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Top 10 Most Important Items to Recycle

Top 10 Most Important Items to Recycle

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on August 26, 2012. Enjoy!

Get to know the Top 10!

Recycling is one of the most important things we can do to preserve our planet. On a daily basis, more than 100 million Americans participate in recycling used and old materials in their household and offices.

Are you one of them? Or are you trying to sort which items you can recycle and which ones belong in the compost or the garbage?

To help you out, the National Recycling Coalition has put together a list the top ten most important items to recycle.

#1: Aluminum. This is because aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable and can also be recycled over and over again. Even better, turning recycled cans into new cans takes 95 percent less energy than making brand-new ones. So how about starting with all those soda and juice cans?

#2: PET Plastic Bottles. Americans will buy about 25 billion single-serving bottles of water this year, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Worse yet, nearly 80 percent of those bottles will end up in a landfill. Let’s put a stop to that. Making plastic out of recycled resources uses about two-thirds less energy than making new plastic. And because plastic bottles, more than any other type of plastic, are the most commonly used type, they are usually the easiest to recycle.

#3: Newspaper. This is a pretty obvious one, right? It seems like a no-brainer to set up a recycling bin next to your garbage can for newspaper and any other scrap paper. So why should we recycle paper? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper makes up about one-third of the all the municipal waste stream in the U.S. That’s a whole lot of paper, and since we know that recycling all that paper conserves resources, saves energy, and doesn’t clog up the landfills, there’s no reason not to do it.

Once you have those in place, let’s move on to the rest of our list.

#4: Corrugated Cardboard. Old corrugated cardboard (OCC) represents a significant percentage of the commercial solid waste stream. In 1996, the U.S. generated 29 million tons of OCC, or 13.8% of our municipal waste stream. Approximately 90% of that comes from the commercial or non-residential sector, the places where we work. So next time UPS delivers a big box to your office, be sure to break it down and recycle it. (After you’ve emptied it, of course.)

#5: Steel cans. Just like aluminum, steel products can be recycled over again without compromising the quality of the steel. We’re talking about steel cans, but maybe you have some steel auto parts or appliances ready for recycling too? More than 80 million tons of steel are recycled each year in North America, and recycling steel saves the equivalent energy to power 18 million households a year. You can learn more about steel recycling by visiting the Steel Recycling Institute website.

#6: HDPE plastic bottles (HDPE stands for high-density polyethylene, a common and more dense plastic, which is used for detergents, bleach, shampoo, milk jugs.) HDPE plastics are identified by the logo on the bottom of the container. (Three arrows in the shape of a triangle.) Check the number inside that logo: numbers 1 and 2 are recyclable almost everywhere, but 3 through 7 are only recyclable in limited areas. And don’t forget to rinse and clean all of your HDPE containers in the sink. Any remaining dirt or food particles can contaminate the recycling process.

#7: Glass containers. Recycled glass saves 50 percent energy versus virgin glass, and recycling just one glass container saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for four hours. Recycled glass generates 20 percent less air pollution and 50 percent less water pollution, and one ton of glass made from 50 percent recycled materials saves 250 pounds of mining waste. Wow!

#8: Magazines and #9: Mixed paper. There are so many reasons to recycle all kinds of paper that it makes no sense not to. First, recycled paper saves 60 percent of energy versus virgin paper, and also generates 95 percent less air pollution. Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water. Sadly, though, every year Americans throw away enough paper to make a 12-foot wall from New York to California. Let’s work on changing that!

#10: Computers. Computers can be recycled in a couple of ways, depending on the state of the machine. Giving old, working computers to friends and family members or donating them to nonprofit organizations not only keeps the computer entirely out of the waste stream, but it presents computer access to someone who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Non-working computers can be sent to recycling centers where they are dismantled and valuable components are recovered.

Of course, there’s also reducing and reusing, and if you choose those, you will have even less to recycle!

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Photo Credit: andyarthur

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1071 comments

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12:58AM PST on Nov 12, 2014

Live long and prosper

1:55PM PST on Nov 9, 2014

Mark M.--

Look for the recycle triangle somewhere on the item. There will be a number between 1 and 7. Here is an on-line guide:

http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/Recycling-by-the-numbers.html

3:51AM PST on Nov 9, 2014

Karen K. makes a good point. I generally know what is recyclable (often it's labeled on the item). An article that I would find helpful is to know what ISN'T recyclable, so I don't screw up the system down at the recyclers accidentally.

3:45AM PST on Nov 9, 2014

Some areas don't offer some recycling but we do what we can!

10:12PM PST on Nov 8, 2014

Great data. Some like to say recycling uses more energy, so nice to see. Don't put dirty cardboard in recycling though. Can wreck the batch I heard.

2:24PM PST on Nov 3, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

11:12AM PDT on Oct 30, 2014

Couldn't agree more!

2:29PM PDT on Oct 25, 2014

noted

9:38AM PDT on Oct 24, 2014

For us, the "3 R's" are reduce, reuse, and recycle, and we've been following that all our lives! If it can be recycled, that's generally what happens to it. Between the compost pile in the backyard, the recycling bin, and our "waste not, want not" attitude, I'd say we generate about half a kitchen-size bag of landfillable trash every week. The only reason that gets taken out each week is because otherwise the house would get pretty rank, and maggots in the garage trash can are NOT fun! In the winter, it's not so bad, but summer is another story-yuck.

10:14AM PDT on Oct 23, 2014

Great article. So glad to see that we here in NYC are doing a good job of recycling. In the beginning it was definitely a challenge to get people to participate (fines are handed out to those buildings that do not follow recycling rules -- residents do not look kindly upon those who do not follow the rules and are responsible for getting their buildings fined) By now recycling is second nature...in fact it's now startling when I go somewhere that does NOT recycle...

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