Create a recycling system you can stick to with these five easy steps to sorting, stacking, and stashing your household recyclables.

By Jennifer Pigott Moeller
Updated April 09, 2019
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Recycling may be a little inconvenient sometimes—no one really wants to spend time sorting plastics or memorizing recycling symbols—but it’s absolutely necessary. Embarking upon a zero waste lifestyle is an alternative, but that takes even more commitment. (Though its benefits for the environment and your wallet may make it worth it.) Fortunately, there are ways to make recycling easier, namely by setting up an effective and easy-to-use recycling system.

These steps will help you establish a recycling system that you can stick to, without too much daily effort; kids and other household members will even be able to contribute to your recycling efforts. A comprehensive recycling system doesn’t require fancy bins and storage bags, either—making use of what containers are already available is a great way to include reusing in your recycling regimen. Follow these five steps, then go forth and recycle.

1. Do Your Homework

Check with your local collection center, and find out what it accepts and rejects. Residents in some areas face fines for not recycling. (New York City residents, for example, face up to a $400 ticket.) To find out what your municipality recycles, call or visit RecyclingCenters.org. For items that need special treatment (electronics and other difficult items, for example), set aside a separate storage space until they can be dealt with.

2. Study Your Trash

What you use most will determine the type and size of the containers you'll require. If your family drinks a lot of juices and soda, you'll want a larger bin for cans and bottles. A family that does a lot of online shopping will want a wide recycling container capable of storing broken-down boxes.

3. Create Convenience

Ideally, your home recycling center will be a two-part system, with one part for everyday disposal and the other for storing. The everyday part should be where you generate the most waste―for many, the kitchen. The spot should be as accessible as the trash can, perhaps right next to it. If you are short on space, consider hanging sturdy shopping bags on the inside of a pantry door. Sorting is a tiresome truth of recycling, so why do it twice? Get a divided container (or several small containers) that let you separate as you dispose. Try the Brabantia Sort & Go Recycling Bins (To buy: From $20; containerstore.com) for a compact, attractive set that can be wall-mounted so they take up minimal space. Count how many different recycling categories you’ll have and purchase a bin for each.

4. Pick a Storage Space

When your kitchen bins fill up, move their contents to a storage spot (separate from the household stomping grounds) until it's time to drop off at the curb or a center. Consider the garage, laundry room, mudroom, or utility closet. The larger recycling containers should be easy to transport, so look for ones with wheels or handles.

5. Post Recycling Guidelines

Learn how to recycle common and not-so-common items and use a Magic Marker to write what goes where on recycling bins. It's a good reminder for your family, and the quick reference makes recycling easier.