A Family's Guide to Recycling at Home

Many of the conveniences that people across the country enjoy daily have a harmful impact on the environment. From the overuse of natural resources to the massive disposal of non-biodegradable trash, the habits of today's society will negatively affect coming generations. Fortunately, there are ways that every family can lessen their contribution to this problem. From small children to grandparents, people should come to understand how their actions hurt the environment and what steps they can take to better care for the planet.

What Is Recycling?

Recycling is a process that turns a used item that would normally go into the trash into something new. Most people are familiar with recycling their glass bottles and plastics. Besides glass and plastic, there are a wide range of items in one's home that are recyclable. Some common recyclable items include:

  • Aluminum and other metals
  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Electronics
  • Textiles

Recycling benefits both the environment and the economy. When families recycle, they are fighting against climate change by preserving natural resources and by reducing both the use of new raw materials and the consumption of energy. By recycling, people are improving the quality of the air that they breathe and reducing the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills and the ocean.

Reusing vs. Reducing

Another way that families can help protect the environment is to reuse and reduce. While both actions lessen the amount of waste that people create, they do so in different ways.

Reusing, as the name suggests, means to reuse an item versus throwing it away. For example, a child returning to school may reuse their backpack from the previous year instead of buying a new one. People can also buy items that are reusable to replace similar items that are disposable.

Another form of reusing goods is called repurposing. This means giving a used item a new purpose once it can no longer be used for its original intent. An example of repurposing would be to turn an old shirt into a tote bag for carrying groceries home.

Reducing involves buying only things that are necessary and decreasing the amount of natural resources that one's family uses at home and throughout the day. When a person reduces, they are also creating less waste. One way to do that is to avoid items that are single-use and that use excess packaging materials. Another way to reduce waste is to purchase goods that are recyclable or made using recycled materials.

Do's and Don'ts of Recycling

Improper recycling is a problem that can increase costs, decrease efficiency, and significantly hinder a city or state's recycling efforts. Putting the wrong things in recycling bins can also clog or break recycling equipment, create extra work, and be harmful to both the workers and the environment.

Everyone who recycles must understand what they should and should not do. To better understand the recycling rules for their area, people can check with their city's recycling service.

People should recycle:

  • Water and beverage bottles with lids separated
  • Juice and milk cartons and jugs
  • Shampoo and soap bottles
  • Cardboard packaging, making sure to flatten any boxes
  • Paper, even if it contains staples
  • Rinsed food cans
  • Glass, with caps removed from bottles
  • E-waste, which must go to centers that accept this type of waste and not put out curbside with other recyclables
  • Textiles, which must be given to a textile recycler and not put out curbside

People should not recycle:

  • Plastic cups, plates, or utensils
  • Plastic bags, as they can get stuck in the equipment and may cause it to break
  • Batteries
  • Plastic hangers
  • Pizza boxes or other cardboard with food on it
  • Styrofoam
  • Any recyclable item that has food inside or on it
  • Broken glass
  • Auto parts
  • Light bulbs and fluorescent tubes
  • Mirrors
  • Yard waste, including rocks

Trash should also never be tossed in with recyclables. The presence of trash can contaminate an entire load of recyclables and turn them into the garbage. Some cities even charge people a fine for this offense.

Family Tips for Recycling, Reducing, and Reusing

Recycling can and should be a family effort. Not only can families work together to help protect the environment, but it is also an effective way for both children and parents to learn more about how their actions affect the world around them.

Recycling, reducing, and reusing aren't difficult to do and can quickly become second nature for all. A few easy ways to get started include:

  • Consider how an item can be reused before throwing it away.
  • Second-guess all purchases by asking if it is something that's really needed.
  • Get creative with reusing items in new ways.
  • Avoid wasting water by turning off the faucet while brushing one's teeth or taking shorter showers.
  • Make recycling more convenient by setting up recycling bins not only in the kitchen but throughout the (home).
  • Save electricity by turning off lights and unplugging cellphone chargers, televisions, and any device or appliance that continues to consume power when turned off.
  • Minimize e-waste as much as possible by protecting and extending the life of current electronics. Some ways to do this include keeping cellphones in their protective case and not overcharging them.

Recycling Projects for Kids

Recycling risks feeling like a chore for most kids, which can make participation difficult. Parents can find creative ways to make it fun and interesting with quick and easy crafts that involve reusing old and unwanted materials lying around the house. Encourage older kids with recycling projects that give them an immediate sense of accomplishment.

Recycled crafts and projects for kids or the whole family include:

Other Recycling Resources