What are the Most Important Things to Recycle?

by Danielle on July 29, 2010

recycled soda cansAs much as we would all like to recycle everything, not everything can be recycled. With limited space, limited facilities, and a lack of technology to recycle certain materials, it limits what we can recycle and how we handle our waste. Since only certain things are being recycled, it raises the question, what are the most important things to recycle?


You could start by sorting items by size. If the amount of space something would take in a landfill is the issue, then items like:

  • Couches
  • Fridges
  • Ovens
  • Cars
  • Furniture


If you sort by the toxicity of an item, then some electronics, light bulbs, and computers would be of the utmost important to recycle. Other items would be:

  • Cellphones
  • Batteries
  • Ink cartridges
  • Laptops
  • Video game systems


Sorted by how long an item will take to break down into the environment, plastics and metals never truly biodegrade, and would top the list of most important things to recycle. Most metals oxidize and rust, but never start to break down. Plastics break down in a way, but into a more toxic form than when they are whole. These items include:

  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic utensils
  • Metal car parts
  • Plastics used to make electronics (casings, etc.)

The real question we might need to ask, is where are our priorities? Are they with the amount of space in a landfill, the toxic elements that could potentially be leeched into the environment, or the composition and ability of an item to biodegrade?

If we prioritized by making items by size the most important thing, then we would have much more room. Bigger things could be reused and recycled into equal size items. For example, if a couch were refurbished into a new couch, that’s saving landfill space the couch would have taken up, plus preventing new materials from being produced. On the other hand, lesser priority to toxic items and non-biodegradable items would leave us with a bunch of toxic junk that would harm wildlife and our water supply.

If we chose to make sorting toxic items the biggest priority, then we would have a cleaner water supply, less of an impact on wildlife (who can ingest toxins and materials, absorb it into their bodies, or breathe in gases), and less of an impact on the environment. On the other hand, we may run out of space if too much priority is given to toxicity over the actual size of an item.

If we decided to make the recycling of plastics and metals our biggest priority, then those non-biodegradable items could be reused again. Giving them another life will prevent them from entering a landfill, and prevent new materials from being produced. On the downside, priority over this could mean less landfill and livable space.

Which of these are the most important things to recycle? As you can see, there are repercussions of not recycling these items. While the obvious answer is that we need to recycle everything, most people cannot, or will not. That makes choosing the more important ones over the less important an imperative duty.

Paper, plastic, and aluminum are easy things to recycle and are also very important. Paper can be easily put into a stack to be recycled down the line, while with plastics, they are contaminating our oceans and environment. The cleanup down the line for plastic pollution could be seemingly endless, so we have to stop today. Aluminum is very easy to bring to your local redemption center to get back a nickel per can, and it doesn’t take up much room. It uses far less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to make new aluminum (and at the rate Americans drink soda, we need that aluminum!).

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