Home » How To Recycle Guides » What To Recycle – 101 Beginner Guide

What To Recycle – 101 Beginner Guide

If you are unsure of what to recycle, then this short guide will help you start small, start easy and have lift off.

Rules for Recycling Centers

The following list describes items that are typically accepted at most recycling centers and curbside pickup and have the least amount of “rules”:

  • Aluminum Cans: You all know these, the Coke, Pepsi, and Sprites of the world. recycle-aluminum-can
  • Steel Cans: Soup cans, veggie cans, coffee cans, etc., including the can lids. And you don’t even need to remove the labels.
    hint: a helpful mantra to remember the first two is “The cans can (be recycled)!”
  • Newspaper: OK, so I’m not going to school you with a description for this one.
  • Magazines and slick inserts: After you are finished with that People magazine and all those catalogs and Wal-mart ads that arrive in the mail, they can be recycled.

The next list of what to recycle describes items that are accepted on a regular basis, with some exceptions and a few more rules:

  • Corrugated Cardboard: Shipping and packaging boxes, usually identifiable by a squiggly layer of paper sandwiched between sheets. Used pizza boxes are often NOT accepted. Corrugated Box
  • Paper and Paperboard: Office paper, notebook paper, cereal boxes, non-Styrofoam egg cartons, and some pre-packaged food boxes. Some paper items like paper milk cartons and drink boxes are lined with wax or plastic and are often not accepted. recycle-paper
  • Plastics: Milk jugs, shampoo bottles, detergent bottles, vitamin bottles, plastic soda, and water containers etc. Most centers will accept those plastics labeled with the PETE 1 and HDPE 2 symbols and many more are accepting plastics labeled 1 – 7.

These can generally be found molded into the bottom of the containers. If you can’t identify the type of plastic, don’t include it. Most facilities also require that you remove the cap since it is usually made of a different type of plastic.

Glass: Beer bottles, wine bottles, pickle jars, jelly jars, etc. Occasionally a center will accept only certain “colors” of glass. Light bulbs, Pyrex, ceramics, and mirrors are NEVER accepted. In some places, glass is becoming less accepted because of the potential of worker injuries due to broken glass.

Wow, even that simple list seems somewhat overwhelming. Don’t worry. You can start small and build as you feel more comfortable.

Remember, Every little bit counts! When you are ready to move beyond the basics, I’ll be ready for you. To help get you there, I’ve included a link to a quick list of what to recycle that you can hang on your refrigerator or even tape to the top of your recycling container and a sheet of stickers that you can print and adhere to your recycling bin.


Recycling can be super easy and helps our planet a lot! You can recycle soda cans, soup cans, newspapers, and magazines. Cardboard boxes from your packages can be recycled, but not pizza boxes with grease on them.

For plastics like milk jugs and soda bottles, check the bottom for a 1 or 2 inside the recycle symbol before tossing them in the bin. Glass bottles are good to go unless they’re broken. Just remember, no light bulbs or dishes. If you’re not sure, start with the easy stuff and you can learn the rest later. Each piece you recycle helps keep our Earth clean!


  • Jen Wheeler

    Jen Wheeler, co-founder of Recycling-Revolution.com, holds degrees from UC Berkeley, Yale, and Stanford. A renowned environmentalist, she's championed sustainable practices at global events and leads EcoBright Solutions, focusing on recycling education and eco-friendly products.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!