Recycling is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to protect the environment and reduce your carbon footprint. Doing it right is just as important as doing it at all, and these nine mistakes have a huge impact – from reducing what gets recycled to unnecessarily adding to landfills.
1. Putting light bulbs in curbside recycling. Yes, we know they’re made of glass, but there’s a lot more to them. They’re made of a different type of glass, and also have metal parts – and fluorescent bulbs contain mercury and compounds that require special handling. The good news is that you can recycle most types of light bulbs at places like Home Depot or Lowes, or through other channels. Here’s how.
2. Using disposable plastic water bottles. Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year, according to a report by Brita, and only 38 percent get recycled. If you must use disposables, be sure to recycle the bottles. Better yet, carry a reusable bottle with you.
3. Throwing out the whole pizza box. By now, you probably know you can’t recycle cardboard that’s stained with grease or other food. But you might not be aware that you can salvage the unstained top of a pizza box and recycle it. Emphasis on unstained. Even one pizza box can contaminate an entire batch of recycled paper, making it unusable.
4. Not thinking beyond the grocery store. You may take reusable bags with you to the grocery store – and you’ve probably gotten past forgetting them in the car (it took a while for us, too). But you may not have thought about taking your own reusable bags to other retailers. Many offer their own beautiful reusable bags. Give it a try. And if you forget and have to use plastic, don’t forget to recycle them too.
5. Throwing away plastic bottle caps – or not throwing away plastic bottle caps. We know, that one’s confusing. Technology has advanced, and many community recycling programs are now able to recycle plastic bottle caps, as long as they’re attached to their original containers. Still, many communities aren’t there yet, so check with your local recycling provider to be sure you’re doing it right. Find your recycling provider here.
6. Putting shredded paper in recycling. Again, confusing. Because it’s paper, right? But shredded paper is too small for most sorting machines – it falls through cracks onto the floor, and sometimes even gets mixed in with glass, ruining the glass so it can’t be recycled. Still, a few are able to accept shredded paper under certain conditions, so it’s worth checking with your local provider.
7. Removing labels from bottles and cans. In most cases, this isn’t necessary, but you should check with your local recycling provider. If you’re removing them when you don’t have to, you’re likely wasting water. And that’s another big mistake.
8. Wasting water. Like we just said. From leaving the water on while you’re brushing your teeth, to washing your car at home, to the way you run the dishwasher, you may be wasting water in ways you don’t realize. Check out some smart ways you can save water – and learn more about why it matters.
9. Not reusing or repurposing items. From paper to glass jars to plastic bags, there are so many creative ways to repurpose items you might otherwise throw away.
In many communities, there are additional ways to recycle items beyond the curbside recycling bin. Earth911 offers a free online search engine that offers recycling solutions for everything from batteries to water faucets. So learn more about recycling in your community, and make our world a little greener.