How to Recycle at Home

Building your Home Recycling Center

For most of us, recycling at home has been an option for at least a few years as more and more communities adopt curbside recycling programs and drop-off recycling centers. But we’re busy people, and getting our household recycling habits in order can take time and a little organization.

With a little know-how and some tips for setting up a system for handling your household waste and a recycling schedule to keep on track, you’ll be greening your trash can and feeding your blue bin in no time at all.


Start with the end in mind

Ultimately the goal of your home recycling center is to shrink the size of your recycling bin down to nothing by diverting as much of your trash into the blue bins and compost piles as possible. And the first step in starving your garbage can is to take account of all the waste you produce in an average month.

The best way to determine what you’re throwing away and how much of it, is to do a household waste audit. Essentially, a waste audit involves choosing a time period in which to study your waste habits, throwing out your garbage as usual during that time period, and then measuring and categorizing it at the end of the cycle to find out how much you’re producing by weight and by number of items. You may find a wide assortment of materials in your rubbish bin: 

  • Printer paper, cardboard, and newspaper 
  • Plastic jugs, bottles, and food wrappers
  • Cosmetics and personal care product containers 
  • Organics like food scraps and yard waste 
  • Metals including tin cans, aluminum foil, and wire hangers
  • Textiles such as clothing, linens, and rags
  • Household hazardous waste including batteries, cleaning products, pesticides, and so on
  • Glass from food containers and other product packaging
  • E-waste such as old computers, electronics, and appliances

You can discover what’s in your trash can by following the guidelines of these resources to do your own waste audit at home:

Once you have a better idea as to the types and amounts of waste you produce, you’ll be better able to set up a recycling system and schedule to take care of all that material in an eco-friendly way.


Locate recycling facilities in your area

You now know what’s in your average monthly household waste pile so you have an idea as to what kinds of recycling programs you’ll need to take care of it all. Since no country that we know of has a unified recycling program that covers every province and state, you’ll likely have to do some local research to find out what’s available in your community. You may have to check with a few resources to discover your local recycling programs:

  • Call your city or town to talk to the solid waste department - they’ll likely know whether there are any government-sponsored recycling programs in the area. These may include both curbside recycling and drop-off recycling centers.
  • Search online or in the local phone book to find private recycling pick-up or drop-off locations by looking up terms such as “recycling pick-up”, “recycling center”, “residential recycling program”, or “recycling services.”
  • Find out of there are any green community associations in your area as they will usually have a beat on what can be recycled where.
  • Search through Ecolife’s recycling database for resources to recycle specific products.

Once you’ve found a recycling program or two, be sure to ask what their collection policies are by posing the following questions:

  • What materials do you accept for recycling?
  • Do my recyclables have to be cleaned? Labels removed? Crushed?
  • Should I separate different types of materials (glass, metal, paper, cardboard, plastic, organics) into distinct bins or bags?
  • Are there any costs to recycling? Any buyback or deposit programs?
  • How often will my recycling be picked up (if talking of a curbside recycling program)?


Set up your system and get everyone involved

You’ve now got all of the information you need to set up an effective home recycling center, but you’ll need a few materials to make it work smoothly and efficiently:

  • Home recycling bins: If you’re able to recycle with a single-stream program, you’ll just need one bin in which to collect all of your recyclables, co-mingled together. If, however, you have a dual stream recycling system, you’ll need one bin or container for each type of material to recycle. Great home recycling container options can include:
    • Sturdy rubber or plastic bins
    • Buckets or pails
    • Bags of various sizes and types
    • Rolling organization centers, including compactors and spaces for organics
  • Strategic placement: Next, you’ll want to ensure that your recycling containers are placed throughout your home so that you remove any inconvenience from the act of recycling. You may want one in the kitchen, each bathroom, any home office spaces, in the garage, and in the backyard, among other spaces.
  • Home recycling schedule: If you’ll be participating in a curbside recycling program, just follow their schedule for when to put your blue bin by the curb. If you have to drop off your recycling, however, it can be helpful to set up a home recycling schedule. Try to arrange to drop off your recycling while running other errands in the area of the recycling center to avoid wasting gas.
  • Promotion: You’ll need the involvement of everyone in your home to make your recycling program work, so be sure to pump everyone up about the process by telling family members and roommates about the benefits of recycling, showing them where they can place each type of material, and getting them to participate in the recycling schedule.

You’re ready to go! And once your recycling program is humming along smoothly, it can be fun to re-audit your household waste. If you used to toss several bags of trash every single week, but you’re now down to a little grocery bag full of non-recyclables, you should celebrate the accomplishment!


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