The Dos & Don’ts of Modern Curbside Recycling

Recycling is part of American culture, with 94 percent of those surveyed saying they support it, and 74 percent saying it should be a top priority. Yet only half of Americans have access to curbside recycling, and many of those well-meaning recyclers go about it the wrong way. As a result, far too many items that could be recycled end up in a landfill.

One of the barriers to proper curbside recycling is simply a lack of knowledge about how to do so correctly. That can lead people to either toss something that could have been recycled, or to wishcycle, meaning they put something in their recycling bin that isn’t actually recyclable.

Our updated curbside recycling guide can help clear the air on what is and isn’t recyclable these days.

Download and print this helpful infographic, or click through our gallery below for 12 quick recycling tips. Then, scroll down for more detailed information and links to helpful resources.

Shredded paper is not recyclable.
If paper is recyclable, then shredded paper must be recyclable, right? The answer is a not-so-simple no. Most curbside recycling facilities can’t recycle shredded paper, even if you bundle it in paper bags. It makes a mess, and because the paper has been cut, the fibers may be too short for recycling.

Some document shredding services can recycle paper, so if you have one in your area, you can try that. Another option is to separate only those pages containing personal information and shred those. You can either throw the shreds away or use them in your garden or compost pile. Then, recycle the rest of the papers as usual.

Pizza boxes are recyclable.
The rule of thumb used to be that pizza boxes were not recyclable because they were contaminated with grease. But the American Forest & Paper Association released new guidance in 2020 based on work with its industry partners, all of whom agree that pizza boxes are definitely suitable for curbside recycling programs – grease and cheese included. And who knows? Maybe one of your old pizza boxes will one day find new life at our Kingsport Mill recycled containerboard facility, which is currently under construction.

Staples and paper clips are fine.
If you want to remove staples and paper clips before tossing paper into your curbside recycling bin, you can. But recycling experts agree you can skip that step if you want to. The machinery used to recycle paper can remove those small bits of metal without any problem. That said, you should take a moment to remove binder clips, which are difficult to recycle but can be reused in many creative ways.
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