Each water bottle you recycle may seem like a drop in the bucket, but don't undervalue your efforts.
America is recycling nearly 33 percent of its waste -- almost twice as much as 15 years ago. But sometimes it can be tough to tell what can go in the bin, what can't and what your recycling center does and does not accept.
To help you navigate the often murky recycling waters, check out Real Simple magazine's A to Z guide to recycling.
These tips were first published in the September and October issues of Real Simple and written by Natalie Ermann Russell.
For more tips like these, a new lifestyle makeover series called "Real Simple, Real Life," hosted by Kit Hoover, premieres on the television channel TLC on Oct. 17, at 8 p.m. ET.
AEROSOL CANS. These can usually be recycled with other cans, as long as you pull off the plastic cap and empty the canister completely.
ANTIPERSPIRANT AND DEODORANT STICKS. Many brands have a dial on the bottom that is made of a plastic polymer different from that used for the container, so your center might not be able to recycle the whole thing (look on the bottom to find out). However, Tom's of Maine makes a deodorant stick composed solely of plastic No. 5.
BACKPACKS. The American Birding Association accepts donated backpacks, which its scientists use while tracking neotropical birds.
BATTERIES. Recycling batteries keeps hazardous metals out of landfills. Many stores, like RadioShack and Office Depot, accept reusable ones, as does the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. Car batteries contain lead and can't go in landfills because toxic metals can leach into groundwater, but almost any retailer selling them will also collect and recycle them.
BEACH BALLS. They may be made of plastic, but there aren't enough beach balls being thrown away to make them a profitable item to recycle. If a beach ball is still usable, donate it to a thrift store or a children's hospital.
BOOKS. "Hard covers are too rigid to recycle, so we ask people to remove them and recycle just the pages," said Sarah Kite, recycling manager of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., in Johnston, R.I. In many areas, paperbacks can be tossed in with other paper.
CARPETING (NYLON FIBER). The Carpet America Recovery Effort estimates that 5 billion pounds of carpeting went to landfills in 2003. Go to www.carpetrecovery.org and click on "What can I do with my old carpet?" to find a carpet-reclamation facility near you, or check with your carpet's manufacturer. Some carpet makers, like Milliken, Shaw (www.shawfloors.com), and Flor (www.flor.com), have recycling programs.
CARS, JET SKIS, BOATS, TRAILERS, RVS AND MOTORCYCLES. If these are unusable -- totaled, rusted -- they still have metal and other components that can be recycled. Call junkyards in your area, or go to www.junkmycar.com, which will pick up and remove cars, trailers, motorcycles and other heavy equipment for free.
CELL PHONES. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, less than 20 percent of cell phones are recycled each year, and most people don't know where to recycle them. The Wireless Foundation refurbishes old phones to give to domestic-violence survivors. For information on other cell-phone charities, log on to www.recyclewirelessphones.com. In some states, like California and New York, retailers must accept and recycle old cell phones at no charge.