What Can Be Recycled?

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Kids cleaning up a beachEmbracing the recycling revolution is one of the easiest ways to protect the environment, combat litter, preserve natural resources, reduce energy consumption, save money, and create jobs.

From bottles and cans to used oil and tires, recycling in California is more convenient than ever before. Many communities throughout the state now offer curbside collection or drop-off sites for certain recyclable materials.

Help promote a more sustainable California–learn more about how to properly recycle these common household items:

Batteries: When batteries are discarded they become “hazardous waste,” and in California those products are barred from landfills. This rule applies to batteries of all sizes (AAA, AA, C, D, button cell, 9 volt, etc.), both rechargeable and single-use. Used batteries can be taken to a household hazardous waste disposal facility, an authorized recycling facility, or a universal waste handler for proper disposal. Some retailers even offer battery recycling. For more information about where to drop off used batteries for recycling, visit the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation’s battery Drop Off Locations database or CalRecycle’s battery recycling webpage.

Beverage Containers: In 2013, Californians recycled a whopping 18.2 billion beverage containers, bringing the overall beverage container recycling rate to 85 percent statewide. This includes a nearly 100 percent recycling rate for aluminum beverage containers. Recycled beverage containers, like aluminum cans or plastic and glass bottles, can be recycled in curbside recycling bins or redeemed for California Refund Value (CRV) at a local buyback center. Learn more about the CRV program, or find nearby recycling centers.

Electronics: E-waste is the popular, informal name for electronic products like computers, televisions, DVD players, stereos, copiers, cell phones, and fax machines nearing the end of their “useful life.” E-waste is a significant component of California’s waste stream but many of these products can be reused, refurbished, or recycled. California prohibits these items from landfills, and they should never be placed in the household trash. The state’s current e-waste recycling program collected more than 850 million pounds of these electronic products between 2005 and 2010. Find a recycling location. www.erecycle.org/.

Hazardous Waste: Californians generate an estimated 140 million pounds of household hazardous waste annually, yet only about 40 percent of that amount is turned in at household hazardous waste collection centers. Household hazardous waste that must be recycled or disposed at collection facilities includes: acids, antifreeze, household batteries, car batteries, brake and transmission fluid, household cleaners, pool chemicals, gasoline and other flammables, mercury thermometers, motor oil, oil-based or latex paint, paint thinners, pesticides and herbicides, barbecue-style propane tanks, and solvents.

Additionally, fluorescent lamps and tubes and compact fluorescent bulbs are prohibited from landfills but can be taken to household hazardous waste collection facilities to be recycled. Home-generated medical waste, such as pharmaceuticals and syringes, are also prohibited from landfills. Some communities now offer mail-back programs, while others accept the material in approved, sealed containers at household hazardous waste facilities. Visit the CalRecycle website to learn about other options for properly disposing of home-generated medical waste.

Mattresses and Box Springs: California residents can drop off mattresses and box springs for free at various collection sites and recycling facilities through the Mattress Recycling Council’s Bye Bye Mattress program. Visit Bye Bye Mattress to find the location nearest you.

Metal: Most metal containers found around the home or workplace can be recycled. Beverage containers and many canned goods containers are manufactured of aluminum and are easy to recycle. Steel food cans, and even empty aerosol containers, are recyclable, too. Clean aluminum food packaging–pie tins, frozen dinner trays, sheets of foil–can be added to recycling bins.

Motor Oil: Never dispose of used motor oil onto the ground, into a ditch, creek, river, or lake, into a storm drain, or in the garbage. Instead, take it to a local used oil recycling center.

Paper: Paper products are made from organic materials that can be recycled. Recyclable paper items include newspapers, magazines, catalogs, junk mail, printer paper, envelopes, gift wrapping paper, cardboard, and even paper egg cartons. Some local recycling programs also accept telephone books (check with local waste haulers for community-specific information).

Plastic: Plastic bottles and containers that bear the 1 or 2 plastic resin codes, also called SPI codes, can be recycled. (SPI stands for Society of the Plastics Industry). Some local recycling programs also accept plastic products with resin codes 3-7 (check with local waste haulers for community-specific information). Most plastic beverage containers with resin codes 3-7 can be returned to recycling centers for California Refund Value—just check the label for CRV, CA Cash Refund, or similar wording to determine if you are eligible for a refund.

Organics: Organic material like food waste and yard waste represents about one-third of the solid waste sent to landfills, even though a large percentage can be recycled or composted. And organics are a large contributor of harmful greenhouse gases that impact climate change—the methane gas that is generated as organic materials decompose is 23 times more potent than CO2.

  • Food Waste: According to the U.S. EPA, 96 billion pounds of food, representing 27 percent of the U.S. food supply, is wasted annually.
  • Yard Waste: Leaves, grass, and brush trimmings account for about 7 percent of the waste disposed in California landfills. In a landfill setting, yard waste generates significantly more greenhouse gases than would otherwise be produced in compost piles or bins.

To learn more about how to compost, and what requirements may exist in communities throughout California, visit CalRecycle’s home composting webpage. To learn about composting using worms, download the CalRecycle publication The Worm Guide.

Grasscycle: Grasscycling, the natural recycling of grass by leaving clippings on the lawn when mowing, allows cut grass to quickly decompose, returning valuable nutrients to the soil. Grasscycling saves time and money, protects the environment, and, by adding beneficial organic matter to the soil, provides free fertilizer to produce healthy, green lawns. Visit CalRecycle’s grasscyclingabout Grasscycle page for more information.

Buy Recycled Products

Collecting materials for recycling is only the first step. Successful recycling also depends on manufacturers that make products from recovered materials and, in turn, consumers purchasing products made of recycled materials. You can help to “close the loop” by purchasing products made of recycled materials whenever possible.

Find recycled-content products by using one of these directories:

  • Recycled-Content Building ProductsThis section of the Recycled Content Product Directory lists manufacturers of recycled-content building products.
  • Recycled-Content Product Manufacturers (RCPM)The directory includes products manufactured or produced with recycled material. This directory is intended to be used by all types of buyers: government, businesses, and consumers.
  • RecycleStoreThis database lists only products from businesses that are located in one of California’s Recycling Market Development Zones (RMDZ). The RecycleStore is targeted at consumers.

For more information contact: Office of Public Affairs, opa@calrecycle.ca.gov