best recycling apps

Can this be recycled is probably one of the most common questions among sustainability enthusiasts. With a lack of universal rules, products with various components, a somewhat confusing numbering system, and a range of hard to recycle items, even the most environmentally savvy person can use a hand when it comes to recycling. 

That’s where the best recycling apps come in. 

Our Recycling Game Can Use a Boost

The United States may be known for a lot of things—and unfortunately high waste production and low recycling rates are some of them. According to a 2019 article from The Guardian, the United States contains just 4% of the global population, but produces 12% of our planet’s total waste. 

We are the only developed country that has a high level of waste generation that dwarfs our ability to recycle. 

While they’ve slightly improved in recent years, our recycling rates aren’t really anything to brag about, either. According to the EPA’s last assessment (2018), our recycling rate (including composting) is hovering around 32.1%. 

This means that a lot of valuable resources are ending up in incinerators or landfills, contributing to a slew of problems there, too. 

When it comes to the recycling itself, many of us have turned to “wish-cycling,” or tossing in plastic bags, light bulbs, and old candle jars into our recycling bins in the hopes that they’ll be properly recycled. 

59% of Americans believe that “most types of items” can be recycled. According to the EPA themselves, 75% of our total waste stream is recyclable. 

Unfortunately, this high level of recyclability is in theory. Many municipalities simply don’t have the machinery, labor, or incentive to turn that plastic egg carton into materials that can become a new product. 

And when unacceptable items are sent to the recycling center, they require additional fossil fuels to be transported a second time to the landfill. 

Our planet needs us to recycle, and needs us to do it correctly. Just as they help us in nearly every other area of life, apps can also step in to support us with our recycling efforts. 

5 of the Best Recycling Apps

1. iRecycle

irecycle app

Launched by the environmental organization Earth911, iRecycle is one of the best apps to find local and convenient recycling opportunities. The app shares more than 1,600,000 ways to recycle an astonishing 350 different materials in the United States. 

How does it work? Simply choose a material, search for local options, and contact the recycling facilities. The app even allows you to map a route to the recycling location!

The app is available for download on both the App Store and Google Play. 

2. RecycleNation

recycle nation app

RecycleNation, from Electronic Recyclers International, Inc. is an innovative mobile app that aims to increase the rates of responsible recycling in the United States. Using your location, it will provide you with a list of recycling locations, what can be mailed in for recycling, and helpful tips to share with your friends and family. 

You can even view and track your environmental impact! 

RecycleNation is currently known as the world’s largest single recycling database. They make it easy to search for recycling facilities through their use of 13 material categories, which include more than 2,500 items. 

3. Recycle Coach

recycle coach app

Recycle Coach says it best, “for decades, we’ve been taught that it’s better to recycle everything. But everything we can recycle does not mean everything can be recycled.”

The app helps us unlearn poor recycling habits that are resulting in recycling contamination. While using the app, we can help improve our local recycling programs, share relevant information with friends and family, and do better for the planet.

They use trusted sources to answer questions like, are coffee cups recyclable here? 

You’ll receive a snapshot of trash and recycling days, information about special collections, and some solutions for hard-to-recycle items. You can even sign up to get trash and recycling reminders sent directly to your phone!

The app also helps you determine what goes where and provides suggestions for sorting your waste, just use their search function and wish your “wish-cycling” habits a goodbye!  

4. Recyclebank®

recyclebank app

Want more than just giving yourself a pat on the back when you properly recycle something? That’s what the Recyclebank app is for. Every time you properly recycle, you can get some seriously sweet rewards. 

Just like a frequent flyer program, the more you recycle, the more you earn. You get points for both learning and properly recycling, and these points can be turned into great deals at local businesses or discounts for sustainable products. 

Here’s how it works. You use the app to select a green action that you’ve accomplished and want to be rewarded for. Recyclebank-partnering locations and municipalities can confirm whether you’ve accomplished it, and then you’ll receive your Recyclebank points. They can be used for rewards at local and national retailers like Kashi, Dunkin Donuts, and more. 

Alternatively, you can donate your points to support environmental education in schools. 

5. Grow Recycling

grow recycling app

Deviating slightly from the rest of the apps in this list, Grow Recycling is a game for kids. Adopted by many schools and preschools around the United States and Europe, Grow Recycling is commonly used in sustainability education.

The premise of the game involves choosing between different groovy recycling bins to feed them what they like to eat. Your kids will be able to pull levers, spin cog wheels, and click buttons to determine where a jar of jam, a can of fruit, or a bottle of juice will go. 

All in all, your kids will learn how to properly dispose of more than 100 different pieces of garbage and recyclable materials. 

It’s never too early to teach kids how to properly recycle, especially through a fun and exciting app. The app is available in the Apple App Store and is designed for iPad. 

How to Be a Better Recycler

When you don’t want to run to grab your smartphone or iPad, you can consider the following tips or how to become a better recycler:

  • Understand your local recycling system.  Beyond knowing when recycling day is, it’s important that you find out where your local recycling facility is, as well as what they do and do not accept. Many municipalities have clear information presented online, but you can also contact them directly to ask specific questions.
  • Then, follow the rules! Even if you think that a yogurt container can and should be recycled, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be. Try to avoid falling in the trap of wish-cycling, and only recycle what you know can be properly recycled. Once you realize all of the items that cannot be recycled in your area, it’ll likely encourage you to make sustainable swaps and reduce what you buy, anyway. 
  • Rinse your recyclables. Caked-on food and dried on materials are a few of the top reasons why certain items aren’t accepted to be recycled. Whether your specific municipality encourages you to do so or not, it’s a good idea to give any recyclables a quick rinse before throwing them in the bin. 
  • Go beyond the curb. Curbside recycling is undoubtedly the most convenient way to recycle, but it’s important to check to see if there are other opportunities in your area. Drop off locations and participating stores may accept hard-to-recycle items that aren’t accepted through curbside recycling. 
  • Stay updated. The way we recycle products is changing all the time, so stay tuned to your local council to check and see if any improvements are made and new items are accepted. 

Final Thoughts on the Best Recycling Apps

In recent years, we’ve begun to turn to apps for many of our day-to-day activities—and recycling is no exception. Whether you’re a pro recycler, or have recently gotten recycling in your area, there’s something to be learned from these apps. 

And because recycling is an area that we can all make improvements in, we’d love to know of  any additional tips you have about how to properly recycle the products that end up in your home. Alternatively, if there are any other recycling apps that we missed on this list, please feel free to mention them in the comments!


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