Just like the R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and more), I’ve purposefully put these options in this particular order. One item may be able to be disposed of in multiple ways, but the list below will show you the best option for the material.
The real challenge is identifying what items pass through your home most frequently and how you can reduce that in the first place!
Black/dark plastic is hard to recycle. Either recycle the lid and toss the bottom or keep sturdier containers for reuse!
Clear plastic containers can be recycled if clean, but I find this style particularly good for reuse.
Note: What does “clean” mean? No physical food scraps remaining and clean enough that it won’t dirty something else in your bin. Dry is highly preferred if you have single-stream recycling (paper and plastics/metals in one bin).
Recycle if clean. Trying soaking overnight if there’s still food on it to conserve water. Find a balance between recycling and using gallons of water to clean things. Sometimes the trash can be the more appropriate option.
Aluminum bottoms can also be recycled when clean.
Recycle large, clean pieces only. If you have smaller scraps, start a foil ball. Keep adding pieces to it until it’s roughly the size of a tennis ball, then put it in the recycling bin.
This is a highly debated item! In MA, pizza boxes are recyclable. Greasy parts are ok, just make sure there’s no food left in the box. Lick up all that cheese in the name of recycling!
Recycle paper bags and clamshells if they’re clean. If they have grease or food stains on them, throw them in the compost (as long as there are no inks or dyes).
Tip: You can tear away the pieces that are dirty for the compost and put the rest in the recycling if you really want to optimize!
Since razor blades are made of metal, they’re totally recyclable, although they should not be thrown in your curbside bins (trash or recycling) since they could injure workers and damage sorting machinery. Properly packaged blades can usually be recycled at your city’s recycling center or where sharps are collected (e.g. some pharmacies, police stations, clinics, etc.). Make sure the blades are secured in a sealed container that the blades can’t puncture.
Waxed paper is accepted by most commercial composting companies. If you don’t compost, throw this in the trash.
Styrofoam is notoriously not recyclable. Very few municipalities will accept it.
Lots of “paper” packaging is actually coated with a layer of plastic, making it neither recyclable nor compostable.
Thin, wiry metal is also a no go for recycling. It can get caught in the machinery at the MRF and cause chaos.
Mixed foils and paper need to go in the trash since the materials won’t be able to be separated and recycled properly.
Even if something is made from a recyclable material, if it’s too small, it likely won’t be properly recycled. This is because it will be so light weight, it can fly out of your bin during collection or off the conveyor belts during sorting. It’s best to put something smaller than the size of a credit card in the trash.
The same goes for bits of foil that are too small. Foil lids are also usually coated in a secret layer of plastic that render them un-recyclable.
Ice cream cartons and any other freezer boxes are not recyclable, since they often have a protective plastic coating that can’t be separated from the paper.
Bulbs that don’t contain mercury can be thrown out or recycled at Batteries Plus Bulbs (or maybe at your local DPW).
Bulbs that do contain mercury must be disposed of at hazardous waste collection sites. They would be harmful in the trash, which will be landfilled or incinerated.
Blister packs from gum or medications should be thrown out due to the mixed materials and typically small size. Alternatively, they can go in TerraCycle’s snack wrapper box (one of their paid programs).
Toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, and floss dispensers are all made up of many layers of materials. Throw these away or save them up and send them back in TerraCycle’s free oral care program.
Make up, beauty, and other health care items have complex packaging, which can’t be recycled curbside. Nordstrom has partnered with TerraCycle to collect packaging from all brands through their free program, BeautyCycle. Collection boxes are available in the beauty section of every Nordstrom (note: this does not include Nordstrom Rack locations). Check out this page for a list of what they accept. Although it’s important to focus on buying these products in more sustainable packing going forward, this program is great for the things we all already have.
Another option for mascara wands are organizations like Wands for Wildlife, which collect clean wands to use when cleaning tiny rescued animals (presh!). They often pause their collections when they’ve received enough wands, so be sure to check the website before sending yours.