Watch What You Throw Out! The Fundamentals of Recycling

Trash . . . it’s ugly, probably smelly, and something we tend not to think twice about once we set it on the curb or in the dumpster. Did you know the average American generates about 4.4 pounds of waste, per day? Americans produced an estimated 254 million tons of trash in 2013, and of this amount, 87 million tons or 34.3% was recycled or composted. If these numbers are surprising to you, read further to learn how to properly reduce and recycle your waste!

What can you recycle?

  • Aluminum & Steel Cans
  • Paper & Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • Glass – Glass makes up 6% of items in the landfill and it takes over 1 million years to decompose
  • Plastic – did you know the average US citizen uses 200 lbs of plastic each year? Of this amount, only 3% is recycled.
  • Electronics & Batteries – for more information research your county’s recycling program or call your local electronic company (Staples, Best Buy).

Remember these tips to be a pro at recycling: lightly wash out bottles or containers, keep the caps of bottles or jars on, and always review what recyclables are collected in your county or you risk your entire bin being dumped in the landfill.

Recyclables are commonly collected in two ways – they are either sorted into their respective materials at site pickup, or all recyclables are thrown together and taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for sorting. The MRF’s will sort the recyclables by hand and/or machine and then materials are sent off to manufacturers who utilize the recycled items to make new products.

It’s a challenge to understand the importance and impact recycling can have when you don’t see the end result, but it is essential to reducing your carbon footprint and total waste generated. While recycling aids in reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfills, there are two important steps you should take if you are interested in reducing your overall waste generation:

  1. Reduce – For many of us, we have ignored the common conveniences we have, such as plastic bags at the grocery store. Easy fixes like bringing a reusable bag, or even reusing plastic bags, will reduce the amount of unrecyclable material you are already consuming. Also be conscious of putting produce into separate plastic bags; you can always mix produce in one and leave it open for the cashier to weigh separately. Ain’t no shame in this reusable shopping bag game!
  1. Reuse – Repurpose recyclable items such as glass jars for pantry storage, water bottles, or even to plant some herbs!

Make sure to check out your county’s local recycling program for specifics on what can be recycled! And to learn more about plastic pollution and how long it takes for items to decompose, check out


2013 Solid Waste Data –

Recycling Facts and Material Statistics –

“Recycle the possibilities are endless” –

Materials Recovery Center (MRC) –

Lauren Vargo is a Program Coordinator, CD/ANR (Cuyahoga County & Western Reserve EERA).

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