What you can do to curb the recycling dilemma 

Part two of a two-part series

Editor’s Note: In last month’s issue, we covered the “Recycling Dilemma” currently facing the United States. Political and industrial forces have put the $200 billion industry in flux. This month we cover the consumer’s part in all of this.

Recycling can divert the amount of paper, plastic and metal from landfills, but when items are contaminated or mixed with non-recyclables, they can taint entire batches of recycling. While this hinders the pursuit of a cleaner planet, it is not the most pressing issue facing the industry today. 

China has accepted 45 percent of global plastic waste since the early 90s. A new policy implemented January 1 actually bans the importation of plastic waste.  

Waste management companies are on a mission to educate the public and put an end to what is being called “wishful recycling,” which is tossing things in the recycle bin that shouldn’t be in there and hoping for the best. 

“The situation with China really illuminated the state of recycling in the U.S. today,” said Republic Services spokesperson Donna Hicks Egan. “This makes it even more important for residents to reduce consumption of materials that cannot be recycled, reuse items as much as possible, and recycle properly to reduce contamination rates.”  

 “People are shocked when they learn how much of what they place in their recycle bin ends up in the garbage,” Egan said. “Currently, over 30 percent of what people try to recycle are items that cannot be recycled or are contaminated because they are wet, dirty or still filled with product of some sort.” 

Some of the craziest items she’s seen come through the recycling stream? Dirty diapers, brand new bicycles and automotive batteries. Egan says a basic rule of thumb when it comes to recycling is, “When in doubt, throw it out.”  

Egan also provided the following tips: 


While hard plastic containers like water bottles, milk jugs and detergent containers can go in your recycling bin, flexible plastics like grocery bags, bubble wrap and Styrofoam require special handling and can’t be recycled curbside. 

If you can force your finger through the plastic, it doesn’t belong in your recycling container. 

Lids and caps are too small to recycle by themselves so leave them on the containers or throw them away. 

Food and condiment bottles are good recycling candidates. Just be sure they’re rinsed and dry before you put them in your recycling container. Make sure to toss lids and caps. 

Clean and dry are the key words when it comes to recycling. Soiled or wet materials should not be placed in the recycle bin. Just one dirty item can contaminate an entire truckload. This includes dirty pizza boxes or other cardboard/paper that has come into contact with food or liquid. Always place recyclables in the container individually. Plastic bags will get caught in machinery, causing delays or damage to recycling equipment.

Paper and Cardboard 

Flattened cardboard, newspaper, magazines, office paper and common mail can be recycled as long as they aren’t contaminated by food, liquid or waste. 

Break down cardboard boxes. It makes them easier to process and leaves more room for other recyclables. 

Paper can’t be recycled if it’s attached to other materials. Remove the bubble wrap or plastic windows before recycling padded packaging or security envelopes from businesses. 

Metal Cans 

Before recycling food and drink cans, remove paper or plastic labels and clean out any residual materials. Some metal cans have an insulated coating that might not be recyclable.  

When in doubt, throw it out. 




Grocery bags and other soft plastics require special handling and do not go in the recycle bin; most grocery stores have a drop off spot for these items. [See “Bench the Bag” story on the next page].


A single greasy pizza box can soil an entire bin of recycling. Throw it out. 


Do not bag recyclables. They will go straight to the landfill. 


These go to the landfill – throw it out.


Cleaned-out food and drink jars and bottles are recyclable. Some of the non-recyclable glass: mirrors, light bulbs, vases, crystal, ceramics, windows.


The City of Phoenix Public Works Department does a “Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Collection” a few times per year. See phoenix.gov/publicworks.

The Salt River Landfill has an E-Waste recycling program. They accept PCs, laptops, hard drives, circuit boards, power cords and most other electronics. There is no charge if a customer brings in only electronics with the exception of televisions and computer monitors, which have a $10 per unit fee. More details: saltriverlandfill.com.


No paper towels, napkins, tissues, batteries, electronics, auto parts, appliances, straws, lids, bottle caps or other small items that slip through the processing belts. If in doubt, throw it out.




plasticfilmrecycling.org (soft plastic recycling)

saltriverlandfill.com (electronics recycling)