Recycling is often the first conscious step towards a zero waste lifestyle. If you’re at this stage right now, this article is for you! Here you will find out how to recycle correctly. It’s not rocket science, but it’s important to know some basic principles.
Before we move to the guidelines, let us remind you of one essential thing: recycling is not a cure-all. We covered some of the problems with recycling in our previous article. But in case you missed it, here are the highlights:
This is why reducing and reusing must always come before recycling. Now that we’ve dotted the "i"s and crossed the "t”s, let’s proceed with the rules.
As our readers live in different parts of the world, we cannot give you one universal recycling scheme here. The requirements in the USA, Estonia, India, etc. vary a lot. What’s more, the rules in the distinct regions of one country are often not the same either. The difference lies in what is recyclable and how recyclable materials are collected.
For example, Germany, the world’s leader in recycling, uses a municipal waste management system where households have to segregate waste into 4-6 bins located near their homes. Indonesia recycles about 10% of its waste through “waste banks”, where people can exchange some types of recyclable materials for money. Your country will have its own distinct waste management features and recycling facilities. So you should find out about your local recycling options through the city authority, local environmental non-profits or by searching the web.
You’ve probably heard that you need to check if there’s a recycling symbol on packaging to understand whether it can be recycled. But the truth is, it doesn’t always mean it can be. The triangle sign that consists of arrows folding over themselves (♻) on the package can mean any of the following:
The recycling symbols on glass, paper, and metal cans aren’t so important for us, because we can usually distinguish these materials pretty easily by looking at them. But as plastics can look very similar, it can be hard to understand which one you are holding in your hand.
So, remember the most common plastic types below. For each of them, we’ve noted whether they are generally recyclable, but you should always check with your local recycling service.
Regardless of where you live, if you have a recycling service in your area then you probably have an opportunity to recycle the following types of the most widespread recyclable materials:
Combined materials such as beverage cartons and disposable coffee cups, which have several layers of material merged together, are currently being recycled in more than 70 countries worldwide. These materials consist of paper and plastic or sometimes metal, so it requires special processing. It is usually collected as a separate type or along with paper.
As a general rule, other mixed materials like mirrors, metalised plastic film and toothpaste tubes are not recyclable.
Countries with highly-developed waste management systems accept clothing, scrap metal, batteries, electronic waste, rubber and construction waste for recycling.
This list of recyclables may be long or short in your area, but the rules on how you should prepare them are the same:
When you’re not sure whether something can be recycled but toss it into the recycling bin nonetheless in the hope it will be recycled, it’s called “wish-cycling”. Such actions are not only fruitless but can also threaten the whole process.
Incorrect items included among another type of recyclable materials can spoil the resources and cause a breakdown of equipment. The incorrect items will be sorted out and disposed of, so your efforts will be futile at best, and could result in the whole batch going to waste at worst. Either way, it will cost time and money for both the recycling company and you.
If you have doubts, seek instructions from the local authority or the recycling company that operates in your district. Spend some time clarifying requirements to be sure you segregate waste properly.
Have you ever been a wish-cycler? No shame, we’ve all been there. Share your experience on social media and help your friends avoid your mistakes.
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