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Become a Recycling Ninja

Recycling can be confusing. Did you know that even though something has the "recycle" symbol, it might not be recyclable in your area? Or that you should rinse bottles and containers before you recycle them to make sure they get a second life?

We're here to help. The first step to perfecting your recycling routine is understanding what's what. Different plastic items are made of different kinds of plastic; some kinds can go in your kitchen's recycling bin, others can be dropped off at a nearby store, while some are pretty tough to recycle period.

So how do you crack the code? Look at the number inside the recycling symbol on the label or container. It may be small, but it means a lot—it tells you what kind of plastic you’re holding, which tells you what you need to do to keep it out of our ocean without sending it to a landfill.

Download and print our new pocket recycling decoder, and you'll have your recycling ninja black belt in no time. We demystify the numbers for you, so you can stop scratching your head and start making a difference.

Of course, recycling systems are different around the country, so you may need to dig deeper for items we didn't cover—Earth911 has a comprehensive guide to recycling in your area—but we hope this can get you started on the road to recycling enlightenment.

Note: Recycling systems vary by location. This guide is based on the research and best practices compiled by conservation biologist and ocean trash specialist Nicholas Mallos. For specific recommendations, consult your local curbside program guidelines.


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The NOAA Marine Debris Program serves as a centralized marine debris capability within NOAA in order to coordinate, strengthen, and increase the visibility of marine debris issues and efforts within the agency, its partners, and the public.