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Keeping Recycling Clean and Unbagged

kids RecycleHistorically, when we throw recyclables away, that “away” has been China for the most part - 66%, to be exact. That is the percentage of recyclables shipped to China from California prior to last summer when China issued an import ban on many recyclables in an effort to protect the health of its citizens and transition away from being the dumping ground for much of the world’s discards. China now only accepts a very limited amount of clean and uncontaminated material. With a lack of domestic recycling markets in the US and a lack of infrastructure to process these materials, recyclers have either been stockpiling materials waiting for commodity markets to improve or sending these materials to a landfill to be buried. In the case of plastics, these can stay in the ground for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Landfilling is not a sustainable solution.

As the recycling industry adapts to these changes, it is increasingly important for everyone to be knowledgeable about proper recycling practices and reduce contamination, which may render materials unmarketable. If more that 3% of a load shipped overseas for recycling is found to be trash, the entire load is shipped all the way back across the Pacific. The cost to do that is borne by the haulers (and ultimately you).

How can you help?

#1. Keep plastic bags (and plastic wrap/film) out of your recycling bin.

Plastic bags wrap around recycling equipment during the sorting process, causing equipment to jam and sometimes break altogether. Also bottles and cans can get lodged in plastic bags and will end up being landfilled instead.

#2. Rinse any food-contaminated containers.

Empty any fluids or contents from bottles and containers and rinse before placing in recycling bin.

#3. Keep non-recyclables out of your recycling bin.

Just include paper, cardboard, cartons, hard plastics (if in doubt, look for the recycling symbol #1 – 7), metal, glass (bottles and containers only).

  • No plastic bags, film plastic, cling wrap, bubble wrap, or shipping wrap
  • No Styrofoam (polystyrene)
  • No food waste or food soiled wrappers, containers, or napkins in recycling bin
  • No hazardous waste such as paint, automotive fluids, batteries, poisons, chemicals (for proper hazardous waste disposal click here)
  • No electronic waste or “e-waste” (computers, TVs, cell phones, gaming consoles, etc.)
  • No yard, landscape or construction or demolition waste


    Remember – although machinery is used to help with sorting in recycling facilities, much of the work is still done manually. So, do those folks a favor and keep your family’s medical waste, needles, poisons and diapers out. They can be dangerous, and we know you don’t want to put the workers’ health at risk.

  • No medical waste, sharps/needles, or medications/pharmaceuticals
  • No human or pet waste, diapers, or personal hygiene products

For additional recycling guidance please visit and check out our new online recycling tool, RecycleTO (also available in mobile app).

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