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Because You Asked

How Do I Recycle Oily Bottles?

By Recyclebank |

Plastic or glass containers that have held oil are a slippery recycling subject.

Dear Recyclebank: How can I properly recycle materials that contained oil products (cooking, auto, etc.)? They all seem to have the recycling symbol on them. –Mary Ann B.

Dear Mary Ann: Unfortunately, what we read as a “recycling symbol” (the resin identification code) isn’t necessarily a sign that you’ll be able to recycle the item where you live. It designates what kind of plastic it’s made of, but your local facilities may not have the capacity to handle that type of plastic or the form it’s produced in.

That said, even if you’ve confirmed that a type of plastic is okay to recycle in your area, containers that have held oil can be tricky. Residues can easily contaminate recycling batches; oil in particular can weaken the integrity of recycled paper. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure your containers are as oil-free as possible so they don’t affect other items in your bin. While washing with soap and water will most effectively remove oil, using too much water may cancel out the benefits of recycling. It doesn’t have to be spotlessly clean, so try using a paper towel or spatula to remove whatever oil is left over after use.

Auto oil containers should be handled differently since their contents can be hazardous. Check to see if your area has a household hazardous waste collection program by contacting your recycling center or a local environmental agency; they should be able to properly dispose of auto oil containers. Even better, consider recycling your motor oil and using the old container to transport it to its destination.




How do you keep your recycling bin oil-free? Share your tips in the comments below.

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  • Aromal C. 2 years ago
    Even if i have to use 1 gallon water to clean the peanut butter jar, isn't it still better than leaving the jar to go in the landfill and waiting for 500 years for it to decompose? That 1 gallon water will anyway reach the earth and will become ground water and get naturally recycled, right?
    • David D. 2 years ago
      I'm no expert, but like you said, water ends up reaching the earth in the end. Whether you accidentally leave the sprinklers on too long, or the water goes down the drain, it ends up becoming ground water eventually. Especially now that coastal municipalities can no longer pump their waste water out into the ocean, it has to be filtered, treated and pumped back inland. A recent meeting with our Town and the city that provides our water & sewer services informed us of that at a meeting when some people were complaining about how high our water & sewer bill had become.
    • Cat C. 1 year ago
      I reuse some of my glass jars (like peanut butter and ghee jars) to hold things like dishwasher tabs, etc. Actually, my ghee jars have such a lovely gold lid that I’ve used goo be gone to remove the labels and then used them for Christmas gifts that I’ve made. My process for cleaning them is pretty simple: once they’re mostly empty, I put a drop or two of Dr. Bronners soap (but any dish soap would work), fill the jar with hot water, put the lid on, shake vigorously and then let it sit in the sink. (I have a rack that protects my sink from dishes sitting on it and leaving rings) I leave it sitting under the tap, so that each time I run the hot water to wash my hands or rinse my coffee mug, portafilter for my espresso machine, etc. the hot water also runs over the outside of the jar, which loosens the label so that I can easily peal it off but doesn’t waste extra water. Once that’s done, I open it up and pour out the contents and use the sprayer to rinse out the interior. At that point it’s mostly clean, but if I want to reuse before recycling I add it to my next dishwasher load which ensures that any lingering scent is removed and usually most of what is left of the glue from the label.
  • Anne W. 4 years ago
    I use Dawn dishwashing liquid and hot water. I let it soak for a while and then shake it up. If it still bubbles the bottle is probably clean. If it no longer has bubbles, then the bottle is not clean, and I repeat. When I do get suds I pour them into the container we soak flatware in, so it's not wasted.
  • Mindyl J. 4 years ago
    Love recycling
  • sheila b. 5 years ago
    love recycling
  • ALICIA M. 5 years ago
    I love this site
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