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Every day, the average American produces four and a half pounds of trash — 75 percent of which is recyclable. While rules vary from town to town (check for your town on www.earth911.com), this guide from Good Housekeeping magazine will make it easier to do the right thing.
First of all, don’t waste your time and energy: Make sure to use only the bins or clear plastic bags specified by your recycling program, whether parking recyclables curbside or taking them to the recycling station. Busy workers will often throw out unidentifiable bags or boxes, rather than open them up to see what’s inside.
Most programs take it all, from cardboard to newsprint, office paper to envelopes (even with that little plastic window), and junk mail to magazines — no matter how glossy. Don't bother removing staples, paper clips, or spirals in notebooks; they'll be filtered out.
But ... leave out anything that's food-stained, like pizza boxes, because the oils can contaminate an entire load. Ditto on plastic-coated paper plates and cups (though flattened milk cartons are generally OK). Also out: brightly colored, dye-saturated paper, which is too difficult to bleach back to a usable form, and books (some programs accept paperbacks, but you're better off donating to a local library, school, or book drive).
MetalAll of this belongs in the bin: soda, juice, and soup cans (rinsed, but de-labeled only if requested); washed-off aluminum pie tins and foil; and bottle caps, wire coat hangers, empty (non-punctured) aerosol cans, and other scrap metal.
But ... don't include batteries or electronics.
PlasticThe basic rule of thumb: If it's a bottle that has a neck that's smaller than the body (beverages, cleaning products, shampoo, and some food jars) and has "alor2" symbol on the bottom, nearly every program will accept it.
But ... remove the caps first — they're made of a different type of plastic and can mess up a whole batch. Some good news: Aveda has a nationwide in-store program to recycle them; see www.aveda.com/caps. Items such as yogurt, margarine, deli tubs, and plastic cutlery (usually number 5 plastic) frequently get turned down, too. Consider washing and reusing them instead.
GlassBottles and jars are good to go once you rinse them and throw away (or recycle) their caps; labels will burn off at the plant.
But ... some programs won't take certain colors of glass (especially blue, since there's not a big demand for it). And treated glass, like broken plates, regular incandescent light bulbs, and window or windshield glass, has to go in the regular trash.
For more green living tips, visit www.goodhousekeeping.com.