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Recycling: how to sort recyclables at home

Recycling: how to sort recyclables at home

Barbara Clement

By sorting recyclables correctly, we ensure recycling takes place smoothly.  


Sorting materials at home for a successful recycling

What is the correct way to recycle plastic bottles? Shall I take off the caps? Are pizza boxes recyclable? What about my old laptop and cell phone? Are they recyclable? Is there a recycling center near my neighborhood? There are so many mysteries when it comes to recycling!

In this guide, we will address some of the most common materials we use at home. If you have a question or comment, please send an email at barbara@neutrall.us. We would love to assist you and refresh our guide with more valuable information.


Recycling of Glass

Glass is a noble material: you can recycle it over and over. Also, it is cheaper to manufacture glass from cullet -broken glass- than to produce it from scratch, using raw materials (sand, soda ash, limestone, and felspar). You can recycle glass bottles, glass jars, and other kinds of glass containers).

According to a Glass Recycling Coalition (GRC) study, more than 90 percent of US residents and consumers expect to recycle glass. The public sector is also trying to enhance glass recycling systems. Yet, if we want to keep glass in the recycling stream, it's important to debunk some myths about glass recycling:

  • Myth 1: Broken and mixed glass can't be recycled. Glass recyclers accept broken glass. In fact, glass breaks when it goes to the material recovery facilities (MRF)
  • Myth 2: Glass must be sorted by color before it's recycled. This is not necessarily true. Some markets (glass containers, for example) require glass to be sorted by color. For many outlets, such as fiberglass insulation and filler products, color is not an issue. Material recovery facilities accept mixed-color glass, and glass recyclers use optical sorters to separate glass by color.
  • Myth 3: Glass containers must be washed and clean. Of course, it is recommendable to wash glass items before tossing or dropping them off. Yet, the processing steps before recycling include getting rid of organic residues and labels.

The best piece of advice is to check your local regulations or recycling center requirements and find out if you should sort glass by color.

As for glass beverage containers, check if you can return them to the store where you purchased them. Glass container manufacturers buy between 65% and 80% of the items they collect through deposit refund programs. The glass items that cannot be recycled to manufacture new containers can be used for countertops, insulation, or kitchen tiles.

By recycling glass items we conserve energy and reduce air and water pollution


Recycling of Paper

Did you know paper is the top waste in America? Actually, it makes almost one-quarter of home trash. Fortunately, 68% of it is recycled, but we could save thousands of trees if we improved our efforts.

Numerous paper items can be recycled: from office and printing paper to mail and envelopes, magazines and catalogs, and many cereals or dry food boxes. Even ad inserts or frozen food packaging can be recycled! Also, kitchen towel and toilet paper rolls, shoe and soapboxes, and cosmetic packaging (as long as it is made of paper, obviously). Paper bags and corrugated cardboard are valid too. 

Recycling paper is vital: Every ton of paper recycled saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.

Before sorting papers and paperboard, check if your recycling program accepts mixed paper.

Some Tips to consider: 

  • Most gift wraps are laminated or shiny and can't be recycled (worth remembering when you buy a gift).
  • Paper and cardboard need to be clean. Avoid greasy pizza boxes or just cut off the stained part of the box to avoid contaminating the whole bin.
  • Even though it is not mandatory, we suggest removing clips and staples from the papers: you can reuse them!
  • The mills that recycle mixed paper remove adhesives, so sticky notes, stickers, and labels are recyclable. 


Recycling of Plastic

As for plastics, it is worth noting that recycling programs do not accept all kinds of plastics. Plastic containers are made from different resins, which can be identified by looking at the symbol placed on their bottom. There you will find a triangle with a code. Your local recycling program will tell you which types of plastic are acceptable. We recommend avoiding those plastic containers your community does not recycle.

Recycling plastics: take note of the plastic resin code symbols on the bottom of plastic containers (Source: EPA)

Image: Plastic resin symbols. Source: EPA  


  • Recycling plastic bottles and caps

In some communities, you must discard plastic bottles without caps. In others, it is not necessary to take them off. It is crucial to follow the guidelines if we don't want to fail in our efforts.

Americans use millions of plastic bottles a day, but most of them are not recycled.

  • Recycling plastic bags

Fortunately, we are seeing the dawn of plastic bags. Eight states of America —California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont—have already banned single-use plastic bags.

States with Enacted Plastic Bag Legislation. Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

States with Enacted Plastic Bag Legislation. Source: National Conference of State Legislatures


In 2019, State lawmakers introduced more than 95 bills related to plastic bags. Most ban plastic bag usage, and others ask local governments to take action or reinforce bag recycling programs. Authorities ask consumers to take plastic bags to the stores to be collected and converted into feedstock for product manufacturing. So don't put plastic bags in the curbside or your recycling bins!

Check this video released by EPA in Ohio:

Recycling of Metals

Metal recycling helps to reduce the effects of mining operations, which pollute the air, water, and soil in the surroundings. At the same time, it results in fewer carbon emissions released into the atmosphere by the production of metals. It also conserves energy: aluminum, for example, can be recycled using less than 5% of the energy required to produce it from scratch. Metal is a limited supply and can be repurposed for a variety of uses. Moreover, you can make money with scrap metal!

Motor oil, glassware, aluminium cans and egg cartons can be made with recycled content

Some Tips to prepare metal before it's recycled: 

  • the items for scrap must be at least 50% metal. If possible, remove those parts which are not metal (for example, labels and plastic liners)
  • sort non-ferrous from ferrous (containing iron) metals -that's how scrap is classified. You can use a magnet to identify each type: those that stick to the magnet contain iron.

Metal recyclers near me

  • Are you looking for metal recyclers? You can use the Earth911 recycling directory to find scrap metal recyclers near your area. If you are interested in finding steel or aluminum recyclers, visit Berecycled, select the type of metal and type your zip code. Be recycled is a website developed by Keep America Beautiful (KAB), a non-profit organization that strives to end littering, improve recycling and beautify America's communities.

Recycling of Electronics

The term "e-waste" is generally applied to electronics (either consumer or business) that are about to reach the end of their useful life. Reaching zero e-waste is critical for the circular economy. The first step to achieve this is keeping the environment in mind when we manufacture, buy and dispose of electronic equipment.

Electronic products contain valuable resources such as metals and glass. Among the raw materials used in high-tech electronics, we find gold, iron, copper, platinum, all of which are extracted from the earth. Mining activities, transportation, and processing take massives amounts of energy and result in greenhouse gas emissions. They also consume our natural resources and spread land and water pollution. If you donate and recycle consumer electronics, you will help to cut off carbon emissions and reduce water and land pollution. Take into account that even e-waste plastic parts can feed the recycling industry!

Remove all your personal information and batteries from your electronic products before recycling them


Where to donate or recycle electronic products

In any case, the EPA recommends using Certified Electronics Recyclers. For household electronic devices, please refer to the following collection programs: 

Are you a retailer with unwanted or unused electronics? If this is the case and you want to donate your equipment for recycling, there are two accredited certification standards in the United States: e-Stewards® and R2. If you use certified recyclers, you will ensure your items are appropriately recycled, following environmental, safety, and security standards.


By recycling laptops we can supply energy to US homes.


Stay tuned!

In the coming blog posts, we will address other recyclables that require special care: hazardous materials, clothes and textiles, and many more! Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates. 

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