Slacker’s Syllabus: Recycling the confusing sh*t

ByAngely Mercado
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Recycling in the U.S. is anything but simple, leaving many of us asking “what is actually recyclable?” Styrofoam, pizza boxes, bubble wrap — it all seems more complicated than it should be.


The percentage of waste in the U.S. that actually gets recycled.

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Where does that leave us?

First, we cut out single-use plastics. Secondly, we focus on what to do with the rest.

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Here’s how to handle some of the most confusing items and increase the chances that your junk actually makes it through the recycling plant.


Despite the telltale recycling symbol stamped onto the bottom (it’s technically recyclable), many recycling centers reject it, sending it to the landfill.

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Plastic bags & plastic film

Bubble wrap, cling wrap, and plastic bags can damage sorting machines, making them a risky item for most curbside programs. Instead of throwing them in the recycling bin, take these materials to your local grocery store or wherever has a plastic film recycling bin.

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Pizza Boxes

Because of the non-recyclable grease coating your pizza box, it’s best to avoid the possibility of it ending up in a landfill by composting it instead.

Personal care containers

Lotion bottles, toothpaste tubes, and makeup containers can all be recycled so long as they’re cleaned out. Or use Terracycle’s interactive map, which features drop-off locations for items that have a number 1 or 2 recycling symbol.

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Electronic devices

E-waste is a massive problem, so it’s crucial to take your old phone, printer, or any other device containing plastic to the nearest Best Buy, Staples, or Nimble for recycling.

Paper mail

Not all paper mail is equal, especially advertising mail that often contains foil and plastic envelope windows. To err on the side of caution, get in the habit of removing the plastic bits to avoid contamination.

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