How to Recycle, Upcycle, and Reduce Waste

How to Recycle, Upcycle, and Reduce Waste

You want to live greener and make your impact on the Earth a little lighter.

Awesome — Mother Earth thanks you!

Recycling is a great place to start, but it’s not as simple as throwing all of your plastic items into the recycling bin at the curb.

Living a more sustainable life starts with your shopping cart.

“Look at labels when you make purchases just like you would a nutrition label,” says Samantha Kappalman, spokesperson for The Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit working to transform U.S. recycling and move to a circular economy. “Is it made from recycled content, and can it be recycled?”

But what about the things you already have at home?

There are multiple tactics you can take, starting with recycling, upcycling, and reducing your waste.

Here’s how to put each into action to cut down your waste footprint.

How to Recycle

Recycling isn’t always as easy as it seems. But with these tactics, you can ensure what you’re putting in the bin can always be recycled and put to use.

1. Check labels before buying products

Before you buy a packaged good, check the label to see if the container is recyclable. There should be a symbol, usually on the bottom.

If there’s no symbol, try switching to a brand that uses recyclable materials or opt for non-packaged or bulk items instead.

2. Get to know your area’s recycling rules

“Different materials get recycled differently in every state, and each municipality has its own recycling requirements,” explains Shaye DiPasquale, a publicist at TerraCycle, which offers free recycling programs and helps people collect and recycle hard-to-recycle waste.

You can look up the policies that apply to you in a recycling database to ensure you’re doing it right.

3. Make sure your recycling is (mostly) clean and dry

Your recycled items don’t need to be squeaky clean, but Kappalman suggests making sure there’s “no food waste and no liquids, so they don’t contaminate the rest of the recyclables.”

4. Keep caps on any bottles or jugs

“Nearly all facilities want the caps on so they can capture all of the material,” says Kappalman.

Machines sort recycling and anything smaller than a credit card gets sorted out. This means caps are lost if they go through on their own.

If you keep the caps on bottles, they become part of a piece of recycling big enough to make it through.

5. Don’t “wish-cycle”

“Wish-cycling occurs when someone places something in a recycling bin with the hopes it will be recycled, without actually knowing whether the item can be recycled,” explains DiPasquale.

We’ve all been there, so no shame!

Look for a recycling label or language on whatever it is you’re throwing away or check the recycling bin itself — many bins will tell you what belongs in it or what doesn’t.

Trash and recycling bins

How to Upcycle

Before you throw something in the recycling bin, check to see if there’s a way to lengthen its life first.

Here’s how to repurpose some items if they can’t be recycled or extend their use for a little longer.

6. Keep takeout containers to use at home

“Instead of immediately seeking out a recycling solution for those plastic takeout containers from Friday’s dinner, see if you can use them for food storage in your kitchen,” says DiPasquale.

7. Turn empty yogurt cups into seed starters

Punch some holes in the bottom of a yogurt container, and then you can fill them with potting soil and plant seeds.

Keep them in the window and water them until they’ve grown enough to be planted outside.

8. Use your protein powder tubs for storage

There are plenty of places throughout your home that can use some organization.

Kappalman suggests things like “using your protein powder tub to hold all of those scrunchies or makeup brushes.”

Woman Making Compost From Vegetable Scraps

How to Reduce Waste

You don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do with leftovers if you use up every bit.

That’s the idea behind reducing your waste, and here are some ways to start doing it at home immediately.

9. Bring those reusable shopping bags to the store

Yes, you can recycle plastic bags — but in most cases, you have to turn them back into the store, not stick them in your recycling bin.

The better solution is to eliminate them from your shopping altogether by opting for reusable bags.

10. Cut up old clothes to use as cleaning rags

If you have ripped or excessively worn items at home, Kappalman suggests cutting them up to use as cleaning rags.

Doing so will put the clothing to good use and also cut down on waste from paper towels and sponges.

11. Start a compost bin for your backyard

Apple cores, banana peels, and potato skins don’t need to go in the trash — use them to create nutrient-rich soil for your garden.

Don’t have a green thumb?

In that case, sign up for a local compost collection service or collect your food scraps in an airtight container and freeze them until you locate a community garden or local composting site, recommends DiPasquale.