s best to throw it in the trash can. Smaller pieces of recyclables don’t pass through the machinery properly.

Look for Alternative Sources to Curbside Recycling

Many recyclable materials simply cannot be recycled through curbside recycling, but can still be used again! These have been coined hard-to-recycle items. Items like electronics, clothing, and even styrofoam can be recycled through the proper channels. Old electronics can be taken to stores such as Staples or Best Buy. Clothing can be donated (or even sold) to thrift shops or can be recycled with a fabric recycler instead of tossed in landfill. Large sheets of styrofoam can be left at specific drop-off locations. It often takes a quick online search (or some creativity) to find ways to properly dispose of hard-to-recycle items. There are even some companies that have been founded on this principle. The Happy Beetle and Ridwell in the Denver area both can pick up your hard-to-recycle items directly from your home. Other companies, like Terracycle, charge you a base fee to ship a box to your home, where you can load it with hard-to-recycle items and ship it back. There are so many ways to recycle that don’t include curbside recycling, and they should be utilized and celebrated!

When in Doubt, Throw it Out

This is the final stage for the recycling seeker. Sweet and simple - if you’re unsure if something can be recycled and you've tried to research it unsuccessfully, it's okay to throw it in the trash can. It isn’t worth contaminating a whole load of recycling for one product that might be recyclable. In fact, there’s a term for this (called Wishcycling) and it’s not as beneficial as many people are led to believe.

To Wrap It Up

Recycling is an incredible way to reduce landfill use globally, but it must be done right. With some extra tips and possibly a little research along the way, you’ll be a recycling master. You can help make the environment a cleaner place while keeping recycling facilities running smoothly and keeping their workers safe.

Learn and Shop Sustainably with Us!

At Summit Sustainable Goods, we sell zero waste and eco-friendly household and personal care products that can be recycled easily through proper channels, and that avoid landfill altogether. 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 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 monthly email subscription or follow us on Instagram or Facebook to keep up-to-date on all things Summit.

Three cheers for recycling!

Carrie Martin-Haley, founder


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