There Is No Ultimate Guide To Recycling

Since the number of disposables in our lives has increased, the importance of recycling has increased. However, it has also complicated the process. As you may know, only 12% of items that could be recycled, currently make it to the recycling bin. The number of items that actually get recycled is even less, and that’s where this post was supposed to come in.

Admittedly, I originally wanted this post to be a general how to recycle- the ultimate guide if you will. But I very quickly learned why this type of thing doesn’t exist, and also an insight into why there is a gap between things that get into recycling and the things that actually make it through the process.

Recycling is a very region-specific process. Smaller than region: town. What can and cannot be recycled, what condition those materials need to be in, what those materials are sent in (loose, in a bag, etc) can all vary from town to town.

There’s a small silver lining. Websites like can help you locate recycling locations near you and even sometimes break down if those items need to be washed or not before being put in the bin. Smaller nuisance things, and whether they only accept things loose or if in plastic bags is okay (because some places don’t accept things in plastic bags for workers safety, and also sorting problems) I would imagine you have to call your local recycling center to find out.

Now, this isn’t a particularly large task but can be slightly time-consuming, especially when the answers aren’t clear or posted online. And the reason this is important is that then recycling becomes an accessibility issue. Not everyone has the time to sit there and invest every piece of trash that comes into their house, or the time available to sit down and call the recycling center and sit on the phone for what may be a couple of hours while they get transferred between offices to find someone they think may know the answer (hello, bureaucracy!). In order to increase the recycling rate the information on how to recycle needs to be easily accessible and easy to read.

Naturally, if recycling standards were the same nationally, this would reduce the overall confusion (especially people who may have moved from one place to another and didn’t even think about that there is a possibility in different recycling systems) but I understand that bringing every recycling center to the same standard may be costly and hard to regulate. But what is realistic is potentially sending out recycling information with the village calendar, or regularly in the local paper, or… online in general! Since, Ya know, we do live in the 21st century.

What can we do to prevent more waste on our beaches?

In my opinion, being a part of the environmental movement shouldn’t be exclusive to those who have the privilege of time and money to do so. Before this post, I remember constantly telling people in passing that even those who don’t have access to things like bulk goods, can easily still recycle and place their respective materials into the right bins to be taken out- but now I see why it isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s up to us (yes, you reading this) to use our ability to take the time to care about environmental issues (you are reading this, right?) to, this time, take it further than our individual actions and act locally. Answer all of the recycling questions and get that information out to the public. Talk to your local officials about putting this information on the town website if they have one, or hand it to the local paper yourself, or just post it online in a way that is easy to share (I know there are tons of local Facebook groups in my area at least, too!)

Relevant information that may vary from town to town:

  • What items can and cannot be recycled
  • Do these items need to be washed before being put out for recycling?
  • Can the tops of cans and bottles be recycled? (sometimes yes but separately, sometimes they have to stay on the original can, etc)
  • Do the items need to be loose or can they be in a plastic/paper bag when being put out to be recycled?
  • Is there “special” pick up/what does that entail? (I believe my town will take bicycles and some other things but you have to call and have it specifically picked up at a different time)

Do you know about exactly how to recycle in your town or area? Is this information easily accessible for other people in your area? Let me know and other thoughts and comments down below!

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  1. Thank you for the thoughtful post. I came to the same conclusion as I was weaning myself off the landfill in Missoula, Montana and writing Zero Waste in the Last Best Place @ZWLBP. I look forward to seeing this movement continue to grow as we clean up our act and clean up our planet. -Bradley Layton PhD PE

    1. Thank you for your comment, Bradley. I will be sure to look up your writing!

      I am closing down this site soon and transferring its contents to a new site soon. Please follow me on facebook ( to see where the new site is! I appreciate your continued support!

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