I understand that recyclables need to be clean and dry, but when it rains everything gets wet. Are all these wet things still recyclable? We aren't supposed to put them in plastic bags, so there's no way to keep them dry.
-Latoya R., Philadelphia, PA
A bit of rain on plastic or metal recyclables will not make them unrecyclable, but moisture poses a problem for paper and cardboard. It’s important to make sure paper and cardboard are as dry as possible to protect their recyclability. But, as you noted, plastic bags aren’t an option for keeping it dry. Fortunately, we can think of a couple of other options.
The best way to protect paper recycling from the elements is to use a recycling bin with a lid, if they’re available. A few cities (like Philadelphia) do allow you to use any rigid household container to put out recyclables as long as it is clearly marked “RECYCLING” (and in Philadelphia, it must be under 32 gallons). You could use a lidded storage bin or lidded 10-gallon bucket as a protected curbside recycling bin. For those outside Philly: Always check with your waste hauler first to see if using alternative bins is allowed.
If none of these bin options are available, try to be mindful of the weather and be strategic on rainy pickup days. This might mean putting your recycling out closer to pickup time — in the morning instead of the night before, for example. Some light rain or dew the morning of pickup might just moisten the top layer, which some haulers can separate from the dry majority of your bundle. Even better, if it’s possible, hold on to your recyclables and wait until the next pickup day to put them out for collection.
Despite best intentions, sometimes the recycling will end up getting rained on. Paper recycling processors know this, and they expect some moisture to get in even as they work to minimize it. Just do your best to keep your recyclables protected, but don’t despair if they get wet. In Philadelphia, which is considering using lidded recycling bins in some areas, wet recyclables will still get recycled. “We recognize that only the most dedicated recyclers are willing to hold their recyclables until the next sunny day,” says Phil Bresee, Recycling Director of Philadelphia. “And many residents may not have the space to hold recyclables until then. So, it is okay to place recyclables out in the rain, even without a lid.”