Close Panel

News Item DetailsCity Trash & Recycling

How Clean Do My Recyclables Need to Be?

Answer to an Age-Old Question

Here is a summary: dirty recyclables are not likely to be recycled; paper and cardboard get contaminated in the blue bin when liquids hit them; the landfill is filling up; all recyclables should be clean and dry.


Recyclables are sold on the market, and the cleaner, more separated the materials, the better.

  1. More recycling is our goal: We want all of the recyclables that are collected to be purchased by buyers who will recycle them. This can only happen if we have clean recyclables.
  2. Empty out liquids:  Empty plastic and glass containers are important because we don't want to mess up other things like newspaper. Once newspaper or cardboard gets wet it will not be recyclable. For plastic beverage bottles with plastic caps, we recommend emptying them and then putting the cap back on to seal in any remaining drops. For items that have different material types, like a glass jar and metal lid, we recommend putting them in the blue bin separately after they have been cleaned.
  3. Acceptable dirtiness can vary depending on the material type, but in a comingled bin (paper, plastic, glass, etc. all together) cross-contamination can ruin materials: Unfortunately there isn't a market for partially contaminated food plastics and when these are placed in the blue bin they can contaminate other high-value items like paper. When paper gets wet or dirty it will mold and be sent to the landfill.

Punchline: the container should be as clean as you can make it in a few seconds.  For a salsa jar that means empty, slight rinse, and tap to get all the water out. A plastic peanut butter jar, however, would take a lot of scrubbing to get clean and there's no market for these types of food contaminated plastics, so we recommend these and other food plastics go in the trash.

Please review the Recycling Guidelines Page.

 Empty Yogurt Container

Last Updated: Dec 6, 2016
Top of Page