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How To Prevent Contamination 5

With just a few simple adjustments to your recycling routine, you can help fight one of the industry’s biggest challenges.

Updated On 03/03/2016 | Originally Published On 02/23/2015

When you hear a word like contamination, you might think that fighting it requires HAZMAT suits and teams of specialists. Luckily, cutting down (and one day cutting out) recycling contamination doesn’t require all that gear or technical expertise.

Here are some super simple, universal recycling guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Empty, rinse out, and then dry any recyclables that are dirty, soiled, or still contain food or liquids. (Don’t leave globs of peanut butter in the jar!)
  • Only place dry and non-greasy items in the recycling bin. (No pizza boxes!)
  • Stick with the list of accepted recyclables provided by your city or hauler, and contact them with any specific questions not covered on their list of materials. (Recycle right!)

Since recycling guidelines vary from one community to the next, what is accepted in one city may actually be considered contamination in the next. It’s true — something as simple as a non-recyclable material can cause some serious damage. So beyond just, “paper, plastic, glass, and metal”, you might want to ask for some details about what’s accepted. To avoid some common contamination issues, here are a few questions you could ask your hauler:

  • For plastics, what numbers and shapes do you accept? You don’t want to put a #5 plastic yogurt container in a recycling bin if only #1 and #2 plastics are accepted.
  • Can I put plastic bags in my recycling bin? About 99% of the time, the answer will be no. Don’t place loose plastic bags in your bin just because your hauler accepts #2 or #4 plastics for recycling. Instead, take those plastic bags to a drop-off location like a collection bin at the front of a grocery store.
  • Do you accept mixed-material containers for recycling? Certain food packaging — like aseptic soup containers or vacuum-sealed coffee pouches — is made of too many materials to be recycled efficiently in some areas.

Contamination is a simple problem to fix if you contact your hauler to get a list of what’s recyclable and then stick to it. Have a list and still not sure if something’s recyclable? It’s actually better to toss it in the trash can than in the recycling bin! Keep these pointers in mind, and you’ll help make a difference right away.


How do you prevent contamination with your recyclables? Share your best tips in the comments below!

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  • Martha G. 2 days ago
    We found a local lady through Facebook who collects the soft and hard plastic lids that our local south Texas recyclers won't accept and takes them to Mexico where they use them to make posthecics. Seriously. But we are 7 miles from the border. This may not be practical in other parts of the US.
  • Christina M. 9 months ago
    I thought I was doing a *great* job until recently! I rinse/wash, check plastic numbers, use only paper (not plastic) to bag it all... Then I realized how many of my building neighbors are just throwing *everything* in the recycling bin! I’m trying to find a positive, encouraging way to educate my neighbors - and reduce contamination of my entire buildings recycling output. Does anyone have suggestions?
  • Deborah W. 2 years ago
    Yes - I always rinse every plastic - metal container before putting in bin. I always make sure everything is clean. I agree every little bit helps.
  • Dawn Z. 2 years ago
    I recycle as much as possible. Every little bit helps.
  • LaVonne F. 2 years ago
    I have the "Go/No Go" poster by the recycle bin (even made ones for my kid's preschool and work before the waste companies came up with them). We've recycled for decades, in multiple states - so my family is hooked on it and just need reminders of the different rules of different recycle service providers.
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