No one knows how to recycle, part 2

Why recycling can be an emotional experience for some (me)

My building’s recycling room can sometimes be an emotional place for me.

The sight of so much gone wrong — metal hangers mixed with cardboard, 4 million styrofoam peanuts strewn about the floor, an entire potted plant in the bin for aluminum cans — stirs a feeling within me I haven’t figured out the words for.

It’s some beautiful combination of despair, frustration, hopelessness, and inspiration — that final emotion being the one that brings me here to write as Good Little Garbage Girl. (My calling.)

Before I get into some recycling rules, I want to first assert that the rules are stupid. As I’ve mentioned here before, recycling is a disorganized sham, and even if we were to recycle everything perfectly, we’d still be in deep shit when it comes to plastic waste and garbage in general.

That said, recycling properly at least presents the potential for things to stay out of the landfill, for things to be reused, for energy to be conserved, for oceans to be preserved, etc.

If you forgo recycling entirely — no matter how dysfunctional the system may be — then you’re near guaranteeing your trash will contribute to the demise of the planet.

Recycling is a small Hanukkah candle lit in the rain, if you will.

Here are some new/old recycling rules that you might want to get familiar with, so you can increase the potential for that candle to keep burning bright:

  1. Cartons like this should go with the cans/bottles, not in the cardboard spot*

    Even though these seem like cardboard, they’re not. So they go with the cans and plastic bottles.

  2. Spray/pump tops can’t be recycled

    While the actual vessel attached to the spray nozzle or pump is likely recyclable, the pumping/spray apparatus is not — so you’ll need to separate the two. Clean the vessel and recycle it in the plastics bin.

    What you do with your nozzle/pump is up to your discretion: Some of them affix quite nicely to other bottles/containers, so get experimental and see if you can use one to mist your plants, another for a homemade cleaning solution (white vinegar + dish soap = dreamy), and yet another for refillable soap or something.

    Look how smart:

    Or this!

    Alternatively/additionally, you could do your best to stop buying new spray/pump attachments and use the ones you already have. A lot of products sell “refill” bottles that tend to contain more product and come without a funky top.

    Target — you know the one! — recently launched a refillable haircare program with a brand called Love Beauty and Planet. Shoppers can buy an aluminum bottle for their shamps, condishys, and other haircare goodies and fill them at Target when they’re all used up. It’s a small-but-exciting-for-me step toward getting refill systems to return to the mainstream.

    Good job, Unilever — let’s see some more.

  3. Toilet paper rolls are recyclable

    Despite the effort required to take the cardboard roll insert from the bathroom to the bin, these cuties are recyclable — in the cardboard receptacle. I like to collect a bunch of them on the top of the toilet until I can’t put off moving them any longer. It’s fun! Same is true of paper towel rolls.

    You can also buy insert-free toilet paper, or even paper-free toilet paper. Brands like Who Gives a Crap, Cloud Paper, and Reel Paper make D2C bamboo options, which tend to be more sustainable than paper-based TP.

  4. Wine corks can’t be tossed in the bin, but…

    Cork is a pretty sustainable material, I believe but don’t feel like citing. Unfortunately recycling the kind that comes on your wine bottle isn’t as easy as using your traditional recycling options.

    The good news is that there are tons of places that will take your used corks: Whole Foods has drop-off centers, many farmers markets will take them, and you can check sites like, which will show you where nearby drop-off centers are located OR will offer you a shipping label so you can mail your corks off to be recycled into things like skateboards and yoga mats and stuff.

    You can also ask your local wine shop if they’ll take them. If they don’t, ask them to consider adding a recycling program to their shop. Wine not?

  5. Clothes/textiles should never be put in the garbage or the recycling bin.

    This looks like the type of bra I’ve been wearing throughout quarantine, but it’s actually a 600-year-old bra, which was found in an Austrian castle (obviously). I could totally write a poem about her. Not much coverage for lefty girl. Source.

    This is just not how fabrics are dealt with, OK? Donating clothing to Goodwill and the like is an OK option, but many of these places are overwhelmed with materials and, oftentimes, your donations can end up in the landfill.

    You could consider donating your very best stuff to Goodwill or thrift/consignment shops like ThredUp and The Real Real, both of which will pay you (not very much) money for your usable stuff.

    As for your old towels (try offloading these to the animal shelter), underwear, and other textiles? Some recycling programs will offer textile recycling — but you really need to check. Otherwise, you can try programs like Simple Recycling and TerraCycle or go to this website to find more information about where you can find textile drop-off centers.

    Here’s a list of some more specialized programs:

    • For bras: The Bra Recyclers

    • For sneakers: Nike Grind will accept all brands of sneakers. Their technology can turn your ratty trainers into things like turf fields, playgrounds, and new shoes. (They don’t currently take sandals, dress shoes, boots or shoes with metal, like cleats.) You’ll need to check with your Nike store to see if they have this program — so call first.

    • For all shoes: Zappos has a Soles4Souls program that will accept all shoes, distributing them to people in need and/or properly recycling whatever is unusable. They’ll send you a FREE shipping label, so you can just mail all your stuff in, and they’ll take care of the rest.

  6. Plastic #5 is hell on earth

    There are 7 different types of plastic recycling symbols. You’ve seen them: They’re usually tiny and hard to read. Plastic #5 is the most villainous, imho, because it tends to present on plastic items that most of us think are recyclable. These include yogurt cups, hummus/dip tubs, and plastic cutlery.

    Most conventional recycling facilities can’t accept plastic #5 (there are exceptions), so when you do buy materials stamped with this symbol, you should throw them away in your regular garbage can.

    You can also do your best to avoid this material altogether. Alternatively, you can collect your #5s and clean and send them in to Preserve Products’ Gimme 5 program. The program paused during COVID but allegedly will start up again in September 2021. Get updated here.

That’s all for now, I guess. Isn’t recycling the absolute dumbest ever?

Tomorrow’s my birthday — upcycle something/don’t buy anything in my honor :)