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Beyond the basics: How to reduce waste by practicing the best recycling practices

written by: Steve Graham•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 3/1/2010

Recycling is the third step in the reduce, reuse, recycle trifecta. Once you've minimized your stuff and reused it as much as possible, it's time to use the best recycling practices

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    Best recycling practices

    If you missed the first two steps of my waste reduction program, here are stories on reducing and reusing stuff. The final step to cut waste, when you can’t find any reuse for your reduced stuff, is to recycle. Here’s some tips to help you recycle more and recycle efficiently.

    • As I suggested in the “reduce" story, keep at least one large container in the house for recycling. Make it more visible and accessible than the trash, so you will be more inclined to recycle than toss out.

    • Focus on recyclable containers. For example, at the grocery store, you can often buy cookies individually and put them in paper bags. This creates less waste than buying the plastic containers of cookies, which often can’t be recycled. By the way, I do buy things other than beer and cookies. They are just the examples that came to mind.

    • Take your recyclable plastic bags to the grocery store. They typically can’t go in your regular curbside recycling bins, and even if they can, they tend to mess up the sorters at the recycling plant.

    • Be careful with trying to recycle plastics. Not all are recyclable. You can usually find a number on the bottom with the little recycling arrows around it. Information from your recycling company should list which of these plastics are accepted. The rest may end up in a landfill even if you try to recycle them.

    • If your recycler doesn’t take No. 5 plastics (and most don’t), you can probably take them to your area Whole foods store. The preserve company is working with a couple of organic dairies to recycle your takeout containers and other No. 5 plastics.

    • Likewise, your recycler probably won’t take away your car batteries, chemicals or old computers. However, all these things can be recycled. Many states have directories like this New Mexico list for hard-to-recycle items.

    • Choose aluminum cans whenever possible. There’s my beer tip for this article. Some microbreweries are now canning, and all the major domestics are available in both cans and bottles. Opt for the can. They’re fun to crush, and they recycle very efficiently. Cans are almost infinitely recyclable. Nearly the whole can is reused, and there is a 91 percent energy savings over making a new can from raw materials. Glass, on the other hand, is less efficient to recycle and often can’t be reused as similar glass. Instead it goes into industrial products that may never be recycled, ending the life cycle after two uses.