Question: What Can I Recycle? Answer: About 60% Of Household Waste

by Nicola Temple on November 29, 2011

If you are the go-to person about waste disposal in your household, like I am, you are likely faced with the question, “what can I recycle?” on a regular basis.

Now, wouldn’t it be lovely if there was a universal answer to this question. There isn’t, however, because this is completely dependent on where you live.

American households currently recycle about 32% of their household waste. Austrian households recycle 60%.

So, it stands to reason that there is the potential to recycle about 60% of our waste.

Where do I look to find if I can recycle an item?

The first place I would suggest looking if you aren’t sure if something can be recycled is Earth911. If you don’t find what you need there, then check with your local government website.

Widely recycled items include paper, cardboard, plastics 1 and 2, glass, aluminum, and steel cans and then everything else is region dependent.

Some of the odd things you may not have known you could recycle:

what can I recycle

Add used turkey fryer oil to the list of answers for 'what can I recycle'. Used cooking oil can be recycled for biodiesel. CC image courtesy of Ernesto Andrade on Flickr.

Appliances – obviously working appliances can be sold or donated, but if they aren’t working they are highly valued for parts or for their steel content.  You can find your local steel recycling center here.

Cooking oil – with turkey fryers becoming incredibly popular, some people may be wondering what they can do with that used cooking oil. Biodiesel manufacturers are usually all too willing to accept your used oil, so plug in ‘cooking oil’ and your zip code into the Earth911 search tool to find a biodiesel place near you that will take this off your hands.

Styrofoam peanuts and other packing materials – if you aren’t going to reuse the packing materials, places like the UPS store will happily take them in and reuse them.

We’ve covered a number of hard to recycle items here on EcoVillageGreen, so have a look at our previous articles on how to recycle your carcell phonemattressprinter cartridges, and shoes.

A well-organized recycling area can help you remember what can be recycled

We moved to a new municipality less than a year ago, and so as the unofficial recycling officer of the family, I’ve had to re-educate myself on what can be recycled and disseminate this information down the ranks.

As part of this process, I took a number of steps to make our household recycling centre straightforward and easy to use, which seems to have lessened some of the confusion about what can be recycled. So, I thought I would share these.

  1. Designate a space in a shed, or garage or outside for your recycling containers. My advice is that the closer this is to the kitchen area, the better, as this is usually where most waste is generated. We have a set of shelves where a number of bins are stacked in the garage, which has a door off the kitchen. If you are resigned to having to place your larger recycling bins (blue bins or compost bins for example) in a shed, then have a smaller recyclables collection system (bags or bins) in the kitchen that people can use. These can be emptied into the larger bins as they fill up.
  2. Look up your local curbside recycling program and refresh yourself not only on what can be recycled, but how they want the materials separated.  Just type in your municipality and the word recycling and you should come up with a website that will provide this information. Make sure your home recycling centre is separated in the same way. For instance, if newspaper is separated from magazines, then be sure to provide two clearly labelled containers.
  3. Label all containers clearly and boldly. We are lucky in that our recycling containers are clearly labelled on the outside as to what can be recycled and how they want it placed in the box. For example, batteries can be recycled, but they want them placed in a clear plastic bag.  If your boxes aren’t labelled, make up some clear signs and either attach them right to the box, or place them somewhere visible so it is clear to everyone.
  4. Look up your local recycling and disposal station and determine what things they will take that are frequent waste products of your home, but aren’t accepted by the curbside program. For example, batteries or used motor oil. I placed an additional bin in our recycling area and labelled it recycling station and then made a list of all the things we might be getting rid of that could potentially go in there. When it’s full, I make a trip to the station.
  5. Make a box for the odd and unknown items that you aren’t sure can be recycled (if they fit in a box). I then make this into a project for my son and I. We sit at the computer and we use resources such as earth911 to look up how we can recycle these items. If there isn’t a local recycling station, we start to do other searches and see if the item can be taken apart and some of the components recycled. We then share our findings over dinner so that everyone knows what we learned about recycling that item.

It’s difficult to answer the question “what can I recycle” as there simply isn’t a universal answer; with the exception perhaps of “MORE OF YOUR WASTE”!  After all, we have a way to go before we reach Austrian standards. However, for the specifics, a quick search on the internet can almost certainly provide an answer every time. Also, you will find that organizing the recycling area in your home will help everyone in the household identify and remember what can be recycled.


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