Recycling Contamination

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The goal of recycling is to keep materials out of landfills, using them to create new products instead of adding more trash to the world. One of the biggest barriers to recycling is contamination. Improperly recycled materials can cause a whole batch to be rejected and sent to a landfill.

  • Of all the waste produced in 2017, only 8.4% of it eventually got recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Proper recycling generates over half a million jobs and over 100 billion dollars of economic activity in the U.S.
  • While glass can be reused for an estimated 1 million years, glass cookware — such as Pyrex, ceramics, and ovenware — can’t be recycled.

Here are some simple ways to avoid recycling contamination to make sure more of our waste is recycled properly. 

Plastic Bags

The top recycling contaminators are plastic bags (along with shrink wrap, bubble wrap, and other plastic films). They can’t be recycled with regular rigid plastics, and worst of all, if they get into the recycling machinery, they get snagged, causing the whole system to get clogged up. This can result in massive delays and costly repairs. Please keep plastic bags out of your recycling.

Some grocery stores and home improvement stores will accept plastic bags in specifically marked bins. 

Snagging Hazards

Some things just can’t be recycled, causing a load of recyclables to be rejected, but other materials can actually damage recycling equipment. Many recyclers use giant machines that act like shredders to break down recyclables into smaller pieces for the next step of the process.

Items like hoses, ropes, plastic bags, wires, and chains can get caught in recycling machines, bringing the process to a halt and causing massive damage.

Please keep these items out of your recycling and check with your local waste hauler for guidance.

Food Waste

Many food containers are made of recyclable materials, but once they touch food, there are two paths for them to keep them out of the garbage. Any paper bags or boxes with food waste, oil, grease, or liquid on them can’t be recycled and should be composted if possible. Colored or glossy paper may not be compostable.

Glass and plastic containers can be recycled, as long as you rinse them out. Any food left in the containers can contaminate a whole batch of recyclables, causing them to be sent to a landfill. Give them a quick rinse and remove any plastic labels. Most recycling-conscious manufacturers will perforate the label wrap on a package for easy removal.

Shredded Paper

Uncontaminated paper is recyclable, but once it’s shredded, it gets complicated. Mixing shredded paper with unshredded paper is difficult to separate for proper recycling. What can you do with shredded paper? Make sure it’s free from plastics, metal, and carbon paper. Then it can be composted, or check with your local recycling center. Many cities or counties will host secure document shredding events where they can easily dispose of the shredded paper properly.

Beverage Cartons

Paper beverage cartons are actually made of a paper/plastic hybrid to let them hold liquids. Some recyclers will accept these while others don’t. Check with your local recycling center for more information. If you’re able to recycle these, rinse them out and either keep the tops and lids on the cartons or dispose of them separately (depending on your recycling service).

Hazardous Waste

Anything that is flammable, corrosive, toxic, or reactive can be defined as hazardous waste due to the threat they pose to us and the environment. This includes batteries, light bulbs, electronics, paint, garden chemicals, motor oil, sharps, household chemicals, and others. These items need special disposal to minimize the negative impact they can cause. Some of these containers can be recycled after being properly cleaned.

Biohazardous Waste

Anything with human or animal fluid on it can’t be recycled. This includes needles, bandages, diapers, pet waste, and other sanitary products.


Contact LePage & Sons for trash pickup service – available for both residential and commercial – and more information on how to dispose of your garbage the correct way.