The U.S. is the number-one trash-producing country in the world, at 1,643 pounds per person per year. In 2008, only a third was recycled, reports the EPA, though experts say more can be. Here, a quick primer:
1. Do: Recycle paper with staples, clips, or spirals intact — the metal will be filtered out by machines later. Don't: Include any paper with food stains (think pizza boxes), as they can contaminate a load.
2. Don't: Forget to remove bottle caps. They're made of a different type of plastic and can mess up a whole batch. Do: Return plastic bags to stores. Find a local spot at plasticbagrecycling.org.
FOR GLASS & METAL
3. Do: Rinse out bottles, jars, and cans; throw away (or recycle) caps. Don't: Worry about labels — they'll burn off at the plant. Do: Include washed pie tins and foil, metal bottle caps, wire coat hangers, scrap metal.
4. Don't: Make the town dump your first stop. One person's trash is another's treasure — so when you want to ditch an old item, first try freecycle.org, Craigslist, or a thrift store that does pickups.
3 ways to cut the clutter — and save trees in the process
1. Get off junk-mail lists Register with the Direct Marketing Association's DMAchoice mail preference service (dmachoice.org), and you'll see a significant reduction in mail after three months.
2. Permanently place a recycling box an arm's length from your mail bin so you can toss any remaining junk mail pronto.
3. Pay bills online, or set up automatic check paying from your bank account. No envelopes, no postage — and no late fees, if you're on an automatic plan.
• Buy refillable containers Spray bottles, for example, can be refilled from larger jugs or concentrate. Over time, you'll buy — and dispose of — fewer containers.
• Choose concentrated or "ultra" cleaning products, which use 50 to 60 percent less packaging than traditional formulas while cleaning just as thoroughly.
• Don't use more product than the directions indicate Pouring in extra laundry detergent or fabric softener won't get your clothes any cleaner or cuddlier. Instead, follow the markings as directed on the label.
• Stop brown-bagging it (literally) and wasting paper when you pack lunch. The best-tested L.L.Bean Flip-Top Lunch Box (plus some ice packs), keeps contents nice and cool.
• Grab a microfiber cloth, which can take the place of 60 rolls of paper towels before it needs replacing.
• Stash leftovers in reusable containers. Some choices: plastic Rubbermaid Lock-Its (for portability) and glass Snapware Glasslock (for microwave reheating).
• Green your next move with Rentacrate's reusable plastic crates (rentacrate.com), which mean no more dozens of cardboard boxes to tape up and try to get rid of later.