Go Recycle | Your Washington Area Resource for Recycling Information

Recycling contaminants can pollute recyclables and damage the clean recycling stream – essentially turning your recycling into trash!

Keeping your recycling bin clear of any contaminants ensures that recycling centers remain operational and are able to produce clean bales of these products. This in turn makes it possible to create high quality, new recycled goods. It is all connected, and it all starts with YOU!

#10 – Chains and Cables
Chains and cables wrap around the rotating gears and sorting equipment at recycling processing facilities, damaging the machinery and even causing recycling facilities to malfunction and shut down until they can be repaired.

Be sure to keep the following list, or anything that can wrap around rotating gears, OUT of your recycling bin.

#9 – Pool Covers and Hoses
These items “look” like they should be recyclable, right? A hose is plastic/rubber, and the pool cover seems to be some kind of plastic itself as well! Shouldn’t you put those in with your other recyclables? In a word: NO.

The pool cover is a large, flexible material that will wrap around the gears in recycling center sorting equipment, causing them to jam. Similarly, hoses act as cables and chains do – wrapping around those gears as well.

#8 – Nuts, Bolts, Hangers (Small Scrap Metal)
Nuts, bolts and wire hangers jam and/or wrap around the sorting equipment used in recycling facilities. The complex sorting machinery has many spinning rotors, of various sizes and a bolt or hanger jamming any of these metal gears can permanently damage the equipment. It can cause the facility to shut down, and in some cases, even cause a fire.

#7 – 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. These items are even more of a concern as a safety hazard for recycling sorters and facility workers, but they are also a damaging contaminant.
If you are unsure if your item is a hazardous material, contact your waste and recycling hauler, or your local landfill. 

#6 – Liquids or Food Waste
Liquids drip and spatter, contaminating the other recyclables in the back of the truck, as well as at the recycling facility. Additionally, there are certain materials (like paper and cardboard) when if wet, are difficult or impossible to recycle. Grease or other organic food waste can actually rot and contaminate an entire bale of paper or cardboard. This is why greasy pizza boxes are not accepted with your recyclables.

To ensure the highest quality recyclable material (and therefore highest quality new, recycled goods) you should always be sure to completely empty and quickly rinse out all containers before recycling.

#5 – Lithium Ion Batteries
Lithium Ion Batteries (also referred to as Li-ion batteries or LIB) are the rechargeable batteries found in your electronics such as cell phones, laptops and tablets. Throwing your lithium ion batteries in the recycling is one of the leading causes of truck fires in the waste collection industry. Be sure to properly recycle your Li-on batteries or used cellphones at drop-off locations or mail back programs.

#4 – Shredded Paper and any item smaller than your fist
Shredded paper and any items like utensils, straws, condiment cups that are smaller than say 2” x 2” cannot be recycled in single-stream Recycling facilities. Why? It’s just simply not cost effective plus recycling center machines do not process items smaller than your fist.

#3 – Wrappers, Flexible Packaging and Polystyrene
Many items made from plastic or partially plastic material are still not recyclable. Items using flexible packaging such as pouches like Capri Sun®, bags of coffee, bags of dried fruit or pretzel are trending but unfortunately this material is not single steam recyclable.

Wrappers and similar materials (i.e., candy wrappers, potato chip bags, etc) as well as polystyrene (Styrofoam®) are also not recyclable and should stay out of your bin. 

#2 – 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.

Syringes and needles should also be disposed of in your trash can but ONLY when contained inside a solid, impenetrable, capped container; such as an empty detergent bottle. Once a container is used to contain needles or syringes, it can no longer be recycled (even if the container is made from plastic) and will instead need to be disposed of as trash.

#1 – Plastic Bags and Films
Plastic bags and anything made from the same 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.

Recycling Processing and sorting facilities are built to process Single Stream material only, NOT bags and films. These bags and plastic films end up getting caught in the rotating sorting equipment and wrap around the rotating gears, causing the entire recycling center to malfunction or shut down until they are removed; and in serious cases can even cause a fire at the facility.

The problems caused by bags extend much further than recycling centers. Improperly disposed of bags and films very often find their way into the waterways. Sea creatures confuse the bags for food. A great example is the sea turtle. Plastic bags floating underwater look like jellyfish; sea turtles eat jellyfish; which means sea turtles are regularly eating plastic bags by mistake.  In fact, a study done by the EPA showed that more that 50% of dead turtles have plastic bags in their stomachs.

Sea turtles are definitely not the only sea creatures eating plastic bags either – it has been estimated that nearly all marine life has directly or inadvertently ingested plastic and a study from Against Waste estimates that plastic marine debris kills over 100,000 turtles and mammals every year.

Always recycle your plastic bags and films at a bag drop-off location. These can be found at any neighborhood grocery store, Walmart or Target. So, reduce, reuse or save your bags and films at home until you can make a trip to drop them off for proper recycling or visit our Facebook Page @americandisposal for a chance to win our reusable #SaveTheSeaLifeBag.

For more information on contaminants, proper recycling techniques and the hazards of improper plastic bag disposal, visit our blog at www.americandisposal.com/blog or follow us on Social Media. We are active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Starting August 1, 2018, you can join our public TBYT- ThinkBeforeYouThrow® discussion group on Facebook.

American Disposal Services Inc. (ADSI), is a family owned and independently operated solid waste and recycling collection company servicing residential, commercial and roll-off customers in Virginia, Maryland, District of Columbia, Georgia and Colorado.

In addition to being the largest privately owned recycling and waste hauler in the greater Washington metropolitan area, ADSI is a trusted industry leader in the promotion of green practices in Northern Virginia and actively educates customers and the community on how to dispose of waste and recyclable materials through their ThinkBeforeYouThrow® education program. For more information visit www.americandisposal.com.

American Disposal Services