California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

Waste Prevention World

Waste Prevention and Recycling at Home

This page provides a primer for waste reduction and recycling at home. It is rough sketch of a plan of action, your action, to reduce the generation of waste and recycle. These are just the easiest things that you can do. There are many more, but they will probably become apparent to you if you make these a part of you daily life.

Public service announcements (PSAs) on several of the topics mentioned on this page can be found on the CalRecycle PSA page.

Also see Back to School Waste Prevention, and ways to prevent holiday waste.

The waste management hierarchy--reduce, reuse, recycle--actually expresses the order of importance of these ideas:

  • Reduce needless consumption and the generation of waste.
  • Reuse any item that can be reused or give it to a person or charity that can reuse it.
  • Recycle whatever discards remain if you can and only dispose what you must.

Please keep in mind that recycling is your least preferred option. Reducing the generation of waste so there is no waste left to recycle would be the ideal. Make it your goal. Also keep in mind the concept of "cycle" in the term "recycle". For there to be a complete cycle, the things you send to be recycled must come back to you. So, look for recycled content products whenever you buy, otherwise you are not truly recycling.

The terms reuse and recycle have specific meanings, but they are often confused, switched, and misused, especially in commerce. Just so you know which is which, you might want to review the definitions of these terms on the definitions page.


  • Packaging
    • Buy food in large quantities or in bulk. Grains and cereal are especially easy to purchase this way. Avoiding small individual packages of any product or consumable greatly reduces the amount of paper or boxboard that you buy and throw away. Of course, don't buy large quantities if the food would spoil before it is used.
    • Vote with your dollars. When comparing products of different manufacturers, consider giving preference to those that use less packaging.
  • Unwanted Mail


Substitute Reusable Items for Consumables

  • Use towels, rags, and sponges for most cleaning and wipe-ups. Keep a large enough supply of rags and wash cloths so you will always have some clean ones. Even if you need to buy a supply of small towels and wash cloths to get yourself started, the initial cost will be quickly offset by your reduced need to buy disposable substitutes, and you might think they work better than disposables. (See the Reuse Products page.) If you frequently need a damp rag or wash cloth close at hand, just find an ordinary old plastic bottle or old spray bottle and fill it with your own home-made cleaning solution. You could mix up a mild cleaner of one part vinegar to seven parts water, or something much stronger with diluted alcohol, bleach, or ammonia. (Do not mix bleach and ammonia. The combination creates an asphyxiating gas.) See the Cleaning and Custodial Supplies page of the Waste Prevention Information Exchange for ideas.
  • Use cloth napkins. Buy a large supply of inexpensive cotton napkins to use every day, the initial cost will be quickly offset by your reduced need to buy disposable paper substitutes. See the Reuse Products page.
  • Are you still collecting bags every time you shop? STOP! Invest in a set of reusable shopping bags. They hold more, they make carrying heavy loads much easier, they hold larger volumes than most plastic bags, they protect glass jars and bottles better, they last seemingly forever (expect well over 15 years from cloth grocery bags), they save energy and resources, and they prevent litter. Even if you recycle your paper or plastic grocery bags, you consume some energy and resources. See the Reuse Products page.
  • Collect and use plastic food storage containers. More durable than plastic bags, leak less, reduce odors in the refrigerator, keep moths out of dry goods in the cupboard.
  • Invest in rechargeable batteries and a battery charger. You can run almost anything, from flashlights to digital cameras, with rechargeable batteries. In the long run it is cheaper and better for the environment. For more information on recycling and proper disposal of batteries, please visit CalRecycle's Batteries home page.


  • Get Ready to Recycle--Set up your household to make recycling easy. Keep recycling waste containers or baskets in strategic locations in your house along with ordinary waste baskets. It is easier to toss recyclables in a separate container than it is to rummage through the trash later to separate everything. Use the same types of containers for recyclable trash as you would for any other trash throughout the house.

Having only one container for recyclable trash in the kitchen or garage is not likely to foster participation in household recycling, because few people would want to walk to the other end of house to dispose of every piece of paper.

Bathrooms can generate a fair amount of recyclable waste, shampoo bottles, empty facial tissue boxes, and empty toilet paper tubes.

Any home office or room where students study is a place where a container for recyclable material would be useful. Alternately, a bathroom recycle container of sufficient size could be used to accommodate the recyclable waste generated in nearby rooms.

Find a place in or near the kitchen for either an organic waste tote (for carrying food waste out to the compost bin) or for a worm compost bin as described below. Some of the companies listed in Waste Prevention World manufacture organic waste totes as big as a few gallons, and as small as 1.5 liters designed for your kitchen counter top. Alternately, you can just use a diaper pail or any container with a lid.

  • Curbside Pickup--If you have curbside recycling pickup, you might be surprised at the variety of things they recycle. To find out what they accept, look on the Web or in the government section of your telephone directory for your City or County public works refuse department. The following is a list of items commonly accepted, but check first. Your curbside pickup might accept fewer items, or more items than these:
    • Metal
      • Steel and Aluminum Cans--Beverage cans, food cans, aerosol cans.
      • Clean Aluminum Food Packaging--Pie plates, dinner trays, foil.
    • Paper--newspaper, magazines, catalogs, phone books, bulk mail, office paper, computer paper, envelopes, gift wrapping paper, cardboard, food boxes, shoeboxes, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, paper egg cartons.
    • Plastic--Plastic that bears the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) plastic resin codes#1 plastic recycling symbolor#2 plastic recycling symbol.
  • Recycling Centers--Find the nearest recycling centers in your area for many if not all of the items below at Earth 911, and at the additional links as indicated below. Here are the types of household items that can be recycled fairly conveniently in most parts of California:
    • Batteries--Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, Battery Drop-off Locator.
    • Demolition Debris-- Facility Information Toolbox (FacIT) lists places where you can bring demolition debris for recycling.
    • Electronics--The Electronic Products Management Directory is a database of facilities that collect specific types of electronic equipment and equipment related parts for reuse or recycling. Please note that televisions and cathode ray tube (CRT) computer monitors should not be placed in the household trash.
    • Hazardous Waste--Household hazardous waste that must be recycled or disposed at household hazardous waste collection facilities or other authorized collection facilities include, acids, antifreeze, household batteries, car batteries, brake and transmission fluid, household cleaners, pool chemicals, gasoline and other flammables, mercury thermometers, motor oil, oil-based or latex paint, paint thinners, pesticides and herbicides, barbecue style propane tanks, solvents.
      • Fluorescent lamps and tubes can be taken to household hazardous waste collection facilities. They can also be placed in household trash for now in California. However, after February 9, 2006, California households and some businesses will no longer be allowed to dispose fluorescent lamps and tubes in the household trash. Most businesses in California are already prohibited from disposing of fluorescent lamps and tubes in the trash. Read more.
      • Home generated medical waste, such as pharmaceuticals and syringes, might be accepted at your household hazardous waste facility, but check first. Visit our Health Care Waste at Home page to learn what other options you have for home-generated medical waste.
      • Other Hazardous Waste disposal and recycling locations can be found at Earth 911. If this option does not work, ask your Local Contact for Waste Prevention and Recycling.
    • Metal
      • Steel and Aluminum Cans—Beverage cans, food cans, aerosol cans.
      • Clean Aluminum Food Packaging—Pie plates, dinner trays, foil.
    • Motor Oil--Find used motor oil and oil filter recycling locations using CalRecycle’s used motor oil recycling page.
    • Paper--newspaper, magazines, catalogs, phone books, bulk mail, office paper, computer paper, envelopes, gift wrapping paper, cardboard, food boxes, shoeboxes, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, paper egg cartons.
    • Plastic--Plastic that bears the #1 plastic recycling symbolor#2 plastic recycling symbolplastic resin codes, also called SPI (Society of the Plastics Industry) codes.
  • Recycle On Your Own
    • Food Waste--When we count only the uneaten portions of meals and waste from food preparation, such as trimming produce, Americans throw away 163 pounds of food per person per year.
    • Yard Waste--Leaves and grass account for about 8% of the waste discarded to landfills in California. But in a landfill they generate significantly more greenhouse gas than they would in compost piles or bins.
      • Compost--To learn how to compost on see the CalRecycle home composting page or contact your city or county government. If you prefer to compost in a bin instead of an open pile, or if compost bins are required in you community, see the CalRecycle About Composting Bins page.
      • Grasscycle--What could be easier? Set your mower to cut a little long, and leave the clippings on the lawn. No bags to empty when you mow, reduce the water needed on your lawn, reduce the need to fertilize and thereby reduce toxic runoff to creeks and lakes via the storm drains. Read more. Alternately, compost your grass clippings or use them as mulch directly from the lawn mower bag, and be miserly with your watering and fertilizing.

Buy Recycled Products

If you are sending your waste to be recycled, but you are not looking for recycled content in the products that you buy, then, in theory, you are not completing a cycle, and are not truly recycling.

Find recycled content products with the following directories:

  • Recycled-Content Building Products--This section of the Recycled Content Product Directory lists manufacturers of recycled-content building products.
  • Recycled Content Product Directory--May include products of any business in any country that manufactures or produces with recycled material. This directory is intended to be used by all types of buyers: government, business, and consumers.
  • RecycleStore--This database lists only products of businesses that are located in one of California's Recycling Market Development Zones. The RecycleStore is targeted at consumers.

Other Resources

Don't stop here! Find more waste prevention information below and at the Waste Prevention Information Exchange and find out how you can go beyond waste prevention.

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Last updated: October 22, 2015
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