Create a Home Recycling Station that You’ll Actually Want to Use

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor
Recycling Bins

So you mastered curbside recycling years back. Awesome. But maybe now you’re stuck in a place that many of us eco-minded types have found ourselves: You’ve got things to recycle that can’t go in the curbside bin, and you’re not sure what to do with them.

Admittedly, recycling milk jug caps, batteries, Styrofoam, plastic bags, and other odds and ends is way harder than turning a blind eye and tossing them into the trash. But, these items can definitely be recycled, and it’s totally worth it – if you’ve got a plan. I myself have a recycling station at home that helps me manage these items until I can get them to the appropriate facilities.

Here’s how you can make an all-in-one recycling station yourself, and what you should put in it.

Can’t Curb It? Don’t Trash It Yet

p312-curbside-recycling

There are plenty of options for items that cannot be collected on your curb | image: Tom Brandt/Flickr

In my opinion, any discussion about hard-to-recycle items should start with a talk about what not to throw in the curbside recycling bin in the first place. Tossing in the wrong items makes it harder for facilities to sort commingled recycling, it can jam up their machines, it lowers productivity, and it can even render your entire recycling bin worthless. If you know your curbside bin can’t take a certain type of item, don’t tempt fate and throw it in.

Instead, find out exactly what your city does and doesn’t take for curbside recycling. Or at least make an effort to figure out the “Dirty Dozen” items that aren’t accepted by most city recycling facilities, and keep them out of your bin. Many of these items are recyclable by other means, and have a place in your recycling station.

Plastic Film

Let’s start out easy. “Plastic film” sounds like a photography item, but it really just means thin plastic bags, or the clear cellophane film that small consumer items come wrapped in (think boxes of tea). Basically, any plastic that’s flexible like a sheet, even if it’s relatively thick, is recyclable. Incidentally, plastic film does actually include photography film and other printable plastic surfaces.

Plastic Wrap

This is one of the hardest plastics to recycle if you don’t collect it properly | image: Eugene Peretz/Flickr

The best thing to do with plastic film is collect it in a bag made of either paper or thick-walled plastic. You want your plastic film collection bag to be sturdy so you can jam stuff in without harming the bag’s walls, and also so you can collect quite a bit of film before taking your bag to one of these locations.

Makeup Containers

Makeup containers totally seem like garbage, but they aren’t. If you wear makeup, don’t add your containers to the landfill. Origins now accepts all makeup containers, regardless of brand, and ships them to the appropriate recycling facilities for you. This makes make up an easy addition to your recycling station, so just collect all your empty containers in a sturdy box until you’re ready to drop them off at one of the locations in the link above.

Light Bulbs and Batteries

Recycling batteries vary by city and state, but here’s a brief primer. You can often drop batteries at city dumps for recycling or can take them to dedicated household hazardous waste processing centers. If you’re a business that goes through a lot of batteries, or if you use lots of them for a hobby, you can connect with Battery Solutions to develop a customized (though not free) recycling solution for your situation.

For me, a Mason jar works just as well. I collect batteries there, and once the jar is full, I take it to a nearby electronics recycling station (pro tip: most Best Buy stores have battery recycling stations). For larger batteries – from laptops or cars, say – take them directly to a dedicated recycler, like an electronics or auto parts store.

Fluorescent light bulbs are the same. They’re usually not accepted in curbside bins, but can usually be dropped off at special city drives, household hazardous waste collection centers, or at dumps. Since CFL bulbs contain small amounts of poisonous mercury, take care to not break them. These bulb recycling systems are easy and affordable, and you can also research collection options through your city. I collect my used light bulbs in a sturdy box and just take care not to handle them too roughly. Household hazardous waste collection centers are usually the best place to drop off old bulbs.

No. 5 Plastic

No. 5 plastic is the type used for food storage (think yogurt and hummus), as well as caps from all sorts of containers. While no. 5 is hard to recycle, it’s totally worth it. Many curbside recycling companies do recycle larger pieces of no. 5 like tubs, but others won’t. And the vast majority of city programs can’t recycle caps. Luckily, Whole Foods has partnered with Preserve for the Gimme5 program, so you can drop off all your no. 5 plastic (including caps) at your nearest Whole Foods.

Plastic Caps

Keep a container for plastic caps until you are ready to drop them off for recycling | image: Tony Alter/Flickr

My recommendation for your recycling station is to stack no. 5 plastic containers, and keep caps in a Mason jar. Then, when the jar of caps fills up, put them all in a Ziploc bag and toss them in your car, along with your stack of collected containers. When I have several bags of caps ready to go in my trunk, I drop everything off at the Gimme5 station.

Styrofoam

Ah, Styrofoam. That ever-so-useful-yet-annoying-as-s*** material that seems to float through our lives, causing guilt and inconvenience wherever it goes. You hate to throw it away, but it’s also hard to figure out how to recycle it properly. Luckily, it’s easier than you think. Take foam packing peanuts to your local USPS, UPS, or FedEx store, and most will take them for reuse without any fuss. You can drop off other types of foam at DART locations.

Since Styrofoam pieces tend to be larger, it’s useful to store them in bags, tubs, or milk crates until you’re ready to take them to a collection center.

Setting up an all-purpose recycling station requires only a bit of upfront work, after which you can collect, store, and transport all recyclables safely and effectively forever after. Mud rooms and garages lend themselves particularly well to this type of setup, so just find an out-of-the-way but accessible space and go to town.

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.