PublicDomainPictures / 17913 images

Green Tips: America Recycles Day

Green Tips | October 31, 2019

America Recycles Day is coming up!  According to an EPA study, each American generates 4.4 pounds of waste every day. New Yorkers generate over 4.5 pounds of trash per day. While recycling can help reduce waste, recycling levels in the U.S. were reportedly at 34.7% in 2015. Since 1994, New York’s Environmental Protection Fund invested $155 million through 2017 to help municipalities develop recycling infrastructure, hire recycling coordinators, and establish household hazardous waste management programs. 

To make sure you’re doing it right, here’s what you need to know about recycling and how to do it properly:

Why do we recycle?

Recycling conserves resources and energy. When we recycle, used products are converted into new products. Using recycled materials saves natural resources, such as timber, metals, water, and minerals. The energy needed to process raw materials is more than the energy used to recycle

Recycling protects the environment. Since recycling became mandatory in 1992, New York State has diverted over 320 million tons of material from disposal, leading to an estimated reduction of 1 billion metric tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of taking 211 million cars off the road for one year.   

Recycling reduces the burden on landfills. Recycling leads to less trash in landfills. Landfills produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more potent than carbon. In fact, municipal landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S., contributing roughly 14% of methane emissions to the atmosphere.

Recycling creates jobs. An EPA study in 2016 analyzed the economic benefits of the recycling industry. The study showed that recycling creates 757,000 jobs, $36.6 billion in wages and $6.7 billion in tax revenues in the U.S. Click here for the full EPA report.

Are We Recycling Right?

Unfortunately, if you fail to recycle properly, it will do more harm than good.  Recycling costs in the U.S. are increasing while recycling rates are decreasing, in part due to the improper recycling habits that contaminate the recycling stream. For example, cardboard can end up in a plastic collection bin or people may attempt to recycle items containing oil or food residues – called “Wishful Recycling” or “Aspirational Recycling.”

Contaminated recyclables slow down the manual sorting process, may potentially break machinery, degrade the quality and market price of recycled materials, and could even cause recycling service providers to reject an entire load of materials, which would result in the waste being sent to landfill. About a quarter of single-stream recycling ends up in a landfill due to contamination issues.

That’s why it’s important to learn how to recycle properly.

How to Recycle Properly 

New York’s Recycle Right campaign provides general resources to reduce contamination in residential recycling. 

We provide some specific advice below on how to properly recycle certain materials.

Plastic: Most recyclable plastics have the numbers on them, often on the bottom. The numbers indicate the type of plastic

  1. Plastic bottle caps are usually recyclable along with the bottles. Keep the caps on plastic bottles so they can be recycled. Otherwise, they’ll likely end up in landfills.
  2. Rinse the plastic item before tossing it into the blue bin. 
  3. You can also return many plastic beverage bottles – along with certain glass bottles and aluminum cans – for 5 cents each at certain stores and redemption centers. Check here for more details. 
  4. Most municipalities in New York don’t accept disposable utensils
  5. Plastic bags are not accepted by most curbside municipal recycling programs, but your local retailer or mall may collect them. Check here for plastic bag drop off locations and here for what types of plastic bags can be recycled. To avoid plastic bag waste entirely, use a reusable bag instead. 

Paper and Cardboard: Paper and cardboard are both recyclable. Corrugated cardboard is used in 90% of shipping boxes in the U.S. In 2018, about 68.1% of paper products and 70% of the corrugated cardboard was recycled in the U.S.  

  1. Pizza boxes must be clean and free of food or oil in order to be recycled. Cut off any tape used to seal the box, then collapse the box to make it flat and to save space. 
  2. While some recycling programs don’t accept paper cups because of their waxy lining, New York City does, as long as it’s empty and clean. Don’t forget to recycle the cardboard sleeve
  3. Remove plastic liners before recycling cereal, pasta or other food boxes. 

Electronic Waste: E-waste recycling helps to keep toxins such as lead, mercury, and cadmium from contaminating our air, water, and soil. In New York, this type of waste is recycled separately from regular municipal recycling. You can either recycle it yourself or through a manufacturer’s takeback program.

  1. To recycle your e-waste yourself, check here for a list of collection sites in New York State. Call ahead before using the collection site as they may not accept a particular type of brand or equipment. Click here for collection sites in New York City. You can also bring your e-waste to a SAFE disposal event or request an e-waste pickup.
  2. To recycle through a manufacturer’s takeback program, check here for a list of designated manufactures’ e-waste acceptance programs in New York. Follow the instructions listed on their websites. Check here for details.

Glass: most glass containers can be recycled. 

  1. Rinse glass containers before placing them in the recycling bin and avoid breaking them. They can’t be recycled if the glass shatters.  
  2. Metal caps on glass jars and bottles are recyclable. Since bottle caps are very small, they may damage machinery and may slow down production. You can help avoid this by placing the caps in an aluminum can until it’s half full. Then, crimp the top of the can by hand so that the caps are trapped. Toss the crimped can in the recycling bin, so the machine will sort out the bigger size metal can for recycling. 
< Back to Citizen’s Toolkit

Get Involved