Top 10 Most Important Items to Recycle

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

Recycling is one of the most important actions we can take to preserve our planet. On a daily basis, more than 100 million Americans participate in recycling used and old materials in their households 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 compiled a list the top ten most important items to recycle.

1. Aluminum

Aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable, and they can 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 PET 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. But why should we recycle paper? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper makes up about one-third of 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.

4Corrugated 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 percent of our municipal waste stream. Approximately 90 percent 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 in detergents, bleach, shampoo and milk jugs. HDPE plastics can be 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./9. Magazines and 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 options, you will have even less to recycle!

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Daniel N
Daniel N5 days ago

thanks for sharing

Mia B
Mia B27 days ago

thank you

Frances G
Frances G1 months ago

Thank you

hELEN h2 months ago


David C
David C2 months ago

thanks again, I am disappointed that our city is actually starting to limit some of the things we are allowed to recycle

Chad Anderson
Chad A4 months ago

Thank you.

Chad Anderson
Chad A4 months ago

Thank you.

David C
David C4 months ago

thanks, try to recycle all these things.......

Marija M
Marija M4 months ago

tks for sharing

Leanne K
Leanne K4 months ago

Very few people recycle correctly. Sadly its just another rubbish bin. But people do love to play the dumb act or feigning surprise. Its most humans playing this ridiculous and harmful charade. Theres not much honesty around but a lot of pretense.