Green recyclable glass bottles

Sometimes it can seem ironic that in preparing items for recycling one needs to use fresh water — a precious and rapidly depleting resource — to rinse and clean them.

Is this water being wasted? And if we are using water to diligently clean out all those recyclables, would we be be better off just chucking them in the trash and conserving this valuable resource?

It’s a valid question, especially as parts of the country regularly experience severe droughts. Yet according to a study by Northwestern University, preparing items for recycling uses far less water than it would take to produce the same items new.

  • On average, we use 3-10 times less water to recycle metal items than it takes to churn out new ones.
  • Similarly, each glass bottle you recycle saves approximately 2 pints of water, and though the water savings vary depending on the size and type of plastic container, recycling comes out a winner here, too.

Recycling not only conserves the water it would take to produce new items, but also eliminates the energy and emissions required in their manufacture, so it’s a win-win situation all around.


Contemplating Contamination

Rinsing makes sense when you look at the numbers, but it also helps ensure that your recycling actually gets recycled. The fact is that just one improperly cleaned can or bottle has the potential to jeopardize an entire batch of recycling. Contaminated containers may have to be separated and sanitized, which can add to the overall cost of recycling – and if they are too badly soiled they may have to be thrown out altogether.

Furthermore, if you forget to wash out that can of black beans, it could leak all over any paper in the recycling bin, necessitating the need for that to be thrown out, too.

Check the Local Guidelines

The best way to ensure that those tin cans and salsa con queso jars are ready for recycling is to check with the guidelines of your local recycling facility. Instructions for removing labels, washing and separating items can differ depending where you live, so familiarizing yourself with your local program can save everyone a few headaches down the road.

Ask your local recycling provider:

  • To send you a detailed guide of what you can recycle (or, better yet, to point you to that information online).
  • If you need to sort your recyclables, and if so, how.
  • How to best prepare containers to ensure they get recycled.

But the bottom line? Rinse that recycling to avoid contaminating the rest of your recycling. It’s worth it!

Recycling Made Easy

If you have something that your local recycling provider doesn’t accept for recycling, Earth911’s recycling search makes it a cinch to track down recycling locations in the United States.

Feature image courtesy of David Tames

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.