Waste Streams: What Can Properly Go Into Recycling, Compost, and Landfill

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3-stream receptacles in a cafeteria

Recyclables, Compostables, and Landfill

Understanding what is able to be recycled, composted, or needs to go into the garbage can be complicated, especially when there are specific criteria for each of them. So to make this topic easier to understand, here is a list of some of the items that can go into each category and why it matters.

Items That Can be Recycled

A product is considered recyclable if it can be sorted, collected, repurposed, and reused to create other products (or another single product). Below is a list of some of the items that can be curbside recycled and the proper ways to dispose of them.

  • Paper: Paper products ranging from magazines, office paper, and newspapers can all be curbside recycled. Just keep in mind that if the paper is soiled or wet it can not be recycled, so best to keep your recycling bin in a place away from moisture and remove any contaminated pieces before tossing it into the bin.
  • Cardboard: Boxes that are made from cardboard, if broken down flat, can be curbside recycled. However, the same rule that paper has applies to cardboard – if the cardboard is wet or soiled, it can no longer be recycled.
  • Glass: Glass needs to be recycled separately from your paper, cardboard, and cans. However, this is only subjected to glass bottles and jars. Other types of glass products are mixed with different materials that are unable to be recycled alongside glass bottles and jars. In addition, the lids need to be removed and containers need to be rinsed out before they can go into your recycling bin. 
  • Food and Beverage Cans: Clean, dry, and empty aluminum, tin, and steel cans can all be recycled. As well, empty aerosol cans also go into your recycling bin as long as the plastic lid is removed beforehand.
  • Plastic bottles and containers: If the containers and bottles are cleaned out and the caps are placed back on the bottles, they can go into the recycling bin. However, keep in mind that the three chasing arrows signs on the containers does not mean it can automatically go into the recycling. To learn more about what each of the recycling codes mean and if they can be recycled, we outline that information here.

Items That Can Not be Recycled

  • Plastic bags: Although plastic bottles and containers can be put in the recycling, plastic bags can not- even if the plastic bag is withholding plastic bottles, cans, or glass bottles. If you are recycling bottles and cans, they need to be loose in the bin.
  • Plastic Wrap: Plastic wrap and films can not go into recycling due to the type of plastics they are made out of.
  • Flexible packaging: Flexible packaging such as chip bags, phone case boxes, and soup pouches can not be recycled. This is because they are made of multiple materials preventing them from being recycled. In this case, they need to be disposed of via the garbage bin.
  • Disposable cups and serveware: Disposable cups and serveware that have wax or plastic coatings are unable to go into recycling. Though they are usually made of paper, the wax coatings prevent them from being recycled. 

Items That Can be Compostable 

The term “Compostable” is defined by “a product that can disintegrate into non-toxic, natural elements. It does so at a rate consistent with similar organic materials”. There are also some products that can be compostable that are not food scraps. Below is a list of some of the food items and non-food items that are able to be compostable and what is not allowed. Accepted Compostable Food Items:

  • All food products that are cooked, scrapped, raw, and even spoiled can be composted. This can range from meats, to dairy products, to baked goods.

Accepted Non-Food Compostable Items:

  • Paper coffee filters and tea bags
  • BPI-certified compostable bags
  • Food soiled napkins and paper towels

Accepted Compostable Yard Waste:

  • Weeds, leaves, vines, grasses, plant clippings
  • Branches that are less than four inches thick and three feet long

Items That Can Not be Composted:

  • Food and beverage to-go containers and utensils
  • Wax paper, facial tissue, and parchment paper
  • Wooden sticks, such as toothpicks and stir sticks
  • Plastic, metal, and glass products
  • Grease and oils
  • Ashes
  • Raw, painted, or treated wood

Unfortunately, These Items Need to Go into the Garbage

Sadly, all that can not be thrown into recycling, compost, or repurposed needs to go into the garbage. However, there are still things that can not go into the curbside garbage and need to be thrown out in a specific way. Below is a list of some of the accepted and unaccepted items that can be tossed into your curbside garbage bin. Accepted loose items to put in your garbage bin:

  • Plastic bags
  • Take out containers and utensils
  • Coffee cups and lids
  • Incandescent light bulbs
  • Used feminine products, diapers, and animal waste
  • Packing peanuts or other styrofoam packaging
  • Ashes
  • Broken ceramics

Unaccepted Items to Put in Your Garbage Bin

  • Paint: Tossing paint improperly into your garbage can be very harmful to the environment due to the toxins and chemicals inside it. If you have unwanted, unused, or leftover paint, do some research around your local area. Some paint suppliers are able to take your unwanted paint and dispose of it properly for you or you can donate unopened or barely used paint.
  • Batteries: Due to the toxins inside the battery, they are unable to be thrown away in your curbside garbage bin. However, many municipal sites are able to take batteries and dispose of them properly if you drop them off.
  • Tires: Though tires can not be put into your curbside recycling bin, they can in fact be recycled. You can do some research to see where your used tires can be properly recycled in your local area. 
  • Electronics: Electronic waste (or e-waste) needs to be disposed of by a certified vendor or municipal site to ensure proper breakdown and disposal. Just remember to remove the batteries beforehand.
  • Fluorescent Light Bulbs: As a result of the harmful vapor and dust inside the light bulbs, they can not go into your curbside garbage bins. To properly dispose of them, you can research to see if your local municipal site is able to take them. Some manufacturers even offer a mail-back program and will dispose of them for you.

Waste Stream Receptacles IllustrationsAn easy way to have better-disposing practices is to have dedicated bins for recycling, garbage, and composting. To browse the different types of receptacles and sustainable can liners we offer, click here for our Can Liners and Receptacles Guide.

Sources: Compost- what Goes in the Bin from Portland.gov