Which Materials Are the Easiest to Recycle?

recycling materials

recycling materials

Have you ever stopped to think about the people on the other end of your recycling? That is, the people who sort, process, and remake those materials into everyday usable products? Most people stop thinking about their recycling once they put it out on the curb but knowing just a little bit about how recycling works helps you make it easier for recycling plants to process materials.

Not all recyclable materials are created equal – some are easier to reuse than others. We’ve created a list of some items that are the easiest for recycling companies to process to help you consider what you purchase and later put in the can each week.


You can bring old electronics to retailers like Staples or Best Buy, which will either wipe your data and resell them if possible or simply recycle the materials. Either way, be sure you wipe your data or ensure that data destruction is part of the service the recycling entity is providing. There may be resources for electronics recycling in your local community, or your city may have a particular day when they are willing to collect electronics as part of the recycling service, too. Do some research to find out.

You can recycle items like:

  • Cameras
  • Cell phones, E-readers, and tablets
  • Computer peripherals like mice and USB sticks
  • Connected home devices
  • Laptops
  • Media players

Steel and Aluminum

Steel and aluminum are both 100% recyclable, and steel is actually the most recycled material in North America at a rate of 88%. Aluminum cans are 100% recyclable, and recycled aluminum doesn’t lose any of its structural integrity. It’s also 90% more energy-efficient to use recycled aluminum than to manufacture new. Steel and aluminum are both high-value recyclables.

In 2015, 54 billion aluminum cans were recycled in the United States, but Americans are still throwing away enough aluminum every three months to match the aluminum needed for every single commercial airplane in the U.S. So although a lot of good recycling is happening with these materials, there needs to be more of it. Baking tins, curtain rods, foil, spray cans, and aluminum siding all contain recyclable aluminum.

Did you know? Recycling the steel components of just one car reduces greenhouse emissions by an equivalent of 150 gallons of fuel. There is still so much unharnessed power and energy efficiency that can be gained by efficiently and thoroughly recycling steel and aluminum products.

Paper & Cardboard

Paper is one of the most commonly recycled materials. Recycling paper reduces the need to harvest more trees to make new pulp. Have you seen the stickers on paper towel dispensers in restrooms with the words “These Come From Trees” on them? One of those stickers can save up to 100 lbs. of paper every year! When people are reminded that their simple actions can do a lot of good for the environment, they can make a big difference. According to the American  Forest & Paper Association, 80% of U.S. paper mills utilize recycled paper materials.

Because online shopping increased during the pandemic, there was a huge influx of cardboard that was being recycled, which was good, but some plants got so overwhelmed that they stopped taking more cardboard. This was an extenuating circumstance. So people had to get creative and recycle the cardboard around their house, like layering it in planting beds, or giving it to someone else who needed it.  Please remember to always break down the boxes when you do send your cardboard to the local recycling plant – not just to make it easier to fit them into your bin, but to make it easier and efficient for the people at the other end who process the cardboard.

Unfortunately, paper accounts for approximately one-third of the municipal waste stream in the United States alone. A full 80% of discarded paper products ends up in landfills, where they decompose and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Paper decomposition is the most significant source of methane in landfills. A United Nations Report published in May, 2021, found that reducing methane emissions is the single most important and effective action that will fight global warming.

Did you know? A single run of the Sunday New York Times is the equivalent of approximately 75,000 trees.

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Plastic Bottles

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles are easily recyclable, and since they’re so widely used all over the world, it’s important to always recycle them.  Some examples of PET bottles are one- and two-liter clear soda bottles and bottles containing water, liquor, liquid cleaners, detergents, and antacids. PET is the most widely recycled plastic in the world – 1.5 billion pounds of PET are recycled each year in the U.S. alone. But it is estimated that the average American household discards 80% of the PET it uses!  Instead, it goes into a landfill, rather than being recycled which is a shame because it’s a high-value recyclable material.. PET can be recycled into new containers, carpets, clothing, protective packaging, industrial strapping, automotive parts, construction materials, and even outdoor furniture. And it takes 66% less energy to recycle PET than it does to manufacture new PET. This decreases greenhouse gases.

Shop Polly Products

Polly Products was an environmentally-friendly brand before it was cool or sustainability was even a buzzword. We understand that environmental activism and the creation of sustainable technologies are not just a fad. All of our outdoor furniture products are made from 100% recycled plastic. You can read more about our green promise here.

Shop Polly Products 100% recycled plastic products now.