Even if you’ve filled your recycling bin to the brim each week, chances are there is still more you can do to cut down on the amount of recyclable trash that goes into the landfills. I was reminded of this one day while I was cleaning out my car, a task I do when I get gas, since it’s one of the few occasions that my car is in proximity to a trash can. On this particular day, my car was messier than normal, as we’d recently come back from an 8-hour road trip. Empty bottles, plastic wrappers, random straws, wads of napkins littered the floors — for a moment I thought of heading back home and carrying it all into the house so I could recycle it all (there was no recycling bin at the gas station). But I’m ashamed to say that my desire for a clean car ASAP overrode my usually eco-responsible self, and I pitched it all with a twinge of guilt.
Since then I’ve been thinking of all those times I forget to recycle, and ways that I can make sure that everything that can be recycled — even those things we tend to forget about — goes into the recycling bin instead of the trash. And I’ve realized that there are a few things that most of us forget to recycle. Here are a few that I’ve come up with.
1. Plastic Wrap, Sandwich Bags, Aluminum Foil
When you wrap up some leftovers or pack a snack for the road or lunch for your kids, what happens to the plastic wrap, sandwich bags and aluminum foil that you’re using? It’s tempting to think that the wadded-up balls of plastic or foil are so small, it won’t hurt to throw them in the trash, but if most of the population does this on a near-daily basis, it can add up. Check with your municipality to see if they even accept plastic wrap (also check the packaging of the wrap you use to see if it’s recyclable, and which type of plastic it is). As for aluminum foil, it usually can only be recycled if it’s free of food residue. Plastic zip-top bags like Ziploc® brand bags are usually recyclable too (and you can even earn Recylebank Points for recycling them!), but typically need to be taken to a plastic-bag collection point, such as at your supermarket. Make sure they’re clean and dry.
Even better: Since it’s a little extra work to prepare food packaging for the recycling bin (and might even entail a special trip to take them to a recycling point), why not try to reduce the use of these wraps? Sure, there will always be occasions when you want to use a disposable wrap, but investing in reusable plastic or glass containers, and for kids’ lunches and snacks, sets of reusable Lunch Skins made of greaseproof coated cotton fabric, can go a long way in reducing the number of times you have to use disposable wraps.
2. Plastic Straws and Disposable Drink Cups
Most plastic straws are made of polypropylene (#5 plastic), and home recycling programs sometimes accept this type of plastic. As for to-go cups, typically all-plastic ones (like those that iced coffees are served in) are recyclable, but the waxy coated paper ones, such as soda cups from a fast-food place, are not. No matter what, be sure to check with your waste hauler to make sure it’s accepted.
Even better: Stop using straws unless absolutely necessary. In a restaurant or at home, just sip from your glass. Or if you’re traveling, use a travel bottle. You can also rinse straws out to use them one or two more times.
Those little receipts tend to add up, typically at the bottom of my handbag. I recycle them when I can, but sometimes, as with my car, I’ll clean out my purse, say, when I’m waiting in a doctor’s office, far from a recycling bin. But imagine my surprise when I was doing a little research for this article and discovered that some cash register receipts are not recyclable because they contain BPA, a chemical known to disrupt the human endocrine system, and possibly mess with our hormones. Indeed, the thermal-paper receipts (the ones that are smooth and shiny) are coated with BPA, which reacts to heat, creating the text or image on the receipt instead of using ink or toner. Therefore, if they’re recycled, those potentially toxic chemicals can then enter the recycling system, contaminating recycled paper. Until BPA-free receipt paper is more prevalent and recognizable, I suggest that you only recycle the traditional receipts that are printed on regular, matte paper.
Even better: At stores that offer such a service, ask for a receipt to be emailed or texted to you. Or, ask the cashier not to print you a receipt at all, if you don’t need one for your records.
Given that all of these recyclables are often building up in my car — and recycling from my car can be inconvenient, because I park far from recycling bins and trash cans — I’ve got one more idea! If car recyclables is a problem for you as well, try this: Keep a few plastic grocery bags (bonus points for reusing them!) in the car and fill them with recyclables like drink bottles, papers and plastic wrappers. Every few days, carry the whole bag inside, and put the items in your recycling bin.
Live Green and Earn Points
3 Things Everyone Forgets to Recycle
Do you forget to recycle these common items? Make an effort to remember these three recyclable items that often go forgotten.
What recyclables do you always forget to recycle? Share your tips in the comments below!