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Back to Basics: How to Recycle 101

Sometimes recycling is simple. You know how to recycle that cardboard box or your cans, but sometimes it’s not that easy. The challenge with recycling is there’s no formal education on it; oftentimes, it can be what you’ve learned from family and friends.

Did you know that just about 30% of recyclable materials actually get recycled? For consumers and small businesses alike, this gap is typically due to confusion over what can be recycled and how. If you’re not sure if you can recycle something, don’t give up and toss it in the trash!

Earlier this year to further help combat this challenge, Rubicon launched the Rubicon Marketplace with initial partners TerraCycle, Commit To Green and Clean River as a means to help small businesses and consumers kick-start their recycling efforts with tools and resources, so be sure to visit that site.   

Additionally, read through this Back to Basics: How to Recycle 101 guide. This guide will help refresh your memory on how to recycle seven common items like batteries, plastic, paper, and more. Trust us, you’re not the only one uncertain about how to recycle things like plastic bottle caps or styrofoam.

Heads up: Different cities have different rules, so be sure to brush up on the regulations in your area (or if you are a small business, contact us here at Rubicon to help set you up for recycling success.  This guide will come in handy during that inevitable “oh-no-can-I-recycle-this-thing-or-not” moment, so read on, get informed, and spread the knowledge with other businesses, colleagues and friends.

How to recycle batteries

Single-use alkaline batteries: In most states, it’s legal to toss single-use alkaline batteries in the trash. Thanks to a law passed in 1996, alkaline batteries don’t have mercury in them anymore, so it’s safer to dispose of them in landfills. However, that doesn’t mean you should. To properly recycle your single-use alkaline batteries, you can either bring the batteries to a drop-off location or use a mail-in recycling kit.

Rechargeable batteries: These batteries are typically used in electronics like computers and cell phones. Since they can contain hazardous materials, you shouldn’t throw them in the trash. Instead, bring them to a specific battery collection location like hardware stores or government buildings.

Car batteries: Did you know that car batteries are the most recycled item in the U.S.? According to the EPA, they have a 98% recycling rate. To recycle your car battery, bring it to your dealership or automobile repair shop.

How to recycle plastic

Plastic bags: Never throw your plastic bags in your recycling bin! Instead, plastic bags must be recycled in collection bins. You can typically find these bins in a grocery store near you. Don’t forget to remove any items from the bags, including trash, receipts, and so on.

Plastic bottles: Most plastic bottles can be placed in your recycling bin and taken by your waste and recycling service provider. Remember to rinse the bottles and find out if you can recycle the bottle caps with the bottles or if you should separate them.

Plastic caps from bottles: Different cities have different regulations on recycling plastic bottle caps and lids. Some regulations allow you to keep them on the bottle, while others ask you to recycle them separately or throw them out. Find out your city’s and your waste and recycling provider’s rules.

Plastic wrap: Plastic wrap and film typically can’t be picked up by your curbside waste and recycling provider. Instead, it must be brought to a drop-off location like a grocery store.

Other helpful information: Not all plastic is created equal! Check out this post and learn how to decipher the different plastic recycling symbols.

How to recycle paper

General paper goods: In many locations, curbside providers accept most grades of paper. When recycling general paper goods, do your best to avoid getting the paper wet.

Newspaper: It’s typically acceptable to recycle newspaper in your own recycling bins. If you know your newspaper isn’t treated with chemicals, you can also compost it.

Paper bags: Brown paper bags can be recycled in your bins. If you have shopping bags that have a mix of paper and plastic materials, do some research to see if they’re accepted by your waste and recycling provider. If portions of your paper bags are dirty, remove these sections before recycling the rest.

Shredded paper: Shredded paper shouldn’t be treated the same as non-shredded paper. Before shredding papers, use a black marker to mark out any sensitive information. Once the paper has been shredded, put the paper inside a paper bag. Do your research on your local regulations, as some cities may require you to drop it off at a specific location.

Magazines: If you have an ever-growing stockpile of old magazines taking space in your home, it’s time to recycle them. First, check to see if you can donate the magazines to libraries or share them with family and friends. If you do want to recycle magazines, you can put them in your recycling bin. Throw out any magazines that have water damage.

How to recycle cardboard

Regular cardboard: Due to cardboard’s durability, it’s the most recycled paper product. To recycle cardboard boxes, remove packaging and shipping materials. Break down the box and put it in your recycling bin. If possible, don’t let it get wet since this will prevent it from getting recycled!

Waxed cardboard: Waxed cardboard is commonly used for shipping refrigerated or frozen items. The cardboard is lined with polyethylene, which gives it the waxy residue. Ask your recycling provider if they accept waxed cardboard; if so, break down the box and treat it just like recycling regular cardboard.

How to recycle glass

Glass bottles & jars: Fun fact: there’s no limit to how often glass can be recycled. Rinse glass containers and remove any caps or corks. If your provider asks you to separate glass from paper products, place it in the proper bin. In some states, you can bring in glass bottles for cash.

How to recycle aluminum

Aluminum cans: Most curbside providers pick up aluminum cans–just rinse them and place them in your bin. Like glass bottles, some states allow you to bring in aluminum cans for cash.

Aluminum foil: Unfortunately, most aluminum foil is contaminated with food. This makes it more difficult to recycle. You may be able to rinse the foil and recycle it, but you should check with your provider.

How to recycle styrofoam

Styrofoam: Styrofoam is actually a brand name for expanded polystyrene (EPS). It’s commonly used in things like packing materials, insulation, and takeaway food containers. Unfortunately, styrofoam isn’t usually accepted by curbside recycling providers. You can bring some styrofoam materials like packing peanuts to shipping stores. As for other styrofoam products, do your research and find a drop-off site or mail-in program that makes sense for you.


If you are a business in need of a plan and program around recycling, be sure to contact Rubicon at sustainability@rubiconglobal.com to hear from our recycling team and kick start 2019 on the path to end waste.  

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