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If you’ve ever held up a set of old keys or unwrapped the plastic around a juice box straw and wondered if you should toss it in the trash or separate it for recycling, keep these tips in mind:

Not all curbside services collect metal, but it’s still smart to call your local recycling company and double-check, says Amy Korst, author of The Zero-Waste Lifestyle. If metal is a no-go, scrap metal yards will accept things like keys, metal hangers, and foil. Set aside these items, then make a few quick trips to get rid of them over the course of the year.

You’ve been using reusable bags for years—but what about plastic that’s harder to avoid (and easy to forget), like dry cleaning bags or the plastic trays inside cracker boxes? Many local facilities, like grocery stores, have drop-off spots designated for recycling these types of plastic, says Korst. For more info and a list of places by state, visit

Remember the “tear rule”—If a piece of paper rips easily, then it’s likely made from recyclable material, says Korst. But if it doesn’t give effortlessly (like some wrapping papers), it’s probably not!

Other tips:

Products made from composite materials are composed of more than one type of material, Korst says. A good example would be a tin of peanuts, or tube of pre-made biscuits. These containers are often made from cardboard, lined in plastic or foil, with a plastic lid, and a metal bottom. But Korst says that it’s only possible to recycle something if what you’re recycling is made from 100% the same material. “Unless you can separate the individual materials from each other, avoiding the purchase of composite materials is a good rule of thumb.”

Can This Be Recycled?


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