The ultimate guide to sorting your waste
Become an expert at figuring out what goes where with these trash-sorting best practices.
Do you get confused about what should go into the compost bin and recycling bin when you’re out, or even at home? Perhaps you’re eating out at a restaurant where you have to bus your utensils and trays yourself. might be using a paper plate which you’d expect to put in the blue recycling bin since it’s made of paper, but does it mean anything if the paper plate has a waxy, waterproof coating? What if the plate also has food scraps on it? Or maybe you have some clean and some used napkins. Should they go in the same bin? It doesn’t help, of course, that peeking into the bin yields no answers either. You’ll find that there actually isn’t much consensus on what people think can be recycled and composted.
Here at LifeMade, we’re committed to help you live a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle, and there’s no better place to start than thinking about how to sort your This is a small change that you can make in your everyday living habits that will make a big difference down the road.
Bins and what the different colors means
First, we can go over the basics--what goes into what color bin. While the exact color of the bin may vary by city, generally the following will apply:
The blue bin is usually the recycling bin. Aside from black bins, these are the most ubiquitous since most cities have some sort of industrial recycling waste management option. This is, however, also where people get the most confused. Generally, about ⅓ of what goes into the blue bin can’t actually be recycled, and when contaminants get into the batch, the waste management company will throw the whole batch out because that’s easier than going through and sorting everything on their . So it’s especially important to get this part right. Items accepted in the blue bin include:
- Plastic and glass bottles and containers (with the lids on)
- Clean paper bags, newspapers, magazines and flyers, cardboard, and cartons
- Aluminum cans, aluminum foil that has not been soiled
- Non-coated paper products that do not have any food residue on them
Note the following:
- Electronics is categorized as e-waste and cannot go into the blue recycling bins
The green bin is usually the food and organic waste bin. Not all cities will have a waste management option for composting, so if you don’t have one then you’ll need to throw everything into the black bin and not the blue one. Composting can also be tricky because something like a clean non-coated paper plate can be recycled, but if it has any food particles on it then it has to be composted. And of course, any paper plates with a waxy coating are not compostable. An easy way to think about composting is this: if it once came from the earth, or can help the earth grow, then you can compost it! Items accepted in the blue bin include:
- Fruits and vegetable cores and ends
- Seeds, peels and rinds, tea leaves, rice, and pasta
- Shredded or soiled paper, toilet paper tubes, used tissues, used paper coffee filters, and pressed paper egg cartons
- Non-coated paper plates and cups with food residue
Note the following:
- Most cities do not accept meat, poultry, and fish bones but double check with your waste management provider to be sure
- Soiled paper and tissue can only go in compost if it’s been soiled only with water or food; if it has touched a chemical cleaner then it has to go into the black bin
Finally, everything else goes into the black bin, or the waste that gets sent to the landfill. This is the catch-all bin for what can’t be composted and recycled. The more you can divert your waste upfront and get the right items into the corresponding blue and green bins, the better, because otherwise everything else will go here. Items accepted in the black bin include:
- All plastic bags, ranging from crunchy (like granola bar wrappers, cereal liner bags, and gum blister packs) to stretchy (like grocery bags or plastic film) and including bubble wrap
- Aluminum , Styrofoam take-out containers, plastic cutlery, and plastic straws
- Any coated paper plates, cups and other paper products
- Toiletries such as makeup pads and wipes, cotton swabs, floss, and plastic toothbrushes
Note the following:
- Prescription drugs should not be flushed or tossed but disposed of properly. You can usually check with your local pharmacy to find some options
- Items that need to be plugged in but are not electronics (e.g. lamp) can be tossed here
Best practices for plastics and plastic bags
- Rinse and dry: When recycling plastic bottles, jars, jugs, and tubes, clean and dry them out before tossing it into the recycling bin. Basically keep as much food and liquid out of your recycling bin as possible.
- Skip the garbage bag: Don’t bag your recyclables in a plastic bag; plastic bags can get caught in the equipment used at recycling plants and cause more issues. Just dump everything as is into the bin!
- Separate out plastic bags: Similarly, you can’t actually recycle plastic bags, plastic film, bubble wrap, ZipLoc bags, and other crinkly plastic material in your blue recycling bin. But a lot of supermarkets and office supply stores will have plastic bag collection stations to divert more plastic from landfills so you can collect them all and bring them over in one go periodically.
- Say no to plastic straws: It’s increasingly difficult to find plastic straws when you go out, and for good reason. Because of how lightweight they are, it’s easy for straws to get picked up by the wind and end up in the ocean, harming marine animals such as sea turtles. These can’t be recycled, so it’s best to avoid altogether and invest in more sustainable alternatives such as compostable and biodegradable straws.
Best practices for paper and paper products
- Keep ‘em dry: Clean paper, newspapers, magazines, pages from a notebook, and other loose leaf sheets of paper are fine to recycle as long as they aren’t wet. If they are wet or soiled, put them in the compost bin instead!
- Keep ‘em non-sticky: Remember to flatten cardboard boxes and try to remove all masking and clear tape before putting your boxes in the recycling bin.
- Not everything shiny is good: Unfortunately, Christmas wrapping paper and other glittery or shiny paper cannot be recycled, since there’s not much use for post-consumer recycled paper that has flecks of glitter in it. This will have to go into the landfill.
- Wax on, wax off: You also cannot recycle paper cups with waxy linings, like to-go coffee cups. The plastic lid that comes on top is fine, although you should always remember to throw that little plastic stopper into the landfill bin.
- Save the shredding for the compost: If you have shredded paper, you can either compost it or put it into a paper bag before recycling.
Best practices for compost
- Break those eggs: Crush your eggshells before composting, or mix them into your potted plants for an extra boost of nutrients.
- Dyson-friendly: Surprisingly, you can compost dryer and vacuum lint! That’s because this really just consists of dirt, dead skin, pet hair, and other dust.
- No pet waste: Unfortunately, animal waste from domestic pets cannot be composted or used as fertilizer because there are toxins in there.
What to double-check with your local recycling program
While these are general tips for sorting your garbage, local waste management companies may have pretty different standards for what they do and do not take. We recommend double checking with your local company on their guidelines for recycling, but pay special attention to the ones listed below. The more we can divert trash away from the landfill, the better!
- Glass: Generally you can recycle glass curbside. When you do so, you don’t actually need to remove labels or wine corks.
- Aluminum: On the other hand, usually you cannot recycle aluminum curbside but it’s best to double check this with your local waste management providers.
- Milk, soup, and juice cartons: Similarly, those rectangle boxes that feel like both plastic and cardboard will vary by provider. Remember to always throw the plastic straw away into the trash though!
Life. Made Better.
LifeMade is all about making life better through sustainable innovation and product experiences. Every step we take in this direction brings us closer to our vision of a no-compromise future — one where everyone has access to disposable products that are as good for the earth as they are convenient and enjoyable to use. As pioneers in our industry with a century’s worth of experience, it’s our responsibility to harness what we do best — materials innovation and production — for a better world. We’re inspired by the families that enjoy our products and committed to meaningful change.