1 wk's trash in red lid jar Click to enlarge.

1 wk’s trash in red lid jar
Click to enlarge.

Well, it’s been one week of watching my waste. The biggest challenge was grocery shopping since we need food and often the packaging can’t be avoided.  I’ll chronicle what we learned from grocery shopping tomorrow. Today, I’m focusing on measuring our garbage and learning a lot about what we can and cannot recycle/compost in my city of Covington, KY. I thought I knew a lot about this already, but the goal of keeping my garbage small motivated me to learn even more.


  1. It depends on your city or county. I found that the city of Covington has a robust recycling effort and accepts a number of things that our neighbor across the river, Cincinnati, does not. This made me happy for myself but heightened my awareness of the complexity of giving recycling advice. When searching online, I realized that recycling criteria vary from city to city, or county to county. You have to call your public works dept. to get local criteria.
  2. Terracycling: The good news for Cincinnati, however, is that it does have several “terracyle” centers which recycle things like candy wrappers, snack bags, drink pouches, squeezable fruit, glue, plastic cups, cereal bags, and more. Since we have friends in Cincinnati we now trade garbage. They bring their #5 and #7’s to us and we take our terracycle items to them when we see each other.
  3. Receipts: Most cash register receipts now use thermal paper which should not be recycled. Many recycling sources I checked, however, said that this is such a small percentage of their paper recycling that they aren’t super strict about it. It does, however, reduce the quality of the recycled paper made from it and the chemicals used to produce the paper are not friendly.
  4. Plastic credit/gift cards: Our daughter who lives in Afghanistan left a couple old library cards with us. I wondered if they were recyclable. NO, EXCEPT there is a place in Bedford, OH called Earthworks that recycles these plastic cards. Of course you want to make sure your identity has been obliterated. I used to use a credit card to break into my own locked car or open a locked door. It’s probably good that this kind of re-purposing no longer works.
  5. Lids: bottle caps (metal or plastic) are now recyclable in most places, but I wasn’t sure about jar lids. I was happy to learn that Covington accepted glass jar lids. Take them off the jar or bottle before recycling.
  6. Paper labels on cans or plastic: Even though I knew that one didn’t have to peel/scrape the paper off containers before putting them in recycling, it made me feel better to do it – the pristine look of a clear bottle or jar was appealing to me. I’d just let the bottle soak in the sink for awhile to get it off. Now that I’m compulsively measuring my waste, however, I decided to let it stay on since that’s one less piece of garbage to put in the trash can.
  7. Other Labels: Unfortunately, most of my research indicated that those sticky labels (like name tags or that are on plastic film) are not recyclable.
  8. Paper towels: I didn’t think that paper towels could be recycled but they CAN be COMPOSTED. This is good news since we have a low maintenance compost pile behind our garage. Just make sure they don’t have chemical residue on them. Mini confession: Before I knew this I had been avoiding using paper towels this Lent and instead used cloth rags to wipe up spills. This isn’t a bad idea because I have plenty of rags and I’d just include them with my regular wash so it didn’t take any extra washing. I did, however, go a little over the top when I saw a bug in the kitchen and wanted to squish it with a smidgen of paper towel but didn’t want to add it to my trash container. I thus carefully picked up the bug and threw it outside. I’m not sure it this is virtue or foolishness.
  9. Dryer sheets and lint: Dryer sheets are not recyclable but dryer lint is compostable. Aren’t you glad you know that?
  10. Is it cheating? I admit that this Lenten “Waste-Less” project of mine is partly a game. It’s like a competition with myself to see how small I can keep the level of my trash each week. Is it cheating to squish the stuff down (like in a compactor) so it looks like less? I did that.

Want more: There are many websites which give more detail about recycling. Earth 911 is a good one. When I wasn’t sure about something I simply googled “Can I recycle ______” and usually came up with quick answers. Again check with your county municipality for local requirements.