Recycle, Upcycle or Compost?

Written by Melanie Kozlan

It seems to be that a large number or people want to recycle but don’t know how and an equal number of people recycle improperly. You might have experienced this when you’ve seen things like Styrofoam and old food in your friend’s recycling bins. Composting can be an ever bigger mystery, some seem to think recycling and compost bins are just different containers for the same trash. Here is a comprehensive guide to simplify your waste management!


Anything that was once living can be composted, everything from eggshells to hair can be thrown in. As a rule of (green) thumb, avoid composting any meat/dairy as well as anything toxic or that contains harsh chemicals (For example, you can compost black and white newspaper, but not coloured print). Similarly, you can compost cat hair, but not kitty litter. For more information on composting, check out Composting 101: Here’s the Dirt, as well as these videos in GreenTV.


Most things can be recycled even if it is done through unconventional means (e.g. Craigslist, charities, composting, upcycling…). For things that can be recycled using your municipality’s curbside service, there can be some confusion concerning which types of certain materials are eligible to be recycled. For example, most paper can be recycled unless laminated or containing a high level of plastic in it’s blend. As for plastics, due to the different levels of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polymeric materials, most recycling centers are only able to recycle number 1 & 2 plastics. You can find the plastic number in the triangle on the bottom of the product (1-7). Check with your municipality to see which types of plastics they are able to recycle.

Basic items that can be recycled include:

1. paper, cardboard, boxes,junk mail, books, magazines,
2. cans/aluminum, empty aerosol bottles,
3. plastic containers,bottles, (check the numbers)
4. glass, glass bottles, jars…

It is important to make sure whatever you recycle is dry and free of grease, this is generally what confuses people and why many try to recycle things like pizza boxes, juice boxes and wet newspaper. Once you know what materials things are made from, recycling becomes instantly easier. Styrofoam is often mistaken for recyclable despite that it is petroleum based and highly flammable! Used paper towels and napkins are also important to exclude, due to food contaminants (feel free to compost them!)

Electronics recycling: Many municipality’s offer services for recycling things like batteries, electronics and appliances. You can also always send your e-waste to Four Green Steps to be recycled, free of charge.


Basically anything can be upcycled, it’s just a matter of creativity and finding useful ways to repurpose things. The fun part of upcycling is that there are endless options and opportunities: records can repurposed into kooky place-mats, artwork or melted into a retro bowl. There are millions of DIY sites dedicated to eco-friendly crafting, my favourite project is this DIY vintage-inspired cake plate. If you are unable to repurpose something you can always turn it into a work of art or give it away to someone craftier. Try to upcycle things that can’t be recycled like ceramics and certain plastics (especially plastic bags).

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