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What can be Recycled?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Almost anything can be recycled, but just because something is recyclable does not necessarily mean that it will be recycled. This depends less on what something is made out of, and more on the policies of local recycling agencies. Small agencies and garbage collection companies tend to recycle less, because they don't have the facilities for processing numerous recyclables, and they don't collect enough to justify the expense of contracting some recycling services out. For people who are really concerned about recycling, it may be necessary to drop recyclables off at several locations. For example, plastic grocery bags may not be accepted in curbside recycling, but the grocery store might have a collection point for them.

In terms of plastics, most plastics are in fact recyclable, although some are harder to recycle than others. Plastics are marked with numerical codes which indicate what kind of plastic was used in the manufacturing of the product. Recycling companies usually list the codes they will accept for recycling, and plastics marked with other codes will not be recycled by the collecting agency. However, some communities have collection points for plastics not handled by the recycling company, and it is also possible to mail them to a central location.

Glass is all fully recyclable, although recyclers do need to sort out different kinds of glass. Again, a recycling company may dictate the types of glass it will accept. If a recycling company excludes a particular glass type, there may be a local resource which will handle it. For example, a junkyard or auto body shop might take auto glass.

Paper is also highly recyclable. Many recycling companies today take all paper and cardboard, and do not require separation. Others may ask for glossy materials to be recycled separately. Electronics and appliances like computers, cell phones, fax machines, ovens, and so forth can be recycled as well, although they cannot be put in curbside pickup. Technically considered “electronic waste,” electronics can be processed at a special facility to break them down into component recyclable parts, while appliances need to be processed by specialized scrap yards.

Metals can be recycled, although some specialty products may need to be taken to a scrap yard. Some metals actually have monetary value; copper, for example, can be sold by weight. Products like tires and motor oil can be recycled too, although many people are not aware of this. They may need to be picked up by a specialty company. Many gas stations and auto shops will accept motor oil and tires for recycling, sometimes for a small fee.

Fabrics can be recycled, although, again, they may need to be processed by a special company. Biodegradeables like yard waste and food waste are not recyclable, but they can be composted. People who lack the space or inclination for composting may be able to arrange for pickup by a company which composts commercially.

It is always good to ask a recycling company directly if there are questions about a recyclable. If the company will not accept it, it may have suggestions about potential recycling options.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1002747 — On Feb 07, 2020

The truth is there is hardly any markets for most recycled plastics. The cost of collection, sorting, trucking and then processing far out weights the value. Don't believe me? Why doesn't your laundry container brag about how much recycled plastic is in the container? Try melting something made from plastic (not burn) the volume of material is insignificant.

By Animandel — On Jul 12, 2014

One of the cleanest countries in the world as a whole has to be Germany. The cleanliness is one of the first things that you notice when you visit cities there. And the main reason for this is that the Germans recycle everything, or almost everything. Instead of asking what can be recycled it is easier to ask what can't be recycled there.

By Drentel — On Jul 11, 2014

@Sporkasia - Since you enjoy recycling and think recycling centers are good for the environment, you are not going to like what I am about to write. I have a friend who works at the center where the recycling and the trash are dropped off in my county. He says that more often than not, the things people bring in for recycling are tossed into the trash for one reason or another.

Most people don't fully follow the directions for recycling and they mix items that can be recycled with items that should go into the disposal bin, and the workers at the center just toss these drop- offs into the trash. I'm sure the procedures are different at different recycling centers, but I imagine this happens in more places than you would want to know about.

By Sporkasia — On Jul 10, 2014

This article clears up a lot of my questions. I assumed that what could be recycled in one place should also be recycled in another. However, when we moved to a new state, we learned that many of the items we were including in the recycling were not on the new recycling centers list of acceptable household items that can be recycled.

I really enjoy recycling. I think of it as a small way I can help the environment. I feel guilty now when I have to throw items into the trash when I was able to recycle them before we moved. In fact, in our old state, recycling was the law. Most people where we live now seem to just throw everything into the garbage and not even make an attempt to recycle. I think this is such a waste and a big mistake for the environment. And it takes just a little effort to separate the items.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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