Last month we highlighted how to recycle the “right” way. Hopefully we busted some recycling myths by arming you with a simple, yet powerful, tool: our Big Rocks Organizing Recycling Guide. This month, we’re building on the recycling theme. We’re sharing how to set up a home recycling station in five easy steps. Ready? Let’s get started!

 Is your pantry or garage overflowing with recyclables? Perhaps you’re waiting for the next PlanetCon, Fix-It, or Repair Fair. Meanwhile, you’ve got random bags of corks, plastic lids, straws, and other recyclable items stuffed helter-skelter into your space. It’s hard to add new items because there’s no clear system. Or maybe you’ve got duplicates because other family members don’t understand the (lack of a) system.

Recycling station underneath kitchen sink

Step 1: Decide What You Want to Recycle

To start, be realistic. Concerned about the environment, many of us want to recycle everything that we possibly can. However, this may not be possible. You may lack time, financial resources, or the ability to transport items. This makes it hard to recycle beyond what goes in the curbside bin. You may also have good intentions about mailing items to specialty recycling centers, but need to consider the carbon footprint of doing so.

If it falls within your budget, consider using a specialty recycling service that will pick up directly from your home, such as James Recycling or Ridwell. This makes recycling easier. I recycle bread tags; contact lens cases; plastic screw-top lids; CD jewel cases; PakTech can carriers; styrofoam meat trays; #2, #4, #5, and #6 plastics; plastic straws and utensils; curbside items; glass; plastic bags and film; batteries; light bulbs; threads (clothing and other textiles); electronics; wine corks; hazardous items (for Metro); and redeemable cans and bottles.

Recyclable items may differ depending on your location. Availability of services, your time, energy, budget, etc. also factor in. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t recycle every item! Give yourself kudos for what you do recycle. Also, think about ways you can purchase products that have less packaging or are made from recycled materials.

Step 2: Choose a Location

How do you decide where to set up? Pick a spot that’s accessible to all household members, but out of sight for guests. Try a pantry, mud room, or garage, for instance. Not enough room to house your station in one location? Split it between two places based on how frequently you recycle those items. For example, my home recycling station is primarily located in my pantry. However, I keep boxes in my garage for hazardous waste and electronics (sometimes bulky).

Step 3: Set Up a Temporary System

Here at Big Rocks, we encourage you to “shop” your own home. Make a temporary system, and test it for 3-4 weeks before investing in any organizing products. Many folks want to immediately buy pretty storage solutions. But, until you know what you need, and whether the system works, you’re just adding more clutter.

I begin my system with Amazon and Chewy boxes and grocery bags. Use simple labels, such as sticky notes reinforced by clear packing tape. It might not be beautiful at first. Focus on the function, and the beauty can come once the system is finalized. Your system can be super simple, too. In fact, I recommend it. For example, I have separate bins for glass, redeemable cans and bottles, and for #5 plastics (I have a lot of those). In addition, I place items directly into cloth bags inside their Ridwell box, such as plastic film, old batteries, light bulbs, etc. For items I have fewer of, I stand bags upright in bins. This works well for bread tags, contact lens cases, etc.

Teach the system to everyone in your household once the temporary station is made. Get them on board with test driving it. Make it fun and easily accessible. For kids who can’t read yet, consider labeling bins with pictures rather than text.

Over the next month or so, as you and your family test drive the process, tweak as needed. You want your system to be as simple and easy to use as possible. Reward kids and partners for using the new system.

Step 4: (Optional) Set Up a Permanent System

Here’s when you get permission to make it beautiful if desired. Discuss a budget and aesthetic with your partner or family, then stick to it. Break out the label maker and make fancy labels if you want! If you’re more into function than aesthetics, there’s no pressure to upgrade your bins. Keep on rocking those Amazon and Chewy boxes!

Step 5: Use and Maintain the System

Schedule recycling events on your calendar so your home station doesn’t begin to overflow. Add calendar reminders if you need to take plastic bags to the grocery store, for example. Put things on autopilot and make it easier for yourself.

If you originally decided to recycle something, and something’s changed in your community or your life, allow yourself to let it go. Review your system occasionally and edit it when necessary.

Share and Contact Us for Help!

We hope this was helpful to you. Please send us photos of your home recycling station—we’d love to see it! Email it to or share it in our private Facebook group, Rightsizing from the Inside Out.

And if you feel stuck, are lacking time, or simply want an organizing boost, please reach out to the Big Rocks Organizing team to help simplify and streamline your life. We’d be honored to help.

Happy (almost) summer!