Recycling is an important aspect of sustainable living. With so much information available on recycling, NSF International’s Sustainability team clarifies best practices and tips on how to get the most out of recycling!

How to Recycle – Step One

People often ask how to start recycling if there is no curb-side pickup by their waste management company. In some areas, a waste management company or municipality that doesn’t provide curbside pickup of recyclables may have a local drop-off station. There are also often other local organizations including health departments or waste management organizations that have recycling programs. For example, they may have county- or city-wide recycling days where you can drop off your recyclables.

Prescription Medicines and Pharmaceuticals

Health departments may sponsor pharmaceutical drop-off days to help you get rid of excess or expired drugs, ointments, test strips, supplements or vitamins.

Pharmaceutical products should never be flushed down the toilet, poured into the sink or disposed of in the trash. Some pharmacies will also take your unwanted products. To find out where to dispose of your unwanted pharmaceutical products, check out this U.S. government website drop off site near you.

Plastics: Which Ones Can I Recycle?

The Society of Plastics Industry developed a coding system for plastic containers that is now an ASTM standard, ASTM D7611. Based on the type of plastic, containers are assigned a number from 1 to 7, which is generally embossed on the bottom of the container. Common plastics that can be recycled include milk jugs, water bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, microwave dinner trays and shopping bags. Not all municipalities accept all seven numbers, so check with your local recycler or recycling drop-off station.

Other Materials: Aluminum, Tin, Paper, Cardboard and Glass

Aluminum and Tin

In some states, aluminum beverage cans are returnable for a deposit refund; however, for areas where the aluminum cans are recyclable along with tin food cans, here are a few tips:

  • Clean and rinse the can before recycling
  • Remove labeling, when required by your recycler
  • Place sharp lids within the can

You may also be able to recycle other metal items such as pots, pans, kitchen utensils, trays and empty aerosol cans.

Paper and Cardboard

Many kinds of paper and cardboard can be recycled, but check with your local recycling company to see what is specifically accepted in your area. In general, you can recycle cardboard, boxboard (like cereal boxes), newspaper, office paper and magazines.


Glass can be recycled many times without any loss in quality. In fact, 90 percent of glass containers are made from recycled glass1. You can recycle all glass bottles and jars. Some municipalities accept all colors of glass, while others only accept clear glass.

How to Get Your Family Into Recycling

Here are some tips on how to get your family to participate more in recycling.

  • Consider multiple recyclable containers throughout your house including the bathroom. People are more likely to recycle if they don’t have to dispose of single items into one central container, likely located outside the house or in the garage.
  • A bathroom recycle bin is a good location for recyclable items such as shampoo bottles, empty facial tissue boxes and empty toilet paper tubes.
  • For home offices, or where you are generating a larger amount of paper waste, you may want to have a container specifically for paper.
  • The kitchen is a good area for recyclables, especially near the garbage can2.
  • While many municipalities do single-stream recycling, meaning you can mix all kinds of materials (paper, metals, glass) in one curbside cart, separate bins in the house may make it easier to collect all the materials.

Food Waste and Recycling = Compositing

The method for recycling of food waste is called composting. You may want to locate a bin such as a diaper pail or covered small garbage can in your kitchen area to collect the food waste. This covered type of container will minimize the odor from the food waste. In some areas, you can place food waste in your yard waste bins. Check with your recycler for details.

Yard Waste Recycling

Leaves and grass in a landfill can generate significantly more greenhouse gas than they would in compost piles or bins. You may want to compost this waste or you may consider utilizing a drop-off or pickup service that does the composting at their location3. Some areas also provide curbside yard waste pickup.

Furniture Recycling

Some retail and commercial manufacturers take back old or used furniture so it may be worth contacting them to see if they have a drop-off or pickup program. Other organizations such as Easter Seals and Salvation Army may also have options that promote reuse of your old furniture. Contact your local United Way or donation organization for more information.

Electronics Recycling

E-waste (electronic waste) can be a hazard in any landfill. By recycling these components according to industry validated recycling standards, using a certified recycler, you are helping the environment by reducing waste and making recycling safer for people and the environment.

Here are some tips on recycling your old computer, cell phone, VCR and other electronics.

  • Visit the R2 certified companies list that can assist with your electronic waste recycling.
  • Some organizations (such as colleges and counties) host free e-waste recycling events a few times a year.
  • Some retailers that sell electronic devices accept different types of e-waste.

Batteries and Recycling

Household batteries can be recycled at many locations depending on your local recycling rules. Look for drop-off locations coordinated by the local health agency, environmental health department or local retailers. One organization coordinating this effort is Battery Recyclers of America.