Updated: Apr 26, 2020
So much of our recycling potential is left untapped — mostly because we're really not that good at it. For recycling to work as efficiently as possible, we all need to become better recyclers and sort our bins properly.
Why is it Important to Recycle Right?
Waste Management estimates that 25% of recycled material collected is actually trash, which costs time, labor, and tens of millions of dollars to sort. Contaminated recycling can also cause whole bales of potentially recyclable materials to be tossed in a landfill.
"For every ton of material we get in, there’s 500 pounds of trash that has to be taken out of it."
- Brent Bell, Vice President of Recycling Operations at Waste Management 
Recycling Best Practices
Following these five best practices will help ensure that we're making the most out of our recycling bin:
Always make sure recycled items are clean and dry. Food and liquid waste left on recyclable materials are quick to contaminate an entire bin.
Do not bag recyclables, keep them loose in the bin. Loose bags easily get stuck in sorting machines, which can damage or jam the machine.
Stay away from the small stuff. Just like loose plastic bags jam or damage machines, so will other small recyclables like shredded paper and other thin plastics. Bottle caps are generally okay to recycle but need to be screwed back on to their original bottle.
Don't just place recycling bins in the kitchen. Keep recycling throughout the house in bathrooms and bedrooms to make sure it's accessible and easy.
Unsure? Look it up! Familiarize yourself with your local municipality recycling specifications. Many cities have detailed guides online about what their recycling program can and cannot accept, like this one for the City of Seattle.
Don’t wishcycle. Wishcycling is when you put something in the recycling bin hoping it will be recycled even if it likely won’t be. If you're unsure what to do with an item, it is better to toss it in the trash than to optimistically place it in the recycling.
Cardboard & Paperboard Flatten all cardboard and paperboard before recycling.
Food & Beverage Cans Recycle empty tin, aluminum, and steel cans. Remove plastic lid before recycling empty aerosol cans.
Food & Beverage Cartons Check your local program guidelines for carton recycling rules.
Glass Containers Glass bottles, jars, and other packaging. Check your local program guidelines for glass recycling rules.
Uncoated Paper Paper, newspaper, and magazines. Wet or soiled paper should be composted.
Plastics Caps must be put back on containers before tossing in the bin. Note which plastics are recyclable by their symbols.
Likely Curbside-Recyclable Plastics*
1 PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate) Drink bottles, salad dressing containers, clear plastic jars, mouthwash bottles, and prepared food trays.
2 HDPE (High Density Polytheylene) Milk jugs, bleach/detergent bottles, cereal box liners, yogurt and butter containers, and bottle caps.
4 LDPE (Low Density Polytheylene) Hard flexible plastics such as bread bags, 6-pack rings, frozen food bags, and squeezable bottles.
5 PP (Polypropylene) Packing tape, take-out tubs, condiment bottles, medicine bottles, straws, dishware, and buckets.
Rarely Curbside-Recyclable Plastics*
3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) Clear food packaging, plumbing pipes, wire/cable insulation, siding, flooring, fencing, window frames, toys, hoses.
6 PS (Polystyrene) Styrofoam, disposable cutlery, meat trays, packing peanuts.
7 OTHER (Miscellaneous Plastic) Water cooler jugs, plastic lumber, gas containers, acrylic, nylon, and combinations of different plastics.
*Note: Curbside recycling programs very widely across the US and the rest of the world. It is important to check with your local municipality to confirm what is and is not accepted.
Check out our downloadable recycling guide for more information on best practices for recycling properly.