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A lot of us know the basics about recycling—plastic, glass, aluminum, and paper. But products and product packaging comes in so many forms sometimes it’s hard to know what can be set aside from trash and what should not be in the recycling bin. That’s what today’s Green Quick Fixes are about—challenging recyclables!

Yellow legal paper?

Almost all paper can be recycled, however most office programs focus on white and computer paper.

Residential programs are most often “single-stream” or “mixed municipal,” and take yellow-lined, notebook, and color paper, store receipts, labels, tea bags tags, clothing tags, envelopes (leave the window in)—almost all paper.

Metal pieces are spun off in the recycling process, so staples, paper clips, and even spirals from notebooks could be throw in the bin, too.

Mylar or Tyvek envelopes? Foil or plastic wrapping paper?

Any envelope, or paper, that cannot be torn is not recyclable. Non-paper gift wrap is also not.

I do not recommend using shiny paper for kindling–you will release toxins into the air!

Wine corks?
Yes and no.

Plastic corks and screw tops (provided they are not lined with plastic like a lot of beer caps) are recyclable and can go right in the recycling bin.

If they are real cork, than they are organic material and can be composted and used like mulch. Otherwise, they are not recyclable. They can be reused—trivets, doorstops, etc…

Ms. Green Quick Fixes Repurposes Corks

Ms. Green Quick Fixes Creation: My boyfriend’s brother has many awesome homemade wine cork trivets. So, when I collected enough corks I broke out the hot glue gun and it took me no time at all to make this cute trivet laced with so many memories! I was so excited about it, I volunteered to take wine corks from the green cafe I work at a few nights a week, and when the manager was getting rid of a warped breadboard, I conjured a colossal trivet. I’m still collecting corks and hope to create the super trivet soon.

Wine seals?

Most are made of lead or aluminum, and they are recyclable.

Beer bottle tops?
Yes and no.

Bottle caps are made from a variety of materials—tinplate, plated sheet metal, steel, and some have plastic linings.

Metal bottle caps can be recycled.

Lined bottle caps can be reused in craft projects (belts, wall art, picture frames, etc…). One Canadian company makes beer bottle caps into fishing lures.

Beer can tabs?

They are made of aluminum and can go right in with the cans.

Foil pans and pie plates? To Go Containers?
Yes, but they should be semi-clean.

Of course, you may end up using a lot of water and energy (if you run water hot) to clean off a really sticky one. That could eliminate recycling from being the low-impact disposal option for that container. Try wiping down with a washable kitchen cloth instead of running the tap.

Plastic packaging film? Plastic bags?
Yes and no.

Plastic shopping bags are not recyclable by residential programs because different resins are difficult to recycle and the filmy nature results in clogged recycling machinery.

However, grocery stores offer recycling bins for shopping bags AS WELL AS all brands of deli bags, grated cheese bags, etc… This recycling program produces plastic lumber used for decking and other construction.

Plastic straws? Plastic spouts set aside from food and drink cartons?

Since their weight is more substantial than plastic bags, they can usually be recycled curbside.

White cardboard packaging?
Yes and no.

Interior smooth cardboard packaging in candy bars, packaged snacks, frozen foods, and bread products are recyclable. Light bulb containers, other corrugated cardboard, and egg containers are too.

However, wax-coated cardboard packaging like ice cream containers, juice boxes, some double-lined cartons, and cardboard and paper heavily soiled with food (like greasy paper plates, pizza box wax-paper liners covered with cheese, well-used paper towels, etc…) generally are not.

Most cities accept unlined juice and milk cartons that have the plastic spouts removed.

Coffee bags?
Yes and no.

Paper bags that do not have a plastic lining are recyclable and can also be composted.

However, foil and plastic coffee bags usually are not recyclable because they are almost always lined with some form of resin or other lining. Though plastic and aluminum separately are recyclable, when fused together they are not.

Dog food bags?
Yes and no.

If they are made from paper with a plastic or foil lining, and you are able to separate the two, then it can be recycled. If your paper pet food bag is foil-lined, make sure there is no plastic overlay.

Consider reusing these strong bags as a reusable grocery bag, to haul bricks and stones in the garden, or in the workshop. Go to Allfreecrafts.com for instructions on how to make a super strong “puppa chow” tote.

Pens? Plastic lip balm and lipstick containers?

Separate plastic and aluminum bodies and caps and recycle them. Remove the remaining lipstick or lip balm out and toss them in your bin.

Yes and no.

Telephone books may be okay.

However, books are not typically recyclable curbside. There are book recycling bins and you can even start your own free book swap!

Learn and Repurpose

The bottom line is that the recycling business is not standard, and the packaging is certainly not in sync with recycling practices. Contact your town to learn more about what items can be recycled curbside.

When you can’t recycle, you can always repurpose! The World Environmental Organization online recycling database can answer many questions and offers reuse ideas.