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Recycling 101

by Anca

Recycling, as you probably know, is the reprocessing of materials into new products. This saves energy and virgin or raw materials, and decreases water and air pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Although these days everyone seems to be talking about it, there is still much confusion about what to recycle and what not to recycle, so here is a quick review:

  • Check out the general guidelines for conventional recycling below. Before applying, however, be sure to contact your municipality for local rules. Some municipalities may recycle items in the "shouldn't" category below. For example, the City of Pasadena recycles Styrofoam and plastic bags, while other cities do not.
Item Do (recycle) Shouldn't (recycle)


Food and beverage containers

Dishes, light bulbs, windows, mirrors


Aluminum and steel

Auto parts, appliances, wire hangers

Plastic bottles

Plastics marked #1 and #2, water, soda, juice

Plastic types #3, #4, #5, #6 or #7. Wide-mouth plastic tubs (yoghurt, peanut butter), pesticides, medicine bottles, plastic bags*, Styrofoam, milk cartons


Mixed, white and colored, envelopes, newspaper, junk mail, cereal boxes, cardboard, catalogs, books (with metal, staples, glues, etc.)

Plastic bindings, waxed cardboard, food contaminated paper or cardboard (including food containers), plastic-coated paper, photos

** Some grocery stores recycle clean plastic bags even if your municipality does not, so check your local stores!

  • Drop off toxic items such as rechargeable batteries, some household cleaners (read the label), and paint at a hazardous waste site near you. Alkaline batteries may be thrown in with regular trash, but again, double-check with your state or municipality!
  • And what about your iPod, cell phone, and computer, you ask? Many manufacturers have a take-back policy. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is a great resource that lists some large manufacturers' policies. In addition, there are groups that coordinate recycling of cell phones, such as the Wireless Alliance.
  • Make recycling easy by placing containers in accessible areas. No more excuses like "it's too far away" or "it's too much effort!" If you are tight on space, consider a space-saving recycling device such as the EcoPod or if you drink lots of soda, you can get a (much) cheaper can crusher.

Still want more info? Go to or general recycling info and Rethink for e-cycling.