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Trash vs. Recycling: When to Do Each

Trash vs. Recycling: When to Do Each

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We’d all like to think we’re experts when it comes to trash vs. recycling and knowing what belongs where. Unfortunately, studies show that contamination rates in curbside recycling are still high. That means that most of us have room to improve in our knowledge of trash and recycling.

Don’t worry — we’re here to help! Use this guide to refresh your memory on the basics of what’s recyclable and what’s trash. 

NOTE: Recycling programs vary from one place to the next. Always check with your local recycling pickup program and/or recycling centers to determine exactly what they can and can’t accept. 

Broken Glass

  • Answer: Trash, but keep it protected
For safety reasons, most recycling companies don’t accept broken glass. It belongs in the trash, but place it inside a cardboard box or another semi-rigid container first, and use a heavy-duty bag to protect the sanitation workers collecting your trash.

Clothes and Shoes

  • Answer: Trash, but preferably donation
Recyclers can’t reclaim cloth materials, so anything that’s no longer wearable should go in the trash. On the other hand, if it’s still in reasonably good shape, reselling or donating your old clothes so someone else can wear them is a great idea!


  • Answer: Electronics recycling drop-off
Items like old cell phones and computers don’t belong in the trash OR curbside recycling! Instead, you can take them to a special electronics recycling drop-off, usually found at office supply or electronics stores. 

Food Scraps

  • Answer: Trash if necessary, but preferably compost
Veggie and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells and many other types of food trash aren’t recyclable, but they’re very compostable. (Meat and dairy trash should still go in the garbage.) If you’re not in a position to compost, the trash is fine, but give some serious thought to starting to compost — it’s easier than you might imagine! Residents of areas with municipal compost programs should note whether they need compostable trash bags for curbside pickup. 

Food Wrappers

  • Answer: Trash
Multi-layered food wrappers like chip bags are mostly not recyclable. They’re made of many different materials, which makes them harder to recycle, and they often contain various kinds of non-recyclable plastics. That’s why many people try to purchase food in reusable containers instead when possible.Keep Your Garbage Bag from Slipping with Rubber Bandsthrowing banana peel into trash

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Glass Bottles and Jars

  • Answer: Recycling
It’s hard to get more recyclable than glass bottles and jars! Recyclers love these types of glass because they can be recycled an infinite number of times, so long as they’re properly cleaned and dried first. Note that these are the only types of glass that you should recycle. Other types like window glass and drinkware are made from different types that can’t be recycled together.

Hard Plastic Containers

  • Answer: Recycling
Food and beverage containers made of hard plastics (#1, #2 or sometimes #5 and #7) should be recycled. Much like with glass and metal containers, “empty, clean and dry” is the golden rule for hard plastic containers. Feel free to leave the label on, however!

Metal Cans

  • Answer: Recycling
Metal cans are another material that’s easy to recycle efficiently, so make sure you’re recycling as many of them as you can! Remember to completely remove the metal top from any cans opened with a can opener and to take aerosol cans’ plastic lid pieces off if they have them. 

Paper and Cardboard

  • Answer: Recycling
Most types of paper and cardboard are easy to recycle, so you can feel great about tossing them in the recycling bin! However, anything with food or liquid residue on it (such as pizza boxes or used tissues) should go in the trash. Shredded paper is a special case — recyclers don’t always accept it, so check with your local recycling program first. If you place shredded documents in the trash, consider using black garbage bags to avoid making them a target for identity thieves. 

Plastic Bags

  • Answer: Trash, or recycling if it’s available
Plastic bags, as well as most other thin plastic films, aren’t recyclable in your curbside bin. (That’s why recycling bags are intended for lining recycling bins or storing recyclables, rather than for final disposal.) However, there’s a good chance you have a plastic film recycling drop-off near you, which will allow you to recycle trash bags! 


  • Answer: Trash, or recycling if it’s available
In most cases, recycling centers don’t want polystyrene (AKA Styrofoam) because it’s too bulky and hard to recycle. A small number of cities (notably Los Angeles) allow residents to recycle it in a curbside bin, and some recycling centers may accept large quantities of plastic foam directly. 

Yard Waste

  • Answer: Trash, but preferably compost
Much like with food scraps, composting is the preferred way to deal with yard waste such as grass clippings and twigs. So long as your yard waste is free of pesticides, composting can turn it into rich and healthy natural fertilizer for your garden! If you do put yard waste in the trash, remember that some cities require you to place it in a separate bin.Purchase Recycling Bags Hererecycling used water bottle

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Plasticplace’s waste disposal experts are here to help you understand the most efficient ways to manage your trash and recycling! For more insights, check out our guide to medication disposal, or learn the real answer about whether wood is recyclable. 

Plus, as always, our selection of trash bags is second to none, including our lineup of Simplehuman compatible garbage bags! Shop now and get free shipping on all orders to the lower 48 U.S. states.

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