Americans produce more than 76 million tons of packaging waste every year, and food packaging is a big part of that. Recycling packaging picks like plastic bottles, glass jars and aluminum cans is pretty straightforward, but what about other, more mystifying materials? To help you keep household trash cans empty, check out this list of 10 items from your fridge you should reuse or recycle every time.
Cartons are used to package some of our favorite culinary picks like juice, milk, soy milk and soup, and are available in two types — shelf-stable (or aseptic) and refrigerated (gable-top). Both varieties of cartons are recyclable, and curbside recycling options are expanding by the day. According to the Carton Council, curbside recycling for cartons has increased 128 percent in the past three years — meaning more than 40 percent of U.S. households can now recycle them.
Once recycled, cartons are turned into everyday products like paper towels, tissue paper and napkins. To find your best local recycling option for cartons, check out Earth911’s recycling guides or head to www.recyclecartons.com.
Yogurt and butter tubs
Made from plastic #5 (PP), yogurt and butter tubs are a bit more challenging to recycle than many other types of plastic packaging. But that doesn’t mean you have to toss them in the trash!
A growing number of communities are expanding their curbside programs to include plastic #5. Check out our recycling guides to see if yours is one of them.
If curbside isn’t an option, Preserve’s Gimme 5 program allows you to easily recycle your empty polypropylene containers at hundreds of retail locations nationwide.
Gimme 5 collection bins can be found at participating Whole Foods Market stores and other select locations. Check out this list to find the bin nearest you, or learn how to mail your plastics to Preserve for recycling.
Although plastic bags are not commonly collected in curbside recycling programs, most grocery and retail stores provide drop-off bins at entrances and checkout areas for customers to recycle their used bags.
Plastic produce bags can usually be recycled alongside carryout grocery bags at these locations. If your local grocer or retail store collects a wider variety of “plastic film” or “plastic bags and wraps,” as most of them do, they will gladly accept your plastic produce bags for recycling.
Unfortunately, mesh produce bags (such as those often used to package citrus fruit) are more challenging to recycle, so try reuse for these instead.
Condiment and salad dressing bottles
Condiment and salad dressing bottles are typically made from glass or plastic #1 or #2, are readily recyclable and can be tossed in the curbside bin in most localities.
Just be sure to rinse out your bottles first, and check with your local program about caps and lids. In some communities, you may need to remove your caps before recycling.
A select few communities offer curbside collection for food waste, including Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Ore. and Austin, Texas. If you’re lucky enough to call one of these cities home, recycling your food scraps is as simple as tossing them in the curbside collection bin.
If you’re like most of us and have no curbside food waste solution available, consider composting food scraps yourself to keep trash cans empty.
Think you can’t compost due to limited space or lack of free time? Think again. With a little research, you can find a composting system to suit virtually all conditions (even urban dwellings with concrete “backyards”). Check out our quick and easy guide to choose the composting method that’s right for you.
Berry baskets and boxes
A tasty summer staple, berries are usually packaged in one of three containers — plastic #1 clamshells, mesh plastic #5 baskets or molded fiber boxes, which are commonly made from recycled newspaper.
All of these materials are recyclable, but not all curbside programs will accept them. Plastic #1 containers will likely be the easiest for you to recycle locally, but some communities will also accept plastic #5 baskets and molded fiber boxes for recycling.
Check with your local program to find out what types of berry baskets and boxes are accepted, and try to choose berries packaged in that material to make recycling easier later.
If your local program does not accept berry baskets and boxes, try one of these creative ideas for reusing them instead.
Squeezable bottles, such as those used to package honey and mayonnaise, are typically made from LDPE or plastic #4.
Once a very hard-to-recycle resin, plastic #4 is popping up on the “accepted” list in an increasing number of curbside recycling programs.
Check with your local program to see if they accept LDPE containers for recycling. If plastic #4 is accepted in your community, feel free to toss squeezable bottles in the blue bin alongside other plastic packaging.
Many greenies opt for water filration systems to reduce their use of plastic water bottles. If you’re one of them, we’re here to let you in on a little secret: Those water filters are recyclable!
Through Preserve’s Gimme 5 program, consumers can easily recycle their spent Brita brand water filters at one of hundreds of retail locations nationwide. Check out this list to track down the drop-off bin nearest you, or simply mail your filters to Preserve for recycling.
Six-pack beverage rings
Six-pack beverage rings are made from plastic #4 (LDPE) and can be recycled in programs that accept low-density polyethylene resin.
If your curbside recycling program does not accept plastic #4, or limits the types of LDPE accepted, consider getting a group collection together and participating in the Hi-Cone Ring Leader Recycling Program.
The Ringleader program will accept the six-pack rings in large quantities for recycling through various school or group programs, as well as through the mail. Click here to learn more about the program.
Plastic shakers, such as those often used to package spices and Parmesan cheese, are actually made from plastic #1 (PET), a highly recyclable resin.
Almost all curbside programs that accept plastic will take your PET bottles and containers for recycling. Just be sure to check with your local program about caps and lids. In some communities, you may need to remove your caps before recycling.
Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock
Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. The Carton Council is one of these partners.