Looking for recycling options? The three R’s—reduce, reuse, and recycle—have been discussed ad nauseam by now. Most people have become dutiful recyclers and keep their used paper, glass jars, and plastic bottles out of the trash. Many do it without thinking too much about it, which is both good and bad.


The Secrets to Recycling


Good and bad? It’s obvious why it’s good that recycling has become almost an instinct, but how could it be bad? Because we should be thinking about the action of recycling. We should be active recyclers who make informed decisions, understand the urgency behind recycling, and seek out every and any opportunity to lessen our environmental impact. This is especially true of the Portland recycling scene; we have a reputation to uphold! If you’re looking to step up your recycling game, use this guide as a starting place.

Recycle Hardcore

We’re lucky enough to live in a time where many materials can be recycled. However, most people just recycle the basics, like plastic and paper. This is due to not knowing what other materials can be recycled, not knowing where to drop those materials off, or not committing the time and energy to doing so. We can’t do much about the last one, but we can shed some light on more obscure recyclable materials and where to take them.

The first resource you should check should be your local government. Many cities don’t just provide information about their curbside program, but also where you can take items the curbside program does not accept. Portland residents can ask Metro. Here are few organizations that might recycle materials not readily recycled elsewhere in your community:

Grocery Stores: Many grocery stores accept materials curbside programs don’t, such as wine corks or plastic film, lids, and clamshells.

Terracycle: this site has programs that allow you to recycle everything from pens that don’t write anymore to cigarette butts (yes, cigarette butts).

Staples: takes old electronics and used ink and toner cartridges

Call2Recycle: takes batteries, cell phones, old electronics, and CFL lightbulbs

This is just a short list and not representative of all the recycling opportunities out there. We encourage you to look at every single thing you’re about to trash and think, “How I can recycle this instead?” Get as close to zero waste in your household as possible.


Recycle Better

The whole point of recycling is we’re trying to do something good. Unfortunately, sometimes recycled materials don’t always go where we think they’re going and instead are exported to other countries where they sit and become garbage again or are processed in unsafe conditions.

Make sure when you’re recycling, you’re actually recycling. E-stewards is a resource you can use to see what organization will take your electronic materials and recycle them in an ethical way. Worried about the paper and plastic you recycle? That stuff you have to worry about less. Those materials are often easier and cheaper to recycle, which means they’re valuable for companies wanting cheap materials. It wouldn’t make good business sense to throw it away. However, it never hurts to do some snooping!


Recycling pizza box and plastic bags


Recycle Smarter

Part of being a good recycler is knowing what can and can’t be recycled, in general and in your specific region. Knowing what can actually be recycled means fewer rejections at the recycling center and less they have to send to the landfill after all. Here’s a quick list things your recycling center probably won’t take:

  • Pizza Boxes

If they are greasy, don’t recycle! Compost them or throw them away. The grease makes the fibers of the cardboard clump together, which means that the cardboard can’t be processed properly. If the top half of the box is not greasy, tear that off and recycle just that part.

  • Plastic Bags

Don’t recycle them and don’t tie your recyclables up in them! Plastic bags jam up the machines at recycling centers. Also, at most places the workers do not have time to open tied-up plastic bags with other items in them, so the whole thing is treated as a reject. Instead, try to find a substitute for your plastic bags. If you absolutely can’t do without, there are ways to recycle these items. Like we said, while municipal curbside programs generally do not accept plastic bags for recycling, many large grocery store chains do.

  • Paper towels and napkins

Again, food affects the fibers in a way that means they can’t be recycled.

  • Wet paper

Wet paper has shortened and thus less valuable fibers.

  • Freezer boxes

Most recycling centers will not accept boxes that frozen food comes in. The centers cannot accept these boxes as they have a water barrier coating.

Like we said, being a smarter recycler means knowing the rules for your specific region. Be sure to contact the appropriate office of your local government if you have questions. For example, many places do not accept cartons, for much the same reason as they do not accept freezer boxes. However, Portland recycling does accept juice and milk cartons. Lori Drew, from the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, says they are “the exceptions because there is a market for these specific products.” So do your research!


Recycling in More Ways than One

Recognize that selling your old phone on eBay or giving your old clothes away is another form of recycling. If it can be used in its current state, try and find an object another home where it will be genuinely useful before sending it off to become something else.


It’s Not Easy Being Green

Recycling isn’t just tossing things in the right bin. It’s being informed and disposing of our waste as thoughtfully and responsibly as possible. We encourage everyone to be the best recyclers they can be. If you have more ways on how to be a better recycler, please share them in the comments or on Twitter!

You might enjoy reading How to Clean Recycled Glass Countertops.