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Figuring out what you can and can't recycle in your curbside bin can be confusing. And figuring out what to do with larger items can be just as perplexing. The following slides provide information to make recycling easier to understand. Though the recycling rules vary in each community, there are a few basics to follow regardless of where you live:
--Contact the local recycling agency to find out what's collected and how.
--Sort recyclables according to your community's collection guidelines.
--Play by the recycling rules.
Recycle unbroken food and beverage glass containers, such as applesauce jars, ketchup bottles, and wine and beer bottles. (You might need to sort by color.) These glass items become food containers, tiles, landscaping pebbles, road surfacing, and more.
Don't recycle baking dishes, ceramics, windows, mirrors, and vases. They're made differently than glass containers and can contaminate. Donate these household goods, and dispose of broken glass and incandescent bulbs separately.
Recycle newspapers, magazines, cardboard, and mixed papers such as corrugated boxes, cereal boxes, junk mail (including envelopes with plastic windows), catalogs, telephone books, and stapled paper. These paper products become newsprint, boxes, insulation, and animal bedding.
Don't recycle food-stained papers, tissues, stickers, wet paper products, and those containing plastic, wax, or metal foil coatings. >>
Another way to minimize the amount of paper products you receive and need to recycle is to request your bills and financial information be e-mailed. Also, renew magazine subscriptions online. Call catalog companies directly to be removed from mailing lists. Or opt out of most junk mail and credit card offers via the Direct Marketing Association and the major consumer credit bureaus.
Recycle aluminum and steel (which includes tin) in the forms of beverage and food cans, disposable aluminum pans, and empty paint and aerosol cans. These aluminum and steel products become beverage cans, cookware, bike parts, and tennis rackets. In addition, old steel becomes new steel and might wind up as filing cabinets, auto parts, or appliances. >>
Do not recycle other metals curbside. Instead, donate to charity usable items such as cookware, flatware, can openers, and tools. Call your local recycling authority or a scrap-metal company for heavy loads such as house siding, gutters, or old radiators.
Recycle only the types of plastic your community's program accepts. (Look for the stamped number inside the triangular "chasing arrows" recycling logo, generally found on the bottom of containers and bottles. The number indicates the type of plastic resin used but doesn't necessarily mean that the item is recyclable.) Most programs take plastic Nos. 1 and 2, which include many beverage bottles, milk jugs, dish and laundry detergent bottles, and peanut butter jars.
Don't recycle plastics Nos. 3-7 unless you're sure your local program accepts these. That includes shrink wrap, squeezable bottles, dry-cleaning bags, and polystyrene containers. Donate usable items such as toys, and return packing peanuts to the shipping store for reuse. Toss the rest, including spray nozzles, pumps, and container lids.
Most appliances can be tricky to dispose of. Refrigerators and freezers in particular are required by law to be properly recycled due to their hazardous components.
If you're replacing an old refrigerator, first check with your local utility. Just getting rid of an inefficient but functioning model might qualify you for a rebate and free removal. If your refrigerator doesn't work, contact your local waste authority to have it picked up, usually for a fee.
When you buy a new refrigerator or other appliance, some retailers, including Best Buy and Lowe's (select stores), will haul away your old one and send it to a recycling facility.
Another way to dispose of a still-functioning appliance is to donate them to others who can benefit. Contact your charity of choice, or find an individual who could use what you have by joining Freecycle.
Unwanted TVs, computers, and other common electronics are perhaps today's biggest concern because of the increasing volume and limitations. Metal and glass pieces can be removed, but what's left piles up in landfills and leeches toxins into the ground.
Now required in some states, some manufacturers and retailers have mail-in or drop-off programs for their own products. The best course for a newer computer is to donate it for refurbishing. For options, see electronicstakeback.com or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's eCycling program. And with all electronics, ask yourself, "Do I really need a newer model?"
With only a few mattress recycling facilities in the United States, this is one of the more problematic categories. Springs are recyclable, but there's not a big market for the other components. Also, the store where you purchase your new mattress might offer to take your old one, but it could still go to a landfill.
You might be able to donate your old mattress to a shelter but probably not a charity that handles resale, such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. Consider giving it one last shot at being used through Freecycle -- an online exchange that offers a variety of items, all for free.
Water-guzzling toilets threaten the environment even after they've been replaced with new efficient models -- if they're sent to the landfill. Toilet recycling is sure to become widespread; for now, check with your local waste management division for disposal procedures.
Though only available in limited areas, independent recyclers salvage old toilets for their replacement parts (such as lids) and crush the leftovers. Porcelain chips can be used for road paving; they've also found their way into composite countertops.
The mix of materials in carpet makes it difficult and costly to separate in the recycling process, but the desire to address the problem is evident. More than 243 million pounds of carpet were recycled last year, according to the Carpet America Recovery Effort or CARE. Currently, carpet recycling is handled commercially, so ask your local retailer if your old carpet will be recycled when your new flooring is installed.
Piles of tires can pose problems such as causing excessive landfill consumption and creating mosquito breeding grounds. Ask about recycling when you replace your old tires. Regulations in all but two states (Delaware and Alaska) keep scrap tires out of the landfill, so it's common for retailers to contract with recyclers. They'll turn tires into rubber crumbs that become new products such as outdoor surfacing. If you have a tire at home, contact your local waste management service. Be prepared to take it to a disposal facility and pay a fee.
--Because reuse is even better than recycling, consider posting your unwanted items on freecycle.org or the free section (under "for sale") of craigslist.org. Check each site's terms for allowable items.