Whether you’re rolling in an RV or on a road trip in your Beemer, that shouldn’t negate you from lessening your carbon footprint by trying to recycle on the road. But, trying to find recycling centers or places to recycle and knowing what you can recycle on your road trip can be a quite a challenge if you don’t know what to recycle on the road and where.
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Did you know the average American adult throws away approximately 75,000 to 120,000 pounds of trash in their lifetime?
This is precisely why we all need to put our best foot forward in helping to protect our environment by recycling on the road as well as at home. Every one of us needs to help conserve our planet’s energy and resources by also minimizing the waste we put back into it.
Because each item we recycle doesn’t end up as toxic trash in landfills or our oceans. But, exactly how do we recycle on the road where unfamiliarity leads us to the unknown.
Let’s take a few minutes to learn how we can downsize our trash output. And then, we’ll show you how to reuse and recycle on roadtrips.
How to Recycle on the Road
RV & Road Trip Recycling
Here’s an interesting recycling fact. Vacationers and travelers tend to buy more consumables resulting in more packaging. This means more trash is just being tossed in the trash dumpsters instead of recycle bins. Much of that trash is actually recyclable.
Unfortunately, most RVers, roadtrippers and even truckers rarely think twice about recycling on the road. And here in lies the problem.
Speaking from experience as a full-time traveler, recycling really is harder than it should be. You have to know the difference between what is actually trash versus what is recyclable.
You also have to know what all those numbers and letters on the bottoms of packaging, bottles and jars. Worse, each community does things differently. And, what one city’s recycling center requires is totally different from another.
For on-the-road travelers who really want to do the right thing are faced with all these recycling discrepancies. Thus, the reason why the trash bins are overflowing.
Pay attention to product packaging
There’s several ways to beat the game of recycling on the road.
The first would be to forgo buying bulky packaging as much as possible. Insist on purchasing products that are not wrapped or contained in unnecessary plastic. And look for items not housed in big boxes or monstrous plastic containers.
Second, opt to buy cooking oils, vinegar, and condiments that are processed in glass bottles instead of plastic bottles. Most of which can’t be recycled.
And third, let’s not forget the trillions of plastic water bottles that are way past their point of being recycled as they already have been. Why are we buying bottled water in a store to begin with. There are options that we’ll talk about later in this article.
Anyway, the point is we all just need to be more in tune with how consumables are packaged. Companies who package their products can do a million times better.
As consumers, we hold the power of not buying products swaddled in tons of bulky plastics or chemically-coated containers or paper products.
Simply put, if we (collectively) eliminate the excessive packaging, we’re not having to search for places to recycle
What can you RECYCLE on the road?
These items that you can and cannot recycle are guidelines set by municipal waste management and recycling centers all across the United States.
Recycling PLASTIC on the Road
Knowing which plastics are okay to recycle is a bit confusing. And unfortunately, nomads are at the mercy of wherever they’re going to recycle their plastic throwaways.
But, to simplify which plastics you can recycle on the road, just look at the bottom of your plastic bottles, jars or packaging.
Each plastic container will have numbers on the bottom denoting which type of plastic it’s manufactured. If you see a #1 or #2, those are mostly recyclable plastics. However, if you see #6, that oftentimes means it’s non-recyclable.
CNET recommends contacting the local recycling company to see which plastics they approve of and accept. Or, some recycling facilities will have that information right on the facility plastics dumpster itself.
Also, some plastic bottles may say ‘crush to conserve‘. That’s so the plastic bottles don’t take up so much room in your recycling container.
If a plastic bottle does say this, simply remove the lid and crush the bottle by twisting from the top and pressing down. Then, place the plastic lid back on the bottle for recycling.
Confused yet? Let’s throw in another wrench.
Now, some plastic may have stamped as ‘compostable’ which means it cannot be recycled. It must be composted properly.
According to UrthPact, the difference between recyclables and compostables is based on the quality of materials used to manufacture the plastic product. Recyclables are made of lesser quality while compostables are manufactured using higher quality product fresh materials. Actually, compostables are better as they decrease the volume of landfill waste.
Recycling GLASS on the Road
The only glass you should be putting in the recycling bin are glass bottles and jars. Do not try to recycle any glass mixed with other materials, decorative or mixed-color glass, dirty glass, ceramics or dishes, Pyrex and other types of heat-resistant glass, window glass or mirrors.
Also canning jars are not recyclable. Since they are manufactured to withstand high heat, they will not melt with recyclable glass jars and bottles.
Before tossing glass jars and bottles into the recycling bin, remove the lid and rinse them thoroughly or even wash them. Do not put the lid back on the recyclable glass.
While it’s not required to remove labels from products before tossing them in the recycling bin.
According to Earth911, “Heat during the recycling process ensures that paper labels, ink, and excess glue are burned away from containers, whether they are cans, glass, or plastic bottles.”
Recycling CANS on the Road
Recycling cans on the road can be a little tricky. CNET goes into depth in their article, Are You Recycling Your Metal Cans the Right Way? Here’s What to Do. If I included every can you can recycle, it would take another article.
But, in a nutshell, you can recycle all metal cans; including but not limited to beverage cans, paint cans, cans from canned goods, aerosol cans.
However, make certain you rinse all cans thoroughly before tossing it into the recycling bin. Some recycling centers may prefer the label be removed.
Contrary to popular belief, recycling centers do not want crushed aluminum cans as they will contaminate the batch.
For canned goods, recycling centers prefer you remove the lid completely and place it inside the can after rinsing.
Now, surprisingly, you can recycle completely empty aerosol cans. However, before tossing them into recycling container, you need to ensure there is nothing left in them. Whatever you do, do not puncture the cans to remove excess content.
If your aerosol spray paint cans still have paint, they need to be taken to a hazardous waste drop-off center near you.
You will need to remove the plastic cap and plastic nozzle from the can entirely. But, those can be recycled with your plastic recyclables. .
Recycling PAPER & CARDBOARD on the Road
You can take most paper, such as newspaper, white office paper, white computer paper, white and colored cardstock, cardboard, magazines, catalogs, pamphlets, maps and even phone books to the recycling center.
You do not need to remove staples, adhesives or cellophane from your paper and cardboard. However, you should remove all paper clips and binder clips to reuse them.
Most paperboard food boxes like baking mixes, paper egg trays, and cereal boxes are accepted for recycle. However, be sure to remove the plastic bag or liner that contains the actual food product tossing into recycling.
Cardboard is also recyclable. But it must be clean without food or dried debris caked on it.
That said, cardboard that’s lined or coated with a plastic, wax, foil, velvet or even glitter are not accepted as recyclable.
Cardboard and paper that has plastic windows, a small amount of tape and labels are acceptable to recycle. But try to remove as much tape as you can though.
One important thing I learned from my recycling-passionate friend, Ted who’s also an RVer. Pizza boxes and those cardboard, round pizza trays and other cardboard packaging with food or grease are NOT ALWAYS recyclable.
Also, waxed paperboard used for milk products and juices is not accepted for recycling either. Those just get tossed into the trash.
“It is best to check with your local authority whether they accept them as part of their recycling collection,” according to Recycle Now.
Recycling BOOKS, MAGAZINES & MAPS on the Road
As aforementioned, books, magazines and maps are also recyclable. However, try to donate them for repurposing such as for crafts or school projects. See if a local school, youth or senior organization would like for you to donate them.
Also, a lot of campgrounds have a ‘take a book leave a book’ (or magazine) library in their tv room or in the laundry room. Instead of tossing them in the trash, give them to someone else who will enjoy them. And they too, will pass them on.
You can also repurpose and donate clean books and high quality magazines in very good condition to the Little Free Libraries on street corners throughout the U.S.
Recycling ELECTRONICS on the Road
According to Yale University, E-waste is the fastest-growing solid-waste stream in the world. However, less than 25% of all electronic waste is recycled in the United States; the rest is incinerated or goes to landfills.
If your electronics, including laptops, computers and monitors, are worn out or outdated, try to find a charity or donation center.
There’s actually people who buy them to use parts. Or, they’ll send it back to the manufacturer to recycle the body or parts to use in other products.
There are a few electronic types that cannot be recycled and should be taken to hazardous waste facilities instead. This includes any electronic device that may contain lead or mercury; albeit any LCD televisions and monitors, pre-1991 televisions.
I did learn though that you can take old televisions to Best Buy to recycle for a disposal fee. But they do allow households (which also means RVs and vehicles) to recycle certain electronic items up to 3 items per household per day for FREE. Their recycling program may vary per state with other limitations.
Recycling BATTERIES on the Road
Rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries should never be disposed of in the trash or put into recycling as they contain toxic chemical compounds.
However, a great resource for recycling rechargeable batteries, old cellphones and at some locations, even single use or alkaline batteries is Call2Recycle.
All Call2Recycle drop-off locations accept used rechargeable batteries with most accepting used cellphones. Depending upon your location, select drop-off sites do accept single-use batteries.
Single-use batteries, such as AA, AAA, 9V or C or D cell, are by nature different, making their recycling process different than recycling rechargeable and cellphone batteries.
While alkaline batteries are less harmful, you should take them to a Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facility for safe disposal. Almost every municipality has one.
Recycling INK CARTRIDGES on the Road
Some ink cartridges come with a prepaid shipping label to mail back used cartridges. But also, most big box office supply stores, you can take all of your used up ink cartridges.
What you CANNOT RECYCLE on the Road
There are a few things that are not recyclable. They include:
- Plastic bags and wraps
- Toothpaste tubes, sunscreen and other squeezable tubes
- Used paper towels, tissues and toilet paper
- Foam containers and meat trays
- Strings or straps that can ‘tangle’
- Hazardous materials
- Batteries – Lithium Ion & Alkaline
- Food & food soiled recyclables
- Dirty and greasy food boxes – pizza boxes, burger boxes & chips boxes
Tips on how to help minimize the need to RECYCLE on the road
“Reduce – Recycle – Reuse – Repurpose”
We put our collective hands together to create a compilation on ways to minimize our output that includes recycling.
One thing to think about though. Recycling doesn’t just mean sending it to an incinerator to melt down to create another product. It’s also means reusing things for a different purpose aka ‘repurposing‘. And, by using things you already have to provide purpose of another.
Supply Your Own Restaurant Go Box
Whenever you dine out, take your own reusable food storage containers instead of the restaurant using their go box. This totally eliminates extra waste that either ends up in the recycling bin or the trash.
Bring Your Own Reusable Shopping Bags
Instead of using those cheap plastic shopping bags from big box and grocery stores, bring your own reusable shopping totes instead.
Personally, I love the shopping bags that fold down into a small pouch. They fit perfectly in my coat or sweatshirt pocket, purse, in the glove box or
They’re great for keeping one or two in my sightseeing bag in case I pick up souvenirs or produce at the farmer’s market.
By bringing our own reusable shopping bags, we’re actually saving our planet from about 500 plastic bags per year from our household alone!
Avoid Plastic Containers
Try to avoid purchasing consumable liquids such as juices, milks and creamers creamers that are packaged in plastic bottles. Look for brands that support a positive environmental initiatives by packaging in cardboard instead.
Something I learned since becoming a minimalist RVer is you can buy powdered milk or powdered creamer that’s packaged in resealable pouches instead of bulky containers. You can mix your own on the road as you need it instead of storing big containers that will need to be recycled later.
We use organic coconut milk powder that’s healthier anyways, so it’s double win for us.
But, even if you can’t avoid some plastic packaging, try to buy products that come in reusable containers such as lunchmeat, sauces, powdered smoothie mixes, etc. I’ve even reused plastic bottles for mixing my own salad dressings or making my own milk mixes (above).
Use Your Own Water Jugs
Instead of buying countless bottles of water (UGH!), seek water filling stations inside grocery and big box stores.
While we’re on the road, if we need drinking water, we simply take our collapsible water jugs to refill. Not only are we minimizing our plastic output, but it’s seriously cheaper. And, it’s less to send to the recycle center.
A gallon of water at those water filling stations runs anywhere from 25-50 cents. Whereas a 16 ounce bottle of drinking water can cost anywhere from $1.50 to $3.00.
If you’re traveling in an RV, find a filling station to fill your tanks. If you’re concerned about the source of the water, invest in a Berkey or an inline water filter system. It’s been life-changing for us!
If you do have to buy water by the gallon but there’s no water filling station, keep your plastic jugs to fill at a different location and time.
Use Eco-Friendly Picnic and Party Ware
Just say NO to plastic silverware, red solo cups and dinnerware. There’s actually eco-friendly alternatives instead of using plastic silverware and plastic-coated plates and bowls. Look for compostable (we talked about that earlier) tableware. And, they’re actually healthier to serve food and eat from too.
That said, instead of using bulky paper plates for a sandwich and chips, we use diner type baskets with deli paper.
Or just use a paper towels or parchment paper sheets (I prefer unbleached). Those parchment paper sheets can also be used to line baking pans, for grilling and steaming.
In other words, paper takes up far less trash space than disposable plates and bowls. Also, paper is safer to burn in your campfire instead of those plastic coated paper products.
Reuse Your Cups
If you’re traveling in an RV or roadtripping in your car, assign each person their own hot beverage container, coffee mug, and/or water bottle. This alleviates the need of throwing anything away or even recycling.
If you need a straw, reuse a reusable straw instead of plastic straws that are a detriment to wildlife and take decades to even decompose.
Shop for Pay Per Pound Dry Foods
Try to shop for dry foods and dry ingredients at bulk food stores or grocery stores where you can pay per pound instead of food packaged in big boxes or packages.
These are great anyways because especially if you live small, you measure only what you need into a thin plastic bag (yeah, I know) and write the item number on it. The cashier weighs it with the price per pound numbers and voila!
Reuse for Refuse
Instead of just throwing away empty chip bags, reuse them to dispose of wet garbage such as coffee grounds, leftover food, egg shells, produce waste, etc. Then heat seal the bag and throw them in the trash dumpster.
Also, reuse those yucky plastic shopping bags for everyday trash. Especially for roadtrippers and vanlifers, they are the perfect size to dispose of your trash at a gas station while refueling your vehicle.
If you’d just rather get rid of those plastic shopping bags, you may be able to take them to various big box stores who accept them for recycling. Usually, there’s a bag recycling box at the entrance for you to take them to.
Recycle on the Road when YOU CAN
As mentioned above, even if you do prefer buying commercially packaged products, there’s ways you still can minimize your trash that ends up in the landfills.
But of course, finding recycling bins or receptacles can be a challenge for those recyclers on the road.
Unfortunately, recycling programs are not a high priority in a lot of states or even municipalities. Why? Because recycling is expensive. Who’s going to foot the bill? Taxpayers are already hit with high real estate and property taxes.
Which explains why many campgrounds and RV parks don’t provide recycling receptacles. But, that doesn’t mean, as RVers, that we can’t be conscious of taking care of our environment and recycle on the road!
How to find recycling center locations near me
If you look around, recycling containers and recycle drop offs are showing up everywhere! From city street corners to even our National Parks, you can find places to dispose of your recyclables.
- Roadside Rests
- Travel Centers
- Truck Stops
- Grocery Stores
- Campgrounds & RV Parks
If you don’t see recycling cans or dumpsters, check out Earth 911. Simply call 1-800-253-2687, or enter in the material you are trying to recycle along with the zip code you’re near and click search. It will point you in the direction of the nearest recycling center near me.
✰ READ MORE ✰ How to Minimize Trash While RVing & Camping
Final thoughts on how to recycle on the road
Just because we’re on-the-road RVers, meandering roadtrippers, or traveling remote workers doesn’t negate our responsibility of taking care of our environment.
We should always think about how we can do better in the products we buy and how they are packaged. And knowing where and how to recycle on the road helps us do our part in conservation and preservation of our land.
Most importantly, we have to do this for our future generations; which includes teaching them to be good stewards also.
✰ READ MORE ✰ Where to Find RV Dump Stations and Water on the Road
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