The most crucial waste recycling etiquette rules to dispose of garbage and trash. The practices to limit and appropriately manage our waste.

Garbage is “wet” waste from the kitchen or bathroom. Trash is “dry” waste, such as plastic, paper, clothes, or furniture. Sometimes, trash can be considered garbage if it contains organic traces, such as food leftovers or toilet paper.

What waste recycling etiquette is

Sustainability has a crucial role in our modern social etiquette. On many occasions, behaviors that can harm the environment are no longer accepted.

Waste recycling etiquette is the set of rules to limit and appropriately manage the garbage and trash that we produce. Such rules help us avoid behaviors that may lead to a negative environmental impact. They include:

  • How to limit our production of waste.
  • The appropriate behaviors at home and in other venues.
  • The behaviors to avoid.

Everyone should follow waste recycling etiquette to produce less garbage and trash, limit negative environmental impact, and avoid behaviors that may be anti-hygienic or upset others.

waste disposal and recycling rules to limit footprint

Waste recycling etiquette rules

1) Limit garbage and trash to a minimum

Waste has a high environmental footprint. First, waste disposal and recycling require significant resources. Second, some materials are not easily recyclable and thus risk polluting and harming the environment.

Adopt sustainable food practices to limit your food waste. Limit the use of paper or cardboard. For example, use only one paper towel at a time, or bundle together your online purchases so that they can be shipped in a single box.

2) Avoid waste by reusing items whenever possible

Whenever possible, try to limit the amount of trash that you produce. Many non-food materials can be reused, such as glass jars or bottles, plastic bags or film, aluminum foil, or cardboard boxes.

Similarly, many old items can still be reused differently. For example, worn-out clothes can be kept and used for activities such as physical exercise or gardening.

3) Resell items instead of throwing them away

Instead of throwing away your used items, try to resell them instead. Nowadays, there are many popular online marketplaces to resell second-hand or “pre-loved” items. It is easy to sell almost anything, such as clothes, kitchenware, appliances, and even furniture.

4) Limit the use of plastic

Plastic is one of the most resource-intensive materials to produce and recycle. A plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to decompose in a landfill. Thus, plastic is one of the worst polluters and we should avoid using it whenever possible.

With a few simple gestures, we can significantly limit our personal use of plastic. Try to adopt multi-use grocery bags instead of disposable paper or plastic bags. If possible, buy products that come in recyclable packaging. Instead of buying plastic water bottles, consider using a refillable canteen. Avoid disposable plastic kitchenware, such as dishes, cups, or cutlery.

5) Recycle garbage and trash according to local rules

Follow your municipality’s rules to dispose of and recycle waste. Usually, such rules are available on your town’s website. In the absence of clear waste disposal and recycling rules, follow the general recycling principles.

How to dispose of “wet” waste or garbage

Dispose of food leftovers and organic waste in the same bin. Unless otherwise specified, wet waste includes used diapers and vegetal waste, such as plants or leaves. Cardboard or paper items with significant organic traces, such as toilet paper or paper napkins, should be disposed of as wet waste.

How to recycle glass

Dispose of glass items separately. Such as used bottles, broken glasses, or jars. Do not mix glass items with any other material. Ideally, before disposing of glass containers, wash them to remove organic traces.

How to recycle paper and cardboard

Dispose of paper and cardboard items together. Such as paper towels, notebooks, newspapers, magazines, napkins, or cardboard boxes. Unless otherwise specified, do not dispose of paper and cardboard items mixed with other materials.

How to recycle plastic

Dispose of plastic separately. Ideally, before disposing of plastic containers, wash them to remove organic traces. Unless otherwise specified, do not dispose of plastic items mixed with any other material. However, some towns may collect plastic and packaging materials together.

How to recycle batteries and electronics

Batteries and electronic appliances, such as mobile phones or laptops, contain hazardous materials (also known as HazMat) that can be particularly harmful to the environment. Thus, before disposing of batteries or electronics, check the manufacturer’s recommendations. Some manufacturers or retailers may even reward you for disposing of old electronics appropriately with them.

How to dispose of bulky items

Most municipalities are unable to manage bulky items within the normal waste supply chain. In other words, the regular garbage truck is not equipped to pick up furniture, mattresses, or a large appliance such as a fridge. To dispose of bulky items, it is usually best to call your local provider to arrange a pick-up.

6) Dispose of garbage and trash frequently

Dispose of garbage and trash as frequently as possible. Avoid keeping trash in your home for a long time, as it may pose serious hygiene and health risks. Wet and organic waste can foster the growth of bacteria and can attract insects and pests. Thus, it is best to never keep organic and wet waste in our house for over a week.

Apply the appropriate waste recycling etiquette to each place

The general waste recycling etiquette principles apply to any situation. However, some occasions or venues call for additional rules or extra care.

Waste recycling etiquette with your guests

When you have guests for lunch or dinner, make sure to throw away any waste a few hours before your guests’ arrival.

If one of your guests needs to dispose of any item, it is most appropriate to pick it up and dispose of it yourself. Alternatively, point your guest to the appropriate bin.

Waste recycling etiquette at someone else’s house

When you are at someone else’s house, respect the same rules that you follow at home. Do not change or relax your good habits. If you have to throw something away, ask your host where and how you should dispose of it.

Waste recycling etiquette at work or in the office

Respect your workplace’s waste disposal and recycling rules when applicable. Otherwise, follow the general waste disposal and recycling principles. In particular, respect waste disposal rules in the workplace bathroom and shared kitchen, where it is likely to encounter both wet and dry waste.

Waste recycling etiquette in hotels, bed & breakfasts, and hostels

Some hotels, bed & breakfast, or hostels ask guests to follow specific recycling guidelines. If this is not an inconvenience to you, it is the best etiquette to comply with such recommendations.

Waste recycling etiquette in public venues

Never litter. In any public venue, such as public transportation or a park, always keep any waste with you, until you reach a place where you can appropriately dispose of it.

waste disposal and recycling worst mistakes

Waste recycling etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst waste recycling etiquette mistakes. 

  • 10/10. Not limiting waste.
  • 10/10. Littering.
  • 10/10. Not respecting the local waste disposal and recycling rules.
  • 8/10. Keeping organic waste in your house for longer than a week.


  • MIT Office of Sustainability: