Many of us toss things into our curbside recycling containers, even though we’re not sure which items can be recycled and which ones can’t.  (Or, conversely, we may just throw stuff into the trash because we’re not sure if it’s recyclable.)  No one’s policing your recycling habits, but if you try to put only those things into the recycling barrel that will be accepted by the recovery facility, it reduces the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill.  It also cuts the cost of recycling and makes it more efficient.  Products manufactured from recycled materials are less expensive.  And recycling helps the environment by conserving natural resources.

How do we decide what to recycle?  Here are some quick guidelines, to minimize the guesswork:

What not to put in your recycling barrel or bin:

  • Plastic grocery bags (or any plastic “film”-like material, such as bread-bags or plastic lining from the dry cleaner) – these can be taken to grocery stores to be recycled.
  • Any kind of food or liquid – these can contaminate a whole load of recycling by damaging fibers in paper and cardboard.
  • Styrofoam products (cups, takeout containers, Styrofoam packing material)

Here’s the stuff that you can be sure will be recycled (metal, plastic, paper, cardboard, glass):


  • Aluminum beverage cans
  • Aluminum foil and bakeware (wipe – or rinse – off excess food residue)
  • Steel and tin (food) cans


Most plastic containers can be recycled nowadays:

  • Bottles, jars, jugs, and a variety of other food containers.
  • Other household-product containers (such as liquid spray bottles).

Make sure containers are clean and empty (rinse off with water).

Even plastic toys, coolers, large water jugs, buckets/pails, and plastic chairs are acceptable, (but no garden hoses, please.)


Most paper can go into the recycling container:

  • Junk mail (window envelopes are okay), magazines, newspapers, brochures.
  • Phone books, catalogs, and other printed material.
  • Office paper (printer/copy paper, writing paper), notebooks, file folders.

Note:  Shredded paper should be contained within a clear plastic bag, so workers can see what’s inside.  (This is the only case where plastic bags can go into recycling containers.)

  • Brown paper bags.

Paper that has been in contact with food or liquids (used napkins, paper towels, tissues, fast food wrapping) should not go into the recycling container.


  • Packing boxes: remove all plastic lining and packing material (such as plastic bubble-wrap or Styrofoam molds and “peanuts”).

It helps to flatten the boxes, too.

  • Pizza boxes (with minimal food residue).
  • Paperboard, poster board, molded fiberboard (e.g., egg cartons, but not Styrofoam).
  • Milk cartons and drink boxes.
  • Cardboard cans and boxes with plastic lining, like the ones used for potato chips, frozen juice, household cleansers, and dry dishwashing detergent.

Again, should be empty – and rinsed clean, if needed.


  • Food and beverage bottles and jars, (clear, brown and green).

Glass containers should be clean and dry.

No broken glass or glass shards; no Pyrex or ceramics; no light bulbs.

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