How to: Waste Less Less & Recycle More

How to: Waste Less Less & Recycle More

Have you ever questioned whether something is recyclable? Most likely, you have, but in the United States the Mobius Loop or the triangle with the three arrows guides consumers to think that the product is recyclable when, in reality, it isn’t always [1]. This is why it’s good to have recycling knowledge in your back pocket to ensure items are recycled correctly. 

There are also certain reasons, such as food waste contamination that could lead to a material not being recycled. When recycling seems easier to do, it makes us not only feel good about doing it, but encourages us to want to do it. Here are some easy tips on reducing, reusing, repurposing, and recycling your waste. We’re not robots, so we will never be perfect at recycling, but hopefully after reading this you will feel a little more confident in your recycling abilities and go forward leading a more sustainable life. 


The number one step in being a conscious consumer is reducing the amount of waste you produce. By avoiding excessively packaged goods or choosing to opt out of buying something, it reduces the amount of waste you would normally contribute to the landfill or recycling center. Not producing waste in the first place leads to a collective change that has the possibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease polluted land and water bodies. There are three tips to keep in mind to help you start your waste reduction journey. 

First, avoid flimsy plastics if possible. The plastic in disposable plastic bags, cling film, and plastic snack bags is so thin that almost all recycling centers don’t take it because it is too difficult to recycle. Also, due to their light weight, they have the ability to float away when empty and end up on the side of the road or in waterways, so it is best to avoid them if possible. Instead of choosing these flimsy plastics, there are smarter alternatives. Choose a reusable cloth bag that is durable and washable. You can even save money by making reusable bags out of old t-shirts

The second tip is to avoid excessive packaging when possible. Luckily, today’s supermarket’s are exploding with options, which makes it easier for the consumer to choose one product and exclude another. By choosing a whole box of crackers, for example, instead of smaller individually wrapped bags, you are not only saving on so much packaging waste, but you are able to choose your own portion size and mostly likely save money. The best way to save on excessive packaging and money is to buy bulk. This is why Mikuna Foods (is working on/offers) bulk chocho so that you can refill your original container. Ask your local stores or look online for bulk options and refill your own container with bulk items. 

Finally, remember the saying, “just say no”. This is especially important with convenience and to-go items. Single use items, like plastic straws, plastic utensils, sauce packets, and napkins are not recyclable and even end up being thrown away without being used. By asking the server or cashier to opt out of these single use items, you can easily reduce your waste.

In order to be prepared for limiting single use options in your life, consider having a reusable kit with you. Your kit can include washable utensils, a reusable straw, and a handkerchief in your reusable cloth bag. You don’t have to get a fancy zero waste kit; if all you are able to do is put a metal fork from your kitchen in a t-shirt tote bag, that is better than nothing. 


Reusing or repurposing something is a great way to utilize things that have to be landfilled or take advantage of durable items and giving them another life. Using creativity, there are infinite options to repurposing things, so here are a few ideas. A jar is one of the most versatile items when it comes to reuse. Glass jars are sturdy and have a lid, so they are perfect to meal prep, lunch containers, or random storage. Old pasta sauce jars are a nice size, comparable to mason jars. If you like to make your own sauce, like our Mac n Chocho sauce, or need a container for lunch, then wash your old jars when you’re done and they’re good as new! 

Another item that can be repurposed are squeezable plastic bottles, like ketchup or dish soap bottles. By filling them with batter, you can up your pancake art game or squeeze batter into the waffle maker without a spill. Putting icing in them instead of a disposable plastic bag will save on plastic or filling them with water will make it easier to water smaller houseplants. 

Any long necked glass bottles, such as wine bottles, can be filled with water to the very top and quickly placed in the ground or into a potted plant and it will gradually water your plants to make being a plant parent easier. 

Speaking of plants, there are so many items you can repurpose if you are interested in growing any sized garden. Egg cartons, empty k-cups, and toilet paper rolls can be filled with dirt to plant seedlings to later be transferred. Wax lined cartons (ie almond milk, juice, etc.), which are never recyclable are perfect if you want to start a little window sill garden. Just cut a rectangle in one of the long sides of the carton, rinse it out, fill with soil, and plant your seeds. These are perfect for growing microgreens or an herb garden. 



Plastic is one of the trickiest things to learn how to recycle correctly because it is the least universal when it comes to county recycling guidelines. Even with that, there are some general guidelines to help you recycle plastic correctly. 

  • Don’t Flatten: don’t flatten your plastic bottles because it can actually get mixed up with other commonly flattened materials, like cardboard, when processed. 
  • Don’t Recycle Smaller than a Credit Card: a general rule of thumb is don’t recycle anything smaller than a credit card because they are too small to sort and might clog up the sorting machines [2]. This includes straws and plastic utensils. When it comes to plastic caps/lids, however, there has been some debate on whether or not they are recyclable, but according to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, if you leave your plastic lids on your empty plastic bottles, then they have a better chance at being recycled [3]. 
  • Read Your Numbers: number one and two plastics (the numbers you find in the Mobius Loop) are almost always recyclable in any county, but you will need to check with your local guidelines for plastics three through seven. 

  • Metal

    Metal is highly recyclable, you can recycle almost all types of metals [4]. Most of us are recycling metal cans at home, so there is nothing to worry about with those. There are a couple of caveats with metals. Aluminum foil is usually recyclable, but you have to make sure it has no food residue. Metal aerosol cans are considered hazardous waste, so they should never be put in your curbside recycling bin! Also, electronics that usually have metal are e-waste and should be disposed of at a proper facility that processes e-waste. 


    Glass is similar to metal in that it has high circularity and can be recycled easily. Three things to note about recycling glass. 

  • No Mixed Materials: make sure it is not with mixed materials and if it has a lid, then that lid should most likely be thrown away before recycling the glass. 
  • No Broken Glass: NEVER put any kind of broken glass in the recycling bin. It is dangerous for the workers and won’t be considered to be recycled anyways.
  • No Ceramics: never put ceramics in your recycling bin because it is a different material and isn’t the same as glass. 

  • Paper/Cardboard

    Paper/Cardboard should always be clean and dry. All paper is recyclable, except for shredded paper. Paperboard, such as the material of cereal boxes, is usually recyclable, but it depends on your guidelines. 

    One tip to save you space in your bin and money from extra pickups is to break down your cardboard boxes because otherwise they would take up unnecessary empty space in the bin. 

    Another thing to note is tape. It is okay to leave tape on your cardboard boxes as they will still be accepted, but it helps the processing workers out if you remove the tape beforehand. Taking off the tape is an extra act of kindness for those who are processing your recyclables. 

    Mixed Materials

    Mixed material is a big no no when it comes to recycling. This means that if you can see or feel two materials that are stuck together and you aren’t able to separate, then chances are that a recycling center won’t be able to separate them either. An easy example to remember is wax/plastic lined paper cups. There would be no way to remove that lining, thus making the paper unusable for recycling. 

    General Tips

    Along with all of these tips and tricks for specific materials, there is some general recycling advice. 

    No Liquids: There should never be any liquids or food in or on a container you are about to recycle. Items should be as clean and dry as you are able to make them. A rule of thumb to remember is the five second rinse. Rinse your container, can, or bottle for five seconds in the sink, especially targeting any noticeable residue, and that should be good enough to recycle (don’t forget to let dry). 

    You Can Leave Labels: You can actually leave paper labels on containers because recycling facilities have a machine that will melt the label and glue off, but it is another step you can take to make the recycling process go smoother by taking off the labels. 

    No Compostable Plastic: You should never put compostable “plastic” in the recycling bin. If you have a local industrial composting facility, then it should always go there, but otherwise it needs to be disposed of in the landfill. 

    No Liner Bag: Don’t use a plastic bag liner for your recycling bin. Even though it might be easier to take out your recycling in a plastic bag, that bag can contaminate your whole bin. Those flimsy plastic bags are not recyclable and can even jam up recycling equipment.

    Try Not to Wishcycle: Wishcycling is when someone puts an item in the recycling bin because they want it to be recycled or they think it will be recycled when they don’t actually know the truth [5]. Wishcycling puts all your other recycling efforts down the drain since it can contaminate your recycling bin and prevent some items from being recycled, so to be safe either look up your local guidelines before disposing or put it in the landfill and look for next time. 


    The combination of reducing your waste, repurposing or reusing materials, and recycling according to your local guidelines all come together as tools to make a sustainable toolbelt. You might notice that you start using one of the tools more than the other, but that is okay as long as you remember that those four sustainability tools work best when used together. Hopefully, after going through this brief waste management guide you feel better about your daily actions. The best thing you can do is try it out for yourself, and the second best thing is to educate your friends and family about any of these tips you have found helpful.