10 of the WORST Contaminants to keep OUT of your Bin: Part 1
The Dictionary defines Contamination as “the unwanted pollution of something by another substance”.
This definition is perfect when you consider that “recycling contaminants” are items or substances that pollute recyclables, and damage the clean recycling stream. Essentially turning your recycling into trash.
Keeping your recycling bin clear of any contaminants ensures that we keep recycling centers clean, operational and able to produce clean bales. This in turn makes it possible to create high quality, new recycled goods. It is all connected, and it all starts with YOU!
Below is the long awaited part two, of our two part series on The WORST Contaminants to Keep OUT of your bin!
1. Plastic Bags and Films
Plastic bags and anything made from the same plastic material (called a “film”), such as plastic shrink wrap, bubble wrap, Ziploc bags, newspaper bags, trash bags, etc. are the NUMBER ONE contaminant in the Recycling industry.
Bags and films wrap around the large rotating gears in the recycling sorting machinery, causing the entire recycling center to shut down until they are removed!
Plastic bags and all types of films mentioned above can be recycled, but they must be separated from other single stream recyclables. They must go to another type of recycling facility made specifically for recycling plastic bags and films into high quality decking and benches!
Bag drop-off locations can be found at any neighborhood grocery store, Walmart of Target, so save your bags and films at home until you can make a trip to drop them off for proper recycling!
But remember, once they end up at the recycling center they cannot recycled correctly, as listed above. At that point, they are destined for the landfill. So make sure to recycle bags and films ONLY at plastic bag drop off locations!
2. Materials contained INSIDE Plastic Bags
Always try to collect your recyclables loose in the container, or in a paper bag (large, brown paper yard waste bags found at home improvement stores are a good choice).
Workers have to slow the sorting process down by ripping open bags that contain recyclables, empty it out and then add that bag to the other bags that are now destined for the landfill.
*The ONLY exception is shredded paper, which should be put in the recycling bin in clear plastic bags only, this is so the facility workers can identify it quickly. Shredded paper needs to be in a bag since the shreds are too small to be loose and would get lost, or blow away if they are not contained.
3. Hazardous Waste
Automotive fluids, car batteries, paint, pesticides and other hazardous waste must be taken to Household Hazardous Waste Facilities or participating drop off locations, not the Recycling Center.
Make sure to keep these items out of your recycling bin to avoid a dangerous and volatile situation. If you are unsure if your item is a hazardous material, contact your waste and recycling hauler, or your local landfill.
4. Diapers or Other Bio-Hazardous Waste
Diapers (dirty OR clean) are NOT Recyclable. It is impossible to reclaim the paper used to make them.
Additionally, any personal hygiene product soiled in human fluids poses a health risk to our employees.
Currently, there are no technologies available to recycle the paper and plastic used to make disposable diapers, so diapers remain trash and should be disposed of as such.
Syringes and needles should also be disposed of in your trash can, only when contained inside a solid, impenetrable, capped container; such as an empty detergent bottle.
*PLEASE NOTE: Once an container is used to contain needles or syringes, as mentioned above, it can no longer be recycled (even if the container is made from plastic) and will instead need to be disposed of as trash.
5. Wrappers, Flexible Packaging and Polystyrene
Many items made from plastic or partially plastic material are still not recyclable.
New packaging techniques, such as using “flexible packaging” are trending but unfortunately this material is not recyclable. Common examples of flexible packaging include stand up pouches like Capri Sun®, bags of coffee, bags containing dried fruit or nuts; i.e: any bag or container that feels to be a thick plastic film and is flexible in nature.
Wrappers and similar materials are also not recyclable. Examples include: candy wrappers, potato chip bags, etc. Though these materials cannot be recycled in the traditional sense, there is a growing market for “upcycling” these materials, which means re-purposing them into other goods while still in their original form; like purses made from gum or candy wrappers that have been woven together. For more info, check out
Polystyrene (Styrofoam®) also remains unable to be recycled at single stream recycling facilities, and should stay out of your bin.