We generate waste every day – from packaging and food scraps to batteries, electronics and hazardous materials. But not all waste is created equal. Properly disposing of and recycling the different types of waste we generate is essential for protecting the environment.
Making smart choices about how we handle our waste can also save money and help create a more sustainable lifestyle. In this post, we’ll break down the most common types of waste found in typical households and provide tips on how to dispose off or recycle waste properly.
Organic and Food Waste:
Organic waste like fruit and vegetable scraps, baked goods, meat, bones and coffee grounds make up close to 30% of household rubbish. Composting this portion of your waste at home is the most sustainable option. You can make nutrient-rich compost to improve your soil and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. There are also kerbside and commercial composting services in some areas that will pick up your food scraps if you don’t have the space for a bin.
With a dedicated composting strategy, you’ll significantly reduce the volume of waste going to landfills. The rich compost you produce is a valuable soil amendment for your garden too.
Paper and Cardboard Waste
Paper and cardboard make up a huge portion of our household trash. Recycling these materials is fairly straightforward. Here are some tips to maximise the amount of paper and cardboard you recycle properly:
- Recycle all clean paper and cardboard – office paper, mail, newspapers, magazines, phone books, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, cardboard boxes, egg cartons, cereal boxes, etc. Break down and flatten cardboard boxes.
- Remove plastic linings and wax coatings from cardboard boxes, milk and juice cartons. These contaminate recycling.
- Shred any confidential documents before recycling to protect personal information.
- Wipe food residue and grease from paper plates, napkins, pizza boxes and takeout containers to avoid contamination. Excessive food waste and liquids will cause paper recyclables to be rejected.
- Place loose shredded paper in a paper bag for recycling. Loose shreds easily blow away and get stuck in machinery.
Plastic waste creates one of the biggest headaches for homeowners. But with the right knowledge and routine, you can minimize plastic waste buildup and dispose of it properly.
Focus on the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
- Saying no to plastic straws, cutlery and bags when offered
- Choosing products with less packaging whenever possible
- Avoiding single-use plastics overall
- Using reusable shopping bags, food containers and water bottles
- Finding creative ways to repurpose plastic items in your home
Understanding plastic recycling codes
Glass is one of the most easily recyclable materials, and recycling glass helps save natural resources and energy.
When recycling glass, make sure to thoroughly rinse bottles and jars to remove any residue. Paper labels can be left on, but remove plastic caps and lids. Do not break glass containers before recycling – keep them intact so they can be sorted at the recycling facility.
Some types of glass cannot be recycled, like mirrored glass, drinking glasses, ceramics, cookware and windows. However, many glass containers can and should be recycled, including:
- soda and beer bottles
- wine and liquor bottles
- food jars (e.g. spaghetti sauce, mayonnaise, jam)
- cosmetic and personal care bottles
If you cannot recycle certain glass items, consider reusing and repurposing them. Glass jars make great storage containers, and wine bottles can be used for vases, candle holders and more. You can also donate unwanted glass containers to schools, craft groups and businesses that may be able to reuse them.
Recycling metal waste is one of the easiest ways to contribute to reducing landfill. Most types of metal can be recycled without losing quality. When you recycle metal objects, you help conserve natural resources and reduce mining impacts.
Aluminium cans: Aluminium is the most recycled metal in the world. Recycle your aluminium soda and beer cans by crushing them and placing them in your recycling bin. Just one recycled aluminium can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours!
Aluminium foil: Clean, balled up aluminium foil can also be recycled. Remove any food residue before placing it in your recycling.
Scrap metal: Old appliances, pipes, wiring and more scrap metal items can be taken to a metal recycling center near you. They typically pay cash for scrapped metal based on current market value, so you may even make some money while helping the environment.
Electronics and Batteries
E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams and needs to be properly recycled to reduce environmental impact. Check if your city or county offers electronics recycling days or drop-off locations for items like computers, laptops, TVs, cell phones, printers and more. Otherwise search online for the nearest certified e-waste recycler that will properly dismantle electronics to recover valuable materials in an environmentally responsible manner.
- Batteries also deserve special attention when it comes to proper disposal. Do not throw batteries in the trash as they contain hazardous chemicals that can leak out and contaminate landfill space.
- Alkaline batteries used in remotes, toys and flashlights can generally be disposed of in battery recycling bins.
- Rechargeable batteries should be taken to an e-waste recycler as they contain higher levels of toxic metals like nickel, cadmium and lead.
- Lithium ion batteries from devices like laptops, power tools and smartphones pose even greater fire risks and must also be handled by expert recyclers equipped to properly process them.
- Button cell batteries from watches, calculators and hearing aids should never be thrown in the trash due to their high metal content – find a center that accepts these unique batteries for recycling.
When disposing of hazardous household waste, it’s critical to take extra precautions and follow proper guidelines. Some of the most common hazardous materials around the home include:
- Paints and stains: Latex paint is less toxic when dry but oil-based paints contain organic solvents and heavy metals that require specialised disposal. Save leftover paint cans for reuse or take them to a hazardous disposal center.
- Cleaning products: Many everyday cleaners contain corrosive acids, caustic Lyes and toxic solvents that are dangerous if improperly disposed.
- Automotive products: Used motor oil, antifreeze, and other car care products contain pollutants that can contaminate soil and groundwater if dumped with regular garbage.
- Pesticides and herbicides: Even expired pesticides, insecticides and weed killers can be highly toxic to humans and wildlife. Contact government office to find out safe disposal options.
- Fluorescent lightbulbs: Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) contain small amounts of toxic mercury that require special disposal.
Above all, be patient with yourself. Moving towards more sustainable waste practices is a learning process that takes time. Start simple by focusing on one or two materials at first. Then expand your efforts gradually as you gain more knowledge and experience. Every small improvement makes a difference, so don’t feel discouraged. With persistence and consistency, you’ll eventually transform the way your household manages waste.