We can’t be the only one who has ever stood in our kitchen, gripping a random item in midair as we wondered, can this be recycled? This very morning, we opened a large tub of yogurt, peeled off its round of interior protective foil and hesitated – trash? Recyclable?

We want to do the right thing, but we don’t always know how.

Sorters separate recyclable materials recently at ecomaine’s recycling facility in Portland. Staff photo by Joel Page

What you can recycle depends on where you live; different municipal recycling programs accept different items. Getting it right is important because items that are mistakenly thrown into a recycling bin can jam up sorting machines or contaminate otherwise usable recyclables.

Our list includes about 100 commonplace items that are handled – or, importantly, not – by ecomaine, a nonprofit company with more than 70 member communities, among them Portland, South Portland and Augusta. If your town recycles with ecomaine, avoid potential pitfalls with this list. For a more comprehensive list, a yea or nay on some 700 items, download the ecomaine Recyclopedia app. (It told us our yogurt container foil was trash.)

But recycling alone does not make you a good environmental citizen. As of Jan. 1, China – hitherto a major buyer of American recyclables – has drastically curtailed its acceptance of paper and plastic products, making it difficult for many American waste firms to sell the recyclables we dutifully put out on the curb each week.

A better plan of action? Reduce: Bring a reusable travel mug for your daily coffee, repair broken items instead of throwing them away, remember your tote bags at the grocery store, etc. After that, reuse – use items more than once before getting rid of them. Only then should you reach for your recycling bin.

GOOD
• Clean cardboard/paperboard/pizza boxes
• Newspapers/inserts
• Mail/catalogs
• Magazines
• Paper bags
• Office paper/envelopes
• Phone books
• Paper plates (clean)
• Drink boxes/aseptic containers
• Books
• Wrapping paper
• Milk/juice cartons
• Milk jugs
• Shredded paper (in clear bags only)
• All rigid containers – except styrofoam – that are marked with a number between 1 and 7
• Water bottles
• Detergent bottles
• Pots/pans
• Glass bottles and jars (all colors)
• Rope/string/chain
• Aluminum cans/foil

BAD
• Plastic wrap/film
• Trash/shopping bags
• Frozen vegetable bags
• Newspaper bags
• Sandwich bags/snack bags/bread bags
• Animal food bags
• Large metal car/boat parts
• Propane/helium cylinders
• Wood/lumber
• Garden hoses
• Pellet bags
• Clothing/shoes
• Batteries (all types)
• Boat wrap/tarps
• Needles/knives/blades
• Envelopes plastic/Tyvek
• Food/plants
• Bubble wrap
• Toys
• Pipes metal/plastic
• Envelopes plastic/Tyvek
• Food/plants
• Kitty litter
• Diapers
• Paper napkins/towels
• Light bulbs
• Wax-coated paper (poly-coated is OK)
• Vinyl siding
• Styrofoam or polystyrene foam (even No. 6)
• Bedding/pillows

VERY BAD!
• Hazardous waste, such as the items listed here, MUST be taken to state-certified sites or certain retailers. To learn where, search for “household hazardous waste” at maine.gov.
• Ammunition
• Anti-freeze
• Button cell batteries
• CFL light bulbs (compact fluorescent lights)
• Chemicals
• Computers and related parts
• Fertilizers
• Fluorescent bulbs (of any kind)
• Fuel (gasoline, diesel, kerosene)
• Mercury (in any amount)
• Oxygen tanks
• Paint thinner
• Pesticides
• Propane tanks
• Rechargeable batteries
• TVs

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