HomeThe CSWD BlogRecyclingFood and recycling don’t mix

Food and recycling don’t mix

This jar needs a good rinse.

For a product or material to be recyclable, there needs to be someone out in the global commodities market who wants to buy that material and use it to manufacture new product.

Buyers let us know what types of material they want and what condition it has to be in for them to accept it—and none of them want food residue on the  plastic, paper, or metal recyclables they buy.

What you can do

Empty & rinse plastic and metal cans, bottles, and tubs clean before putting them in your recycling bin. For sticky stuff like peanut butter, try letting them soak for a few minutes with hot water to loosen up the remains before a good rinse.

Keep paper or cardboard clean & dry. Any paper contaminated with food residue or grease stains is a big recycling no-no.

Why it matters

We use the money we make from selling recyclables to fund recycling programs.

Black and brown dog licking an almost empty peanut butter jar
Photo by fsamuels

If we are paid less for our loads because of too much contamination, or if we have to pay to send food-contaminated recyclables to the landfill rather than to market, that’s less funding for programs that serve you.

Plus, food contamination makes the job and working environment much harder for the 20+ workers who sort your cans, bottles, jugs, and paper at our recycling facility.

Easy-rinse tip: If you have a hard-to-rinse jar of peanut butter, mayo, etc., and you don’t have a professional like Phoebe the dog around to take care of it, just fill the jar with rinse water from your dishes, let it sit in the sink for a few minutes, and you’ll find it much easier to swish out that remaining food, or tuck that jar into your dishwasher if you have room.


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Clare has lived in Tennessee, New Mexico, California, Virginia, Connecticut, Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and, for the past 10 years, Vermont. She can be found peering into recycling bins everywhere to see what works and is frequently quizzed about recycling and composting in random places when people find out where she works. She spends as much time as possible playing ukulele and roaming through Vermont’s spectacular mountains and forests.