6 Recycling Practices You May Be Getting Wrong and How to Fix Them

Making a few small changes can make your recycling game even stronger.

You’re on your recycling game. Paper, plastic, glass, cardboard— you take the time to follow your municipality’s guidelines, because you know putting in a little extra effort at home makes the dirty work at the recycling facility as painless as possible. You even go the extra mile to clean sunbutter out of a jar before tossing it into the recycling, right? There are a few faux-pas’ some good-hearted citizens miss when recycling. And for good reason: they can be a pain! (Have you tried soaking a sticker off a glass jar?) With the help of our Operations & Sustainability Lead, Nicol Sobczyk, we’re here to help you fix five common recycling practices people often get wrong.

1. Pizza Boxes

All cardboard gets recycled…Duh, right? (Read about the age-old paper or plastic debate here.)

Oily and cheesy pizza boxes actually don’t belong in that stack. So next time you Netflix-and-pizza on a Saturday night, remember to break down the box and throw it in the trash. While we’re on the topic of recycling cardboard, also make sure tape and labels are removed. For example, once you’re done with one of our Ecologic paper bottles, crack open the shell and remove the front and back labels before recycling. Those belong in the trash next to your pizza box.

Takeaway: Oily cardboard, packing tape, and labels should be thrown in the trash.

2. Numberless plastic

Thermoform plastics (think the plastic container your strawberries come in) are usually marked with a number that indicates the type of plastic it’s made of. You can cross-reference this number with your municipality’s accepted plastics list. This is key is to make sure that you’re otherwise not guilty of “Wishful Recycling,” aka putting everything that looks recyclable in the bin hoping it will get recycled.

Some unnumbered plastics, like Ziploc, grocery, or dry cleaning bags are actually recyclable, but just not in your household recycling. “Most forward-thinking grocery chains, including Whole Foods and Wegmans, accept plastic bags in a specially marked drop box by their exits,” says Nicol. If you’re not already a B.Y.O.B. (bring your own bag) shopper, we highly encourage taking this step.

Takeaway: Learn your local recycling guidelines. Some unnumbered clear plastic can be recycled. Plastic bags can be dropped off at “green-thinking” grocery chains – just ask!

3. Aerosol cans

Aerosol cans are one of those confusing riddles. They’re made of aluminum and plastic, so why aren’t they recyclable? “Even though aluminum is a high-value material for recyclability, the spray components, or “actuators,” are crimped onto the can. It’s impossible to safely separate the pieces from the aluminum components. These products are powered by a propellant, which can seriously injure someone trying to detach the two,” explains Nicol. Unfortunately this means your hairsprays, dry shampoo cans, cooking sprays, and can deodorants belong in the trash.

Takeaway: As much as it might pain you, aerosol cans belong in the trash. We highly recommend making the switch to non-aerosol alternatives!

4. Plastic bottles

Most plastic bottles made from PET plastic (think transparent, like a plastic Coca-Cola bottle) and HDPE plastic (think semi-transparent, like a plastic milk carton) are recyclable. However, most decorative components, like shrink sleeve labels, are not recyclable since the glue is so well attached. When a bottle arrives at a recycling facility, it’s placed in a bath that’s meant to separate the unrecyclable components from the recyclable ones. If the non-recyclable components don’t detach, entire perfectly recyclable plastic bottles are kicked off the line and sent to landfill. Yikes.

Takeaway: Take an extra minute before recycling your plastic items and do your best to remove labels, plastic shrink wrap, and glue. You can keep the cap on – those get chopped up and recycled too.

5. Aluminum cans, glass bottles, jars

It’s more helpful than you know to rinse or wash your cans, bottles, and jars before recycling. It pays off when materials arrive at the recycling facilities in their best possible form and quality. “Better quality recycled items will lead to improved quality of the post-consumer recycled materials. If Americans can improve the quality of recycled material and learn to better sort recyclable from non-recyclable, companies will be more inclined to make their products out of recycled material in lieu of virgin material,” explains Nicol. To tackle the toughest food and drink derived “disruptors,” like peanut butter and sugar, we recommend soaking contaminated bottles and cans in warm water and dish soap or white vinegar. This can also be an option to remove stubborn labels and glue. Once clean and label-free, you may wind up reusing your jar or bottle as a flower vase or grain storage, instead of sending to your recycling facility!

Takeaway: Rinse (and clean, if necessary) your recyclables to help improve their value in their second life.

6. Plastic pumps

It’s hard to see from the surface, but pumps today are made of mixed plastic and metal springs. This combination of materials makes pumps non-recyclable – they cannot all be ground up in existing recycling machines. So, unfortunately, your liquid hand soap and shampoo pumps should be placed in the trash. “There is a huge opportunity for consumers to demand that their favorite companies use recyclable or reusable pumps,” says Nicol. Smart, earth-friendly shoppers can contact loved brands and advocate for recyclable solutions – as you’ve done with us! We’ve listened to your feedback and will soon be announcing a special partnership that will allow you to send in your pumps to be recycled.

Takeaway: Contact brands you love on social or via email and request recycling options. Don’t forget, start saving your pumps now and check back for our big announcement!