Did you know that 75% of waste in the US is recyclable according to the Environmental Protection Agency? But only a fraction of that waste makes it to recycling centers.
Since recycling is so important in curbing climate change, you might expect there to be many recycling laws and rules. In reality, there are only a few. The system relies on individuals and businesses researching how to start recycling and knowing where to recycle.
But the good news is once you educate yourself, recycling will become a natural habit like any other.
Not sure where to begin? This recycling guide has all the laws, rules, and recycling tips you need to start your journey to reducing waste!
1. The “Bottle Bill” or Container Deposit Law
Some states encourage residents to recycle with a law known as the “bottle bill.” These recycling laws mean people who recycle certain beverage containers receive a deposit or refund in return.
Only ten states have a version of this bill in place. These are:
- New York
Delaware used to offer an incentive but repealed it in 2009.
The monetary incentive value and the type of drinks container that each state accepts varies. For example, Oregon offers 10c per container while New York offers 5c. Whereas Maine offers 5c for non-alcoholic containers and 15c for alcoholic ones.
In most cases, you can take the empty (and clean) container back to the retailer to receive the money. Keep in mind that some local governments put a temporary hold on these schemes during the COVID-19 pandemic and they may not be back up and running yet.
If you are traveling to or live in any of these states, you can Google “recycling laws near me” to get an accurate update on the container deposit law.
2. Recycling Is Mandatory in Some Places
Though they are the exception, recycling is mandatory in a handful of cities in the US. These are:
- Seattle, Washington
- San Diego, California
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- New York City, New York
In all these places, both residents and businesses must recycle.
Connecticut has mandatory recycling laws, too. There are some items that everyone must recycle and if not, they might be subject to a fine. These are some of the must-recycle items:
- Glass and metal food containers
- Plastic containers
- Newspapers and magazines
- Corrugated cardboard and boxboard
- Waste oil
- Lead-acid batteries and vehicle batteries
- Scrap metal and appliances
Even leaves and grass cuttings must go in a compost container.
Only some types of plastic containers are recyclable. So, the residents of Connecticut need to be able to tell their PETE #1 plastic containers from their HDPE #2. These types make the best PCR packaging (post-consumer recycled plastics).
Other places with mandatory recycling will have their own guidelines. Do your research if you live in one of those cities.
So, why don’t other cities have mandatory recycling laws? Some don’t have the resources to process a huge amount of recyclable waste yet. And others would rather encourage their residents and businesses to recycle rather than force them.
3. Research Your Local Recycling Rules
Regardless of whether your city has recycling laws or not, it will still offer guidelines and opportunities for you to recycle your waste.
So, the first thing to do is get educated on them!
Every household and business likely has a color-coded chart (either on a flyer or on your local government’s website) of what you can recycle. You will have different bins for different recyclable goods.
Many local governments split up recyclable materials like this:
- Paper, cardboard, and cartons
- Plastics and metals
Glass, cardboard, and aluminum cans are simple materials to understand, but plastic is a tricky one. The rule of thumb is if it’s thin, transparent, or white, it’s likely recyclable. But if it’s black and thick, it likely isn’t.
But learning the symbols for plastics that you find on the side of food and toiletry containers will save you a lot of umming and ahhing. Here are seven of the most common types of plastic:
- PETE #1 (or PET #01)
- HDPE #2 (or PE-HD #02)
- V #3 (or PVC #03)
- LDPE #4 (or PE-LD #04)
- PP #5 (or PP #05)
- PS #6 (or PS #06)
- OTHER #7 (or O #07)
The numbers are often displayed inside of a triangle. Only the first two types of plastic tend to be recyclable.
Make sure you wash out food residue from your containers. And it goes without saying, but memorize your local collection calendar too so you never miss a day!
4. Research Recycling Centers
There are bound to be some recyclable materials that your local government does not pick up.
Here are some items that you might not know are recyclable:
- Light bulbs
- CDs and DVDs
- Ink cartridges
You can also recycle batteries and clothing. For these, you need to find other recycling centers in your local area.
Check for containers both inside or outside your local grocery stores. They often have recycling centers in the parking lot or by the checkout.
5. Reduce Recyclable Waste
Is there a way you can be even more responsible? There is, and it’s to reduce your waste altogether. It’s the most important yet least obvious recycling tip.
You will never need to recycle your water bottles if you always use a refillable one instead of buying new ones from the store. You’ll never need to recycle aluminum foil again if you use food containers and wraps to store your food.
It will be next to impossible to cut out all waste. But if you make small swaps where you can, it will make a big difference.
Always Follow These Recycling Laws and Tips
Recycling is only going to become more important to governments as the effects of climate change continue. So, now you’re clued-up on all the main recycling laws and guidelines, you’re in a better place to do good and keep recyclable materials out of landfills.
You won’t beat global warming by yourself, so be sure to spread your newfound recycling knowledge far and wide!
Are you conscious of your environmental impact and want to make more positive changes? Check out our website for tons more lifestyle articles that will help you achieve these goals.