Recycling is simple, right? Discard your paper, plastic, and glass into your recycling bin and boom! You get to feel great about doing good for the environment. Except, unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
First of all, we don’t actually recycle most of what goes into those well-intended bins. We used to send the majority of our recycling to China, but in 2017 they put major restrictions on the kinds of material they accept, and the U.S. is having to figure out what to do with its own waste. Since we don’t have enough facilities to handle all our recycling, we are just dumping it in landfills or incinerating it.
So let’s be extra careful with what we put on the curb for recycling. You probably already know that all plastics are not created equal, like that the disposable bags from the grocery store can’t go into your recycling bin. But there are lots of other things that people regularly toss into their bin that definitely don’t belong there.
Below are 13 common waste items that are often disposed of in the wrong way, and how to dispose of them correctly.
1. Plastic Bags
Most people already know this is a no-no, but if you didn’t realize and have been attempting to recycle your used plastic grocery bags, here’s why you shouldn’t: The bags clog the machines and cause workers to have to remove them by hand. There are two options for how to deal with plastic grocery bags. Most grocery stores have a recycling station for them, so you can recycle there. If not, try this handy search tool to find where you can recycle your plastic bags.
The best option, though, is not to use them in the first place. Buy five or six reusable bags and stack them in the passenger seat or even put one in your lap as you drive to the store so you don’t forget to bring them in with you (like I always used to do). The less we use these bags, the better. They take hundreds of years to decompose and are a major source of marine debris.
Obviously you’re not tossing triple As from your kid’s toy into your recycling bin, but did you know you can recycle them other ways? Many places, like home improvement stores or office supply stores, accept rechargeable batteries and old cell phones for recycling. Single-use batteries can be a little trickier. There are facilities that accept single-use batteries for recycling though, so set aside your used-up batteries to take to the battery recycling location nearest you. I keep a shoebox of dead batteries in my linen closet and take it to my local place once per year or so. And of course, the best way to reduce single-use battery waste is to purchase rechargeable batteries instead. These can generally be used more than 1,000 times, and they’re still recyclable!