Written by Jennifer S. Li
In the Zero-Waste mantra of “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse/Repair, Recycle,” recycling is in last place because it’s the final resort: most items sent to recycling actually end up in landfills, and plastic can only be recycled so many times before breaking down into harmful microplastics that pollute our oceans and food sources. But we get that it’s hard to be zero-waste in a fast-paced, modern world that touts convenience yet no longer has milkmen or other services of a bygone era. To help, we’ve created this handy recycling guide specific to the city of Los Angeles for those times when life gets in the way of your zero-waste goals.
What Goes in the Blue Bin
Look for the number inside the triangle-shaped recycling emblem on the package: items that have the plastic recycling emblem number 1-7 can be recycled curbside in your blue recycling bin. Thoroughly clean, rinse or wipe down any items that have been in contact with food or other substances to increase chances of getting recycled. Save up plastic bags to stuff into one bundle before throwing them into the bin. Loose, single bags can more easily drift into the air (floating into oceans and or other wildlife areas) during collection and they also jam up the recycling machines.
Some examples of recyclable plastics, from the City of Los Angeles Sanitation:
Soda and juice bottles
Laundry detergent, bleach, and dish soap containers (or save these and bring them into Recontained for a re-up at our refill station)
Shampoo, conditioner, lotion bottles (again, another option is to save these empties and refill them at Recontained)
Tubs for margarine and yogurt (separate paper labels to recycle separately)
Clean food and blister packaging
Clean and rinsed plastic cups and plastic utensils
Rigid clamshell packaging
All clean plastic bags (grocery bags, dry cleaner bags, and film plastics, stuffed into each other to create one bundle)
Non-electric plastic toys and plastic swimming pools
Plastic laundry baskets
Car seats (cloth removed)
Polystyrene and Styrofoam
Clean polystyrene or Styrofoam products can be placed in the blue bin. Styrofoam peanuts can be recycled but only if they are placed in a clear plastic bag that is tied closed.
Styrofoam plates, cups, take out containers, foam egg cartons, block packaging, and other packing materials
Unsoiled, dry paper can be recycled through the blue bin. Shredded paper that has gone through the shredder can only be recycled if placed in a paper bag labeled “Shredded Paper.” Loose shredded paper will not be recycled. Metallic or glittery paper and giftwrap cannot be recycled.
Other examples of allowable paper recyclables include:
Arts and craft paper
All envelopes, including those with windows
All clean cardboard, free of food particles or grease, can be recycled curbside. Pizza boxes typically can’t be recycled since all that greasy, cheesy goodness usually gets all over the box. If by chance you notice the top of your pizza box is completely clean, you can cut off the top to be recycled and throw the soiled bottom portion in the garbage.
Other examples of recyclable cardboard include:
Cereal, pasta, frozen food, snack boxes (with liners and other wrappers separated)
Cardboard egg cartons
Paper towel and toilet paper rolls
Cardboard boxes (broken down and flattened)
Empty milk, juice, broth and other cartons including kids juice boxes can all be recycled in the blue bin. Rinsing is not required, though it does help prevent odor in the blue bins. DO NOT flatten the cartons, as this actually confuses the machines and slows the recycling process.
Fruit juice boxes and cartons
Kids single serving juice boxes
Orange juice cartons
Soy milk, rice milk and almond milk boxes and cartons
Heavy cream cartons
Egg substitute cartons
All aluminum, tin, metal, and bi-metal cans should be place in the blue bins after being rinsed and wiped clean. Aluminum foil can also be recycled if it is clean, however, avoid placing sheets or small pieces of aluminum foil in blue bins since these will likely get stuck in the machinery, slow down the recycling process, and waste precious energy. Instead, collect your clean aluminum foil until you have a larger amount and crumple into a ball that is at least 2 inches in diameter so that the machines will more easily accept the material.
Other examples of metals that can be placed in blue recycling bins:
Pet food cans
Clean aluminum foil (wipe clean, collect the foil and crumple into a ball larger than 2 inches in diameter)
Empty paint and aerosol cans
Wire hangers (though consider taking these back to the dry cleaner; many dry cleaners would love to take back their hangers as it saves them materials and money)
Glass bottles and jars should be rinsed and wiped clean to be recycled curbside.
Spaghetti sauce, pickle, peanut butter and other food jars (better yet, save these jars for use at the bulk store for freshly ground nut butters, grains, nuts, dried fruits or bring them into Recontained for a refill on any of our products!)
If you’re not sure about a particular item, a good rule of thumb when recycling is “When in Doubt, Leave it Out.” One single piece of soiled cardboard or a greasy food container can contaminate an entire batch of recycling, meaning that the whole shebang goes into the landfill where it is left to create toxic, warming gases that contribute to climate change. It turns out recycling is much more complicated than unthinkingly tossing something in the blue bin—if you ask us, we’d prefer to keep it simple with the rest of the R’s: “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse/Repair”…Recontained!