Ready to become a recycling pro? These green recycling tips will reduce waste, promote a more circular economy, and help increase our recycling rates.

Do a waste audit

First things first, I recommend conducting a waste audit to help determine what is recyclable and what is not. Getting to know your trash will help determine where most of your waste is coming from. For example, maybe you buy a lot of lettuce packets, takeout, or Q-tips? Going through your trash and tallying how much of each item you find will better help discover your unrecyclables. Then, you can take proactive measures to reduce the amount of these items you buy and find more sustainable alternatives. Just be mindful some waste is unavoidable (and sometimes even necessary — like medical waste). But don’t just use any trash bag for your unrecyclables. I recommend Glad’s most sustainable trash bags for the job: Their ForceFlexPlus Recovered Plastic bag is made with 50% recovered plastic (20% recycled plastic and 30% reclaimed plastic) and produced with 100% renewable electricity1. And just so you’re aware, Glad’s kitchen drawstring trash bags do the same job and use 7–22% less plastic2 than the competition.

Keep recyclables clean and dry

Before you even think of tossing a container into the blue bin, check the inside. Does it still have food or drink residue on it? You’ll want to rinse this out first to prevent contamination. Food and drink residue can actually contaminate an entire bin and make everything inside it unrecyclable. Make sure to empty all the liquids and food residue out first. You can compost food scraps you find using Glad® Compostable Bags for easy cleanup, but be sure to check with your local municipality to see if compost is collected. Then rinse the container with water, before letting it dry. Once it’s dry, place it in the recycling bin. It’s okay if a little water remains, but nothing more than a teaspoon of liquid. Remember: Certain items like soiled paper napkins and paper plates (without plastic lining) cannot go in the recycling bin but can be added to your compost bin.

Check with your local recycling facility

One of the best ways to practice sustainable recycling is to see what’s recyclable in your local community. Oftentimes, recycling laws vary from state to state and sometimes even from town to town. This can make things rather confusing, so make sure to check out your local .gov to learn about the best green waste disposal options near you. See if you can print out recycling instructions to hang on your fridge or anywhere you can see every day. This will help you avoid “wishcycling,” which is when you’re pretty sure something isn’t recyclable but you toss it in your bin anyway. But what you might not know is these unrecyclable items just take a long (and costly) trip to the landfill. If your town says not to recycle something, you’ll make this mistake a lot less! That’s why it’s so important to know exactly what can and cannot be recycled in your area. And, if you are one of the 38% of U.S. households that don’t have access to recycling pickups through your municipality, check out programs like Recyclops to see if it’s available to you. Glad partnered with Recyclops to expand recycling to more than 100,000 households that are currently without recycling options. With the Recyclops service, recycling can be as easy as putting all of your materials in one or more bags and putting them right on your doorstep or curbside for pick-up. Learn more about location and prices here.

Debunk plastic identification codes

In order to achieve recycling sustainability, we must get better at recycling plastic specifically. To do that, we have to better understand plastic identification codes/resin numbers, AKA the numbers inside the chasing arrows symbol, and what they mean. There are different kinds of plastics, which is why it’s such a complicated material to recycle. People see the recycling symbol on products and assume that automatically means they can throw it in the recycling bin, which is not true. Effectively, there are 7 different codes, but that doesn’t mean you can recycle everything with the symbol. Resins #1 and #2 are the most commonly recyclable, but make sure to check your local guidelines before throwing in the blue bin. But for that inevitable trash, remember to use a more sustainable bag like Glad® ForceFlexPlus Recovered Plastic bag.

Stick to products made from one material

Mixed material items are harder to recycle than something made from one material. That’s because they have more components that need to be taken into consideration. For example, a toy made from bamboo, metal, and plastic might be hard to recycle because it’s made from so many materials. It’s ambiguous as to whether you should trash it or recycle it. Sticking to one material is always best and ensures a higher chance of it actually being recycled. Items made entirely from glass, aluminum, or rigid plastics like PET (resin #1) and HDPE (resin #2) are the better options. For ambiguous items made from various materials, I recommend trying to give them a second life through upcycling, repairing or donating them for reuse. And, if that doesn’t work, it’s better to put it in the trash (using a more eco-friendly bag like Glad® Recovered Plastic Bag) than the recycling bin (no wishcycling, remember?).

Bigger containers with compact shapes are better

Whenever you’re grocery shopping, try to get the biggest container you can, instead of smaller ones. Bigger, more rigidly shaped containers are actually easier to sort and bale (like plastic milk jugs). FYI, recycling is a business and bales of paper, plastic and metal are sold locally, domestically, and internationally. Smaller items don’t have much surface area and are difficult to capture, which means they would probably fall through the disc screens early in the sorting process. That’s why it’s better to get the biggest container you can afford. Plus, rigid plastics tend to be easier to recycle than flimsy plastics. Unless you have access to a plastic film drop off center, you cannot and should not add any plastic films (like plastic bags or frozen food bags) to your recycling.


1. For bags manufactured in U.S. plants. All energy used is offset by virtual power purchase agreements and purchased renewable energy certificates (RECs).
2. Glad kitchen drawstring trash bags use less plastic than leading competitors. Ranges from 7%–22% less plastic vs. top 10 competitors.