Is this Recyclable? A Beginner’s Guide to Waste Disposal & Recycling

Is this Recyclable? A Beginner’s Guide to Waste Disposal & Recycling
7 Minute Read.

Most of us know that glass, metal, and paper are recyclable, but what about toothbrushes, rubber bands, and old computers? These items don’t really fall into standard recycling categories, so what do we do with them? The truth is: there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but the main goal is to divert as many items from going to the landfill as possible, because once they get there, they lose their value.

Hmmm . . . what if we could sort the majority of our items, so that they could be recycled, remanufactured, or repurposed into something new? No longer would items be viewed as “trash”, but instead, they could maintain their status as a “resource.” Really think about that for a sec. If the material of every item could be used for something else, then we would have no trash. This idea has the ability to completely redefine what our waste is worth, and actually already has a name. Its called a Circular Economy, where every material is a resource for something else, and nothing goes to waste—just like in nature.


Currently, some areas have facilities that collect specific items, such as bubble wrap or hazardous materials, but the problem is: every area is different. Once a week, I have curbside recycling for glass, metal, certain plastics, and paper. And on Saturdays, there are compost and clothing collection areas at my local park. Every few months, I take old electronics to Best Buy and my household’s accumulation of plastic bags to the grocery store, both of which have recycling bins for this purpose. This may seem like a lot of effort, and it definitely took a while to implement a system that worked, but now that I have different bins at home to keep everything organized, its quite simple.

Now I don’t want you to start feeling overwhelmed. You may be lucky enough to live in an area that collects everything at one facility. I visited Vermont a few years ago and there was a local station where you could take books, food scraps, clothing, trash, and electronics, and there was a bin for everything!

So where do I start?

Its best to take a look at what you normally throw out, and then see if any of those items can be collected in your curbside recycling program (if you have one). If not, you can check out RecycleNation.com or How2Recycle.info, which allow you to plug in your zip code to see if there is a local collection facility. You can designate a bin for these items and drop everything off once its full. My guess is: you’ll only have to make a trip every few months, which is totally manageable.

To get you started, I did a background check on 10 items commonly found in our homes that fall into that grey area. It may not be a disposal encyclopedia, but it can certainly clear up a few things, and get you on the right path.


Food Wrappers (energy bars, chip bags):

Image of a square protein bar in a black wrapper, an item that is typically not recyclable

Recyclable? No

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Recycling Locations: No

Disposal: Trash can


Rubberbands:

Image of a knotted blue rubber band, an item that is typically not recyclable

Recyclable? No

Disposal: Trash can

Ways to reuse/repurpose:

  • Donate it to a local school or non-profit
  • Drop them off at your local Post Office–they will be grateful and will definitely be used
  • Try to reuse them for as long as they live! Green Mountain Energy has a bunch of great ideas on how to reuse/repurpose rubber bands

Plastic Bags:

Image of two blue plastic bags with the words: "The New York Times" printed on them. Plastic bags are typically recyclable

Recyclable? Yes

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Recycling Locations*: Many local groceries stores often have drop-off bins for plastic bags (usually near the entrance). How2Recycle.info can show you where your local drop off locations are. Across the country, stores like Target, Whole Foods, Best Buy and Walmart all have collection bins.

Last Resort for Disposal: Trash can

Ways to reuse/repurpose:

  • Mail it to Unburied Co. which collects used packaging and wrapping supplies
  • Save it for your next move
  • See if a small business near you can use it for their outgoing orders
  • If you have enough of it, post it on Craigslist under “free” and I promise you, someone will want it

Electronics (printers, remotes, cables/cords, computers, etc):

Image of a silver electrical cord wrapped around itself on a white background, e-waste like this is recyclable where available

Recyclable? Yes

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Recycling Locations*: Yes. Most Best Buy Stores have recycling bins just for this purpose.

Last Resort for Disposal: Trash can


Yoga Mats:

Image of a blue yoga mat that is rolled up. Yoga mats are recyclable in specific locations

Recyclable? Yes

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Recycling Locations*: Yes: FedEx, Target, Walgreens, Goodwill

Last Resort for Disposal: Trash can


Shoes:

Image of a pair of tan TOMS shoes on a white background

Recyclable? No

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Donation Locations*: Yes: Goodwill, Salvation Army, thrift stores, and even your local farmer’s market may have a collection outpost

Last Resort for Disposal: Trash can


Bubble Wrap:

Image of a rectangular piece of bubble wrap, which is usually not recyclable

Recyclable? Yes

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Recycling Locations*: At specific locations. e.g: Whole Foods Market

Last Resort for Disposal: Trash can

Ways to reuse/repurpose:

  • Mail it to Unburied Co. which collects used packaging/wrapping supplies
  • Save it for the next time you move
  • See if a small business near you can use it for their outgoing orders
  • If you have enough of it, post it on Craigslist under “free” and someone will surely need it

Toothbrushes:

Image of a plastic toothbrush with an orange and blue handle and multicolored bristles. Toothbrushes are not recyclable

Recyclable? No

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Recycling Locations*: 99.9% of  the time, the answer is no, but I have found a few locations in the US that accept them

Disposal: Trash can

Ways to reuse/repurpose:

  • Use it when detailing your car
  • Clean nooks and crannies in your home
  • Clean hard to reach places in your electronics
  • Shine your shoes!

Inkjet Printer Cartridges:

Image of three inkjet printer cartridges, which are recyclable

Recyclable? Yes

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Recycling Locations*: Yes: FedEx, Target, Walgreens, Goodwill

Last Resort for Disposal: Trash can


Gift Cards:

Recyclable? Yes

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Recycling Locations*: Yes: Whole Foods Market, Best Buy

Last Resort for Disposal: Trash can

Ways to reuse/repurpose:

  • Use it to smoothly apply decals or stickers
  • Use it to install a screen protector on your smart phone

Styrofoam cups and food containers:

Recyclable? Yes (but limited)

Curbside Recycling: No

Dropoff Recycling Locations*: Yes, depending on your local facilities

Last Resort for Disposal: Trash can


Tips for Disposal:

  • Just because it’s made of plastic, doesn’t mean its recyclable
  • If there is a wrapper or cap on a recyclable item, separate it before putting it in the bin (that part may not be recyclable
  • All recyclable items must be cleaned of any food residue (or it will end up in the landfill)

For specific recycling programs and dropoff locations in your area, refer to RecycleNation.com or How2Recycle.info where you can plug in your zip code and the specific item you are curious about.

If you’re in the New York Area, visit GrowNYC for details about local recycling and disposal information.


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Do you have a trash item that you’re not sure of how to dispose?

Drop me a line and I’ll see if I can find the answer for you.



6 thoughts on “Is this Recyclable? A Beginner’s Guide to Waste Disposal & Recycling”

    • Hi Clare, You’re right! They are a very good resource, and I should probably include them in this older post. I included them in one of my recent blog posts for Plastic Free July, but would definitely be a good resource for this post too 🙂

  • Thanks for helping me understand that all the recyclables should be cleaned first because they will end up in the landfill if they have food residue. I never knew about that before that is why this would be really helpful when we start collecting things that we plan to get recycled. We just realized how many plastic bottles we have in our house because we usually buy them since we don’t have a water filtration system yet. With that in mind, we will be cleaning them first before we hire a recycling service.

    • Hey Millie!
      Would it be feasible for you to install a water filtration system onto your tap/faucet? That could be a great solution, allowing you to drink from reusable water bottles.
      -Shannon 🙂

  • I like that you mentioned that the wrapper must be removed since it may not be recyclable. With that in mind, I will make sure to do this before contacting a garbage collection company. We just produced a lot of waste today due to doing a general cleaning for two days after my son had an asthma attack.

  • I did not know that one can recycle or reuse rubber bands. In my opinion, a community can start the practice of recycling by hiring a local service to facilitate the collection and segregation of materials. Doing this will not only keep the community clean but dispose of the wastes properly as well.

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