Yes it’s the last of the triad — reducing and reusing should always come first. Still, recycling helps divert many tons of unwanted stuff from the landfill. Thus — a guide, along with a list of all the crazy stuff I’ve managed to recycle* over the years.
1. Get recycling bins. Homeowners often just get blue bins along with their black and green ones, but situations are more varied for renters. For example, I live in Santa Monica where apartment residents have blue bins by default — but just a couple miles away in the city of LA, renters have to specifically request them from the city.
2. Know what to blue-bin. Funny thing: Every city has its own set o’ crazy recycling rules. LA’s blue bins take styrofoam and plastic bags, while Santa Monica bins don’t — as the beach city’s banned the former and in the process of banning the latter. Learn the rules that apply to you, and one day we’ll all get together to exchange recycling trivia.
Note, also, that just cuz your bin accepts “paper” doesn’t mean you should throw any paperty thing in your blue bin. For ex, paper food containers are generally not accepted in blue bins — especially when they’re coated with non-recyclable waxy stuff and caked with leftover bits that could contaminate everything else in the bin.
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3. Locate your local household hazardous waste and S.A.F.E. centers. The former’s for stuff you shouldn’t dump the drain, like expired meds and motor oil; the latter for electronics. These city-run sites often have bizarre hours and rules, so make sure you know what’s up by calling or checking out the website before heading over.
4. Make money off your old electronics. S.A.F.E. centers should be a last resort for electronics — because taking ‘em there means you’re saddling the city with some of the costs (i.e. paying for it with your tax dollars) of recycling these complicated things.
If that doesn’t work, try to take electronics back to the manufacturer or the store you bought them first — Many will even give you credits toward a new electronic purchase.
Lastly — If you find your e-waste center inconvenient to get to, try putting your zipcode into ASL Recycling’s GREENetwork to find a GREENspot — a business location that collects e-waste for ASL — near you. Check out ASL’s website for details on how the company makes sure e-waste is recycled properly, vs. other e-waste collectors who may sell them off illegally in other countries.
5. Get obsessive. Look hard enough, and you’ll find ways to recycle pretty much everything:
>> Wine corks. Save up both the plastic and the natural cork types and send ‘em in to be upcycled.
>> Produce stickers. There’s a dude who uses ‘em to create art.
>> CDs and DVDs. Yes, some mail-in programs exist, but I find it easier to just drop them off at Best Buy.
6. Recycle at your office too. Here’s a short post to get you started on setting up a recycling program. Also, check out the Recycler Locator at the LA County’s SmartBusiness Recycling web site. Reader David says the app found him a company to take a whole lotta styrofoam off his hands.
7. Remember to close the loop! When you need to buy something new, try to opt for products with recycled content.
* Here, I’m defining recycling roughly as going through a new manufacturing process, vs. simply being repurposed as something else. For ex, using old newspaper as mulch for your garden seems more like reusing to me, while putting that newspaper into a blue bin to be remanufactured into new paper is recycling.
Blue bins photo by Clydehouse