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The Top 5 Things Most People Recycle Wrong

Hanna Greer-Brown Hanna Greer-Brown The Top 5 Things Most People Recycle Wrong
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You’ve been recycling for years and think you have it mastered only to realize that you’ve been doing it wrong. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Nearly half of the people surveyed recently have reported confusion about what items can be put into the recycling bin. 

Many things contribute to this confusion. 

For one, what’s accepted for household recycling in one community may not be the same in the next. And, as consumers, most of us don’t understand why a disposable water bottle can be recycled but a yogurt cup can’t – aren’t they both plastic? 

We’ll help you figure out how to recycle right. 

Let’s first start with these common recycling mistakes. These five items should not be put in with household recycling: 

Plastic bags. These cannot be put in with your household recycling that’s picked up at the curb or in a neighborhood drop-off recycling container. While they’re 100 percent recyclable, plastic bags have to be taken back to a retail location such as a grocery store for recycling. It’s also important to mention that household recyclables should never be bagged; keep ‘em loose. Check out SWACO’s website for a map of more than 100 retailers in central Ohio that accept plastic bags and other film plastics for recycling. 

Clothing. This is a no-go for the recycling container, too. Like plastic bags, when clothing is misplaced in the recycling container, it can tangle in the sorting and processing equipment and create equipment failures which shut down recycling plant operations, leading to down time and increased costs. Reuse and recycle clothing by taking it to a nearby thrift store. 

Plastic food containers including clamshell containers that hold berries, salad and carry-out food are not accepted. This is because the type of plastic resin used to create them requires a specific process for recycling that is different from the process used to recycle the most common plastics, like water bottles. Try using reusable containers instead. 

Disposable coffee cups and lids are not recyclable and should not be put in with household recyclables. They should be placed in the trash. 

Yogurt containers cannot be recycled with household recyclables either. It’s a bummer, we know! They can be rinsed and taken to Whole Foods for recycling as part of the national Gimme 5 plastic recycling program. 

The good news is that in Franklin County, what’s accepted in the household recycling program is pretty consistent from home-to-home which makes it easier and more convenient to remember how to recycle right. 

Recycle these items: 

Plastic Bottles and Jugs

In Franklin County, plastics are accepted for recycling based on their shapes, not the number on the bottle or the container, or whether it has the recycling symbol. Bottle and jug-shaped plastic containers are accepted. A simple way to think about this is that any plastic container with a neck that is smaller than the base of the container is accepted. A water bottle and laundry detergent jug are good examples of accepted plastic containers. You can leave the lids and labels on these containers. 

Paper and Cardboard

Virtually all paper and cardboard can be recycled. That includes your school and office papers, junk mail and envelopes, cardboard toilet paper and paper towel rolls, newspapers and magazines. Remember to flatten out large cardboard boxes to create space for even more recycling in the cart. 

Metal Cans

Steel and aluminum cans are accepted. When it comes to aerosol cans, empty the can completely and remove the spray tip as a safety precaution for recycling workers. 


Cartons like those that soup, broth, milk alternatives and juice come in are recyclable. You’ll want to rinse and remove the lids before placing them in the cart. 

Glass Bottles and Jars 

All colors of glass bottles and jars are accepted. Labels can be left on. 

To understand why some items, like plastic water bottles, are accepted and others, like yogurt cups aren’t, it’s best to learn about where and how recycling decisions are made. 

In Central Ohio, decisions about what’s accepted from homeowners for recycling are made by the Material Recovery Facility or the local recycling center operated by Rumpke

Recycling decisions are typically based on several factors such as weighing the economics surrounding whether it makes financial sense to collect, sort, process, and bale a material and whether the recycling center can secure a buyer to then purchase the processed and baled recyclables. 

When materials are sold, the value of the recyclables can also drive decisions about which sorting equipment is purchased and can translate into what consumers are able to put into the recycling cart. 

Finally, when we put items in our recycling bin that are not accepted, with the hope that they are recycled, we may feel like we’re doing the right thing. This kind of “wish-cycling,” however, can lead to contamination of the recycling stream and may even cause the recycling center to put further restrictions on the materials that they accept. All of this can lead to higher costs for us to recycle the right things.  

It’s incredibly important to avoid common mistakes and make sure you recycle only items that are accepted as part of Franklin County’s household recycling program. 

For more information on how to recycle right and make a difference, visit SWACO’s website at www.recycleright.org.

Recycle Right is brought to you by SWACO, Franklin County’s resource for solid waste diversion and disposal. SWACO seeks to reduce the community’s reliance on the landfill as well as meet state mandated diversion goals by providing waste reduction, reuse and recycling programs and services to residents and businesses in 41 central Ohio communities, totaling more than a million people. Last year, Franklin County reached its highest rate of diversion on record – 49 percent. In addition to diversion programming, SWACO is the only Solid Waste District in Ohio to own and operate a landfill and which provides the organization with a holistic and unique perspective on the local waste stream.

For more information, visit swaco.org.

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