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The Ultimate Recycling Cheat Sheet

In our world of “eco-friendly everything”, you are constantly bombarded with ways you can make a difference. It can sometimes be overwhelming to wade through it all and decide where you can make effective change for you and the lives surrounding you. Recycling seems to have positioned itself as the go-to way for people to ally themselves with the eco-friendly revolution.

Recycling is a way to earn immediate gratification with no real accountability. I’m talking about the “wish-cyclers” out there who throw anything into their blue bin just so it looks full when they drag it to the curb on pick up day. To the neighbors, it looks like you are living green, but in reality, you have thrown so much unrecyclable trash into your bin that only about 10% can truly be recycled.  

Every year, the average American goes through more than 250 pounds of plastic waste, and much of that comes from packaging. You see trash everywhere – on our beaches, on the side of the road, in parking lots – single use trash is everywhere. According to National Geographic, 91 percent of ALL plastic isn’t recycled. The 5 Gyre Institute, a nonprofit that researches and encourages action against plastic pollution, estimates that less than 10 percent of plastic is recycled, while 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year.

Your recycling bin is part of the solution, but many of us are confused about what we should be putting in there. What’s recyclable in one community could be trash in another. Asking what can be recycled in your area is one of the smartest things you can do to ensure that you are diverting as much of your business’s waste from landfills as possible.

I’m going to make it easy for you. I’ve compiled a list of the easiest household trash that most municipalities accept in their recycling centers.

Paper Recycling

Recycle envelopes, office paper, junk mail, greeting cards and file folders. Shredded paper should be put in a paper bag.

Acceptable Items:

  • Newspaper
  • Envelopes
  • Junk mail
  • Phone books
  • Brochures
  • Magazines


Cardboard Recycling

Did you know greasy pizza boxes are not recyclable?

You can also include newspaper inserts, catalogs, paperback books, phone books and brochures.

Acceptable Items:

  • Ream wrappers
  • File folders
  • Poster board
  • Frozen food boxes
  • Cardboard boxes


Plastic Recycling

Recycle plastics #1 thru #7. Look on the bottom of containers for a number inside the recycling arrows.

Acceptable Items:

  • Milk jugs (no cartons)
  • Water/Soda containers
  • Shampoo/Soap/Detergent bottles


Aluminum/Metal Recycling

Recycle all food and beverage metal cans – steel, tin, bi-metal and aluminum.

Acceptable Items:

  • Aluminum beverage cans
  • Food cans
  • Scrap metal


Glass Recycling

Recycle clear and colored glass.

Acceptable Items:

  • Beverage containers
  • Glass food jars


  • Appliances
  • Batteries
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Christmas Lights
  • Coat Hangers
  • Diapers
  • Electrical Cords
  • Food Waste
  • Food Wrap
  • Garden Hoses
  • Plastic Bags
  • Polystyrene
  • Rubber Balls
  • Sports Equipment
  • Stuffed Animals
  • Syringes/Razor Blades
  • Tires
  • Waxed Cartons
  • Wood/Yard Waste

There is absolutely no other action available today, other than recycling that can have a simultaneous positive impact on so many things critical to our existence on this planet. Through all its growing pains, ups and downs, recycling is still something we should all care about and take action. When U.S. recycling levels reach 75% it will be the environmental and CO2 equivalent of removing 55 million cars from U.S. roads each year.

If you are looking for a more in-depth course on how to recycle the right way, I recommend spending some time with a cheap eLearning course, such as “Recycling the Right Way”. For $25 this course takes you through what the recycling numbers mean, and you get a free “Quick Reference Guide to Recycling” to download after you complete the course. Remember, it’s quality over quantity. Take the time to recycle the right things. Your children will thank you for it in the future.



Jennifer Moreau Chick
Jennifer Moreau Chick

As the Founder and CEO of World For Good, Jennifer Moreau-Chick helps readers learn about how to elevate social and environmental sustainability in the business community so companies can differentiate themselves from their competitors. She has been featured in Conscious Company Magazine as a leader in social impact, in Conscious Magazine and has worked as a Marketing Director for 3 certified B Corporations for the past four years. Visit her blog here.