Leave It On or Take It Off: Recycling Questions Answered

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My latest appearance on Good Morning Washington covered this topic. Click above or watch it here

Be sure to see my related post Residential Curbside Recycling: 11 Items to Leave Out along with my appearance on Good Morning Washington.  

Single stream recycling has made it easier for all of us to recycle but it has opened the door to lots of confusion, too. What can be accepted often varies by jurisdiction (see my links below for those in the DMV area), so it is important to check your local jurisdiction’s web site; however, there are still some basic guidelines we all can follow. 

1. Just because it’s plastic doesn’t mean it can be recycled

Here are some things I often see tossed in recycling bins that CAN’T BE RECYCLED and should be placed in the trash:

  • clear plastic filmy food covers
  • plastic used to seal bottles and cans
  • straws (just say NO or use glass or stainless steel straws!) 
  • K-cups for Keurig coffee makers (go low waste and use a coffee press or use Keurig’s recycling  program)
  • clam shell packaging for food, batteries, electronics, toys, and so many other things these days. Sometimes, you need a chain saw to pull the plastic apart! So unless your jurisdiction says that it will accept clamshell packaging, leave it out!

2. You don’t need to rinse out cans or bottles, but do it anyway

The folks at Waste Management told me we don’t need to rinse our cans and bottles, but nonetheless, many jurisdictions ask you to do this. It makes sense. Recycling often sits in our bins for days and days and it can begin to smell or attract bugs and wildlife which can create a big mess. So just rinse it out. Rather than using fresh, clean water, I rinse out my cans and bottles with gray water — the water that is left over after I am done hand washing dishes #WaterConservation

3. Remove labels from cans and jars and recycle them 

Jurisdictions vary — or are silent — about whether you should remove labels from cans and jars, but in my house, we remove the labels so they can be recycled with paper. 

4. Remove lids from bottles

This is a tough one. Here in the DMV, Montgomery County says to remove them while Prince George’s County and Prince William County say to rinse out and place the lid back on the bottle. So you really need to check your jurisdiction’s web site on this one.  (see below if you live in the DMV or do an internet search for recycling in your area). 

5. Food bags made of paper CANNOT be recycled

This rule is pretty simple. While paper CAN be recycled, if paper is soiled with food, it CANNOT be recycled. Also, many food bags have a lining which is also a no-no for recycling, so place soiled food bags in the trash. 

6. Broken  glass SHOULD NOT be placed in recycling

Broken glass (such as a drinking glass or window glass) is different than glass used for bottles and cannot be recycled. Place broken glass in a heavy duty brown paper grocery bag, tape it up, and, with a marker write BROKEN GLASS! Place it as the top item in your garage dumpster so that the nice folks who pick up your trash will see it and won’t get injured. 

7. You DON’T need to remove tape from cardboard boxes

The folks at Waste Management told me you DON’T need to remove tape from cardboard boxes, but if your jurisdiction’s web site states otherwise, follow your local guidelines since they may work with a vendor with different requirements. 

8. Not all foil can be recycled

This comes down to the simple rule of NO FOOD RESIDUE IN RECYCLING! So that foil pan that is coated with mac & cheese schmutz or baked-on barbecue sauce? THROW IT IN THE TRASH! But if you have a piece of foil that you can easily wipe clean, reuse it until you can no longer use it and then toss it in recycling. 

So if you can clean it, recycle it.

If you can’t clean it, trash it. 

How to Check Recycling In Your Area

If you live in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia metro area, see the links below. If not, you can do a search for “recycling” and then enter your area (e.g. Recycling in Springfield, IL), or try Earth911. It’s a great resource! 

 

District of Columbia

Anne Arundel County, Maryland

Howard County, Maryland

Montgomery County, Maryland

Prince George’s County, Maryland

Arlington County, Virginia

Fairfax County, Virginia

Loudon County, Virginia

Prince William County, Virginia 

Still have questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Lori Hill

Lori Hill

Lori Hill founded Sister Eden in order to inspire people to make sustainable choices in their everyday lives. Before that, she produced special events for 16 years and educated her colleagues about how to make their events more sustainable. In addition to being an online media personality and producer of videos, Lori is a speaker, writer, activist, wife, mom, and plant eater just trying to do the right thing and make a difference in the world. You can often find her walking her rescue dog Dolly while picking up trash in her Takoma Park neighborhood where Sister Eden has adopted a spot.
Lori Hill

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