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5 Common Recycling Mistakes and their Zero Waste Swaps

Nov 04 2019

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November 15th is America Recycles Day. In honor of the day, do an annual recycling check-up to make sure you’re recycling right. Before you toss something in the bin with the thought, “Well, if it’s not recyclable, they’ll sort it out anyways” consider this: when too many non-recyclable items are mixed in with recycling, the whole lot may be landfilled – it just isn’t worth it for the recycling company to spend the time and money sorting it out. So it’s important to do our best so that recycling programs can be their best.

Below we’ve highlighted just five common items that you cannot recycle in your bin curbside along with zero waste swaps to use in their place. After all, “recycling” is just one of the three R’s.

1. Plastic Bags

Plastic bags cannot be recycled curbside. They get all tangled up in the recycling sorting machinery. Check out the video below to see it in action.

Zero Waste Swap: Bring your own bag – you can get reusable bags that fold up small and easily fit in a purse. If only buying a few things you could just skip the bag or, in a pinch, ask for a paper bag, which can be recycled at home.

2. Disposable Coffee Cups

Neither paper nor foam coffee cups are recyclable.

Zero Waste Swap: BYO mug to the coffee shop, some cafes will even give you a small discount. Some nearly indestructible go-anywhere options that we like are Kleen Kanteen and Hydroflask. They also sell caps separately so your bottle can be multi-use or you can replace your lid when you inevitably misplace it.

3. Plastic Silverware

No silverware is recyclable in your bin. Plastic, metal, wood, paper, you name it, it can’t be recycled at home.

Zero Waste Swap: Use silverware from home. If you’re worried about losing it or not having enough, get extra sets from a resale shop. You could get a set specifically for travel or a mini spork to keep on hand in your purse, car, or backpack.

4. Trash Bags

No plastic bags are acceptable in your recycling bin (see #1) – that extends to the bag you may use to collect your recycling inside your home. All items must be placed loose in your recycling cart (not even in a paper bag). A trash bag is just that – for trash only.

Zero Waste Swap: Get a reusable bag or bin to collect your recyclables until you empty it in your big bin outside. These reusable bags are great and have handles. If you have paper bags from the grocery store, collect recycling in those then empty them into the bin and toss the paper bag in alongside the bottles and cans – just be sure to empty it first.

5. Paper Towels and Paper Napkins

Paper towels and napkins are not recyclable. Clean, dirty, doesn’t matter don’t put them in the recycle bin. 

Zero Waste Swap: Cut up old towels or t-shirts or get yourself a set of washcloths for cleaning. Get a set of cloth napkins and use them! Go for dark colors or patterns if you’re afraid of stains. Keep one in the glove compartment to avoid waste on the go.

More Recycling Tips

For more tips on what you can and can’t recycle as well as a recycling quiz, check out Chicago’s Recycle-by-city guide. Though there may be different services for suburban Chicago that they don’t list, what you can and can’t recycle in the “blue bin” is the same.

Ask Us Your Recycling Questions

If you have any questions on recycling or where to responsibly dispose of something, reach out! Email info@scarce.org or call 630-545-9710. We’re happy to help.


Disclaimer: The items linked to in this post are not affiliated with SCARCE and as such we do not receive any compensation for linking to them. We just like the product.

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