We’ve all had these conversations.

“Hey, is this recyclable?”

“I don’t know, just throw it in the bin anyway. If it isn’t they will pull it out”

We all want to do right by the environment so badly that we sometimes toss things in the blue bin with only the hope that it will be repurposed. If you do this, you are what is considered an “aspirational recycler,” and you are part of the problem.

When Recycling Can do More Harm Than Good

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “I do this but isn’t it better to throw it in there and let the waste management facility to decide?”

In short, no, it isn’t.

Although you may be recycling with the best intentions, many items contaminate a load of recycling and can cause an entire batch to go to the landfill. This is because recycling systems run off the income they get from selling recycling. In the past, China was one of the largest importers of plastic and kept many recycling centers afloat. However, China recently announced to the World Trade Organization that they will no longer import 24 types of waste, and will only accept loads that are no more than 0.5 percent contaminated.

This means that every time we wishfully throw something that we think should be recyclable without knowing or throw away recyclables that are contaminated with food or other particles-we are essentially ensuring that that batch is sent to the landfills.

But Don’t People Sort the Recycling?

This is a common misnomer, while some facilities do have people looking for big pieces that can plug up machines, it simply takes too much time and money to sort through every single piece or debris. Not to mention with recycling centers receiving less and less money from selling recyclables, the process has become too expensive to maintain.

The Worst Offenders

Of course, different cities have different rules about what they take, and you will need to check your local waste management website to know exactly what is recyclable in your town, but here are some general offenders that, unfortunately, you just need to throw away, find a way to up-cycle or avoid using entirely.

  • Greasy Pizza Boxes: If a pizza box, or any other cardboard container, is soaked with food. You can’t recycle it. The best thing to do is rip off the clean top, recycle that, and throw away the greasy bottom.
  • Coffee Cups: These and any other wax coated cups (I.E. fast food cups, gas station cups, etc.) are not recyclable, however, the lids may be-contact your local recycling center to find out.
  • Diapers: Yes, people do this. It’s gross. Stop it.
  • Plastic Bottle Caps: The bottles are recyclable, but most caps are not. Remove them before recycling.
  • Putting Recyclables in Plastic Bags or Putting Plastic Bags in the Recycling: Recycling that is in a bag will be automatically sent to the landfill. Dump recycling straight into the bin, it should be clean anyway.
  • Pyrex or Wine Glasses: Any heat-treated glass cannot be recycled, sorry.
  • Not Washing Cups, Containers, Etc.: If there is any kind of food or beverage contamination on a product it cannot be recycled, wash everything thoroughly before throwing it away.
  • Clothing: If there is something you don’t wear anymore, donate it. If it is too far gone, there are many third-party options that will repurpose old clothes.
  • Batteries and Electronics: These actually cannot be put in either bin. Batteries and electronics contain many hazardous chemicals and should be taken directly to the appropriate drop off center.
  • Putting in Low-GradePlastic: Many cities no longer accept plastics numbered 3-7. These include yogurt containers, chip bags, toothpaste tubes, butter containers and vegetable containers are all major offenders.
  • Not Washing Soap and Shampoo Bottles or Including Them at all: This is another dicey one, some cities take soap, detergent and shampoo bottles and some don’t, but no one will take them if they have not been thoroughly washed first.

What Else Can you do to Help?

  • Get Educated: Call your local recycling center or look at their website so you know exactly what they take. Make a little diagram to put by your recycling bin in your house so you can refer to that if you forget, and don’t forget to share this knowledge with friends, neighbors and family!
  • Start Limiting Waste: Refuse straws, plastic utensils, condiment containers, etc. These are low grade plastics that have little value and often are not recycled.
  • Don’t Buy Packaged Produce: These come in non-recyclable bags and containers. Buy loose produce, just don’t put them in a plastic bag!
  • Make Your Own Products: By making your own cleaning products and personal care items you can eliminate the need for a lot of plastic.
  • Refill: Making your own products can be time consuming, and not everyone has that luxury. But what if instead you could just take the same bottle into the store and refill your favorite soaps and detergents? This would keep countless amounts of plastics out of landfills, but retailers don’t think consumers are interested. Help us show them that consumers are serious about sustainable options, sign the petition below!