All You Should Know About Recycling

Written by
Iryna Komazova
April 27, 2022

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:

  • Over-consumption and our reckless attitude to waste are the real causes of the waste pollution problem, not the low recycling rate.
  • There will always be waste that can’t be recycled.
  • Recycled materials are not always safe for producing packaging that comes into contact with food, so food packaging will almost always be made from primary resources.

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.

Remember the 3R rule

How to Recycle in Your City

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 can recycle even if you don’t have special bins near your house

How to Not Get Confused About Plastic Recycling

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 product or package is recyclable. (But not necessarily in your country or region! This you’ll need to check). 
  • It is made of recycled materials.
  • Through any numbers inside it and/or abbreviations under it, it indicates what material it is made from.

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.

  • #1 PET(E) stands for polyethylene terephthalate material. Transparent beverages PET bottles are fully recyclable. Local recycling rules will help you to understand if other PET items are accepted for recycling in your area. 
  • #2 PEHD or HDPE stands for high-density polyethylene. Products with this marking are commonly recyclable. You can find this sign on the bottom or on the label of tough non-transparent shampoo, liquid detergents and yoghurt bottles, as well as bottle caps.
  • #3 PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride. It releases toxic fumes when melted, so is not generally recyclable. Pipes, credit cards and clear windows on toy boxes are usually made out of this.
  • #4 PELD or LDPE stands for low-density polyethylene. Cling film, plastic bags and face cream tubes are made of this material. They are recyclable, but cling film is accepted by recycling services more often than the others.
  • #5 PP stands for polypropylene. This material is usually used for the same packaging as HDPE, as well as for milk products containers, toys and car parts. Some recycling programs accept it for recycling.
  • #6 PS stands for polystyrene. Some disposable take-away food containers and coffee-to-go lids are made of it. Polystyrene is regarded as unsafe, so it is rarely recycled.
  •  #7 O (Other) stands for any other types of plastic. Under this symbol, polycarbonate (PC), polyamide (PA), acrylic plastics (PAN) and bioplastics can be found. If it is not clear what type it is, the product cannot be recycled. But even if it is clear, the local recycling service might not accept it.
PET and HDPE bottles are the most widely recycled plastics

What Materials are also Usually Recycled

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:

  • Paper (office paper, journals, newspapers, cardboard);
  • Glass (transparent and coloured glass bottles and jars);
  • Metal (aluminium beverages cans).

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.

Paper, metal cans and glass bottles are easily recyclable

Homework before 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:

  • Rinse out food/liquid leftovers from plastic, carton, metal and glass bottles and let them dry.
  • Squeeze plastic bottles and cans if possible to save room for more items.
  • Fold cardboard boxes.
  • Pack shredded paper tightly in a paper bag.
  • If you put your recyclable materials into the municipal bins, do it without plastic bags, unless your recycling service specifically asks for the opposite.
Secondary raw materials must be clean, dry and take up as little room as possible

What is Wish-cycling and Why it is Bad

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.

Recycle only those materials you are sure of

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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Recycling is not rocket science, but you should learn some basic rules. Get the guidelines for your local area and improve your skills.
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