It’s an interesting question that might’ve even sparked debate in your household. How clean do recyclables have to be? Good news: There’s no need to fire up the dishwasher to get every speck of food off a bottle or container. The things you put in your recycling bin don’t have to be squeaky clean in order to be accepted by the recycling plant and turned into new products. But really dirty containers can cause problems.
Here’s what to do before putting an item into the recycling bin:
Pour out any liquid
Discard any food scraps
Scoop out any remaining product
If needed, do a quick rinse with soap and water*
The real downside of dirty recyclables (or the wrong things in the bin altogether)—for instance, a bottle caked in hair gel, a can leaking beer, or a jar still half-full of peanut butter—is that contaminated recycled material has less market value. With less revenue coming in, the recycling provider has less money to spend on running the program and improving service and technology.
Cleaner recyclables ultimately impact checkbooks, including yours and your neighbor’s. By pouring out any liquid, discarding any food scraps, scooping out any remaining product, and rinsing, you’re saving money for Gwinnett County taxpayers and helping to make the whole system more efficient. Says Mother Jones:
The cleaner your containers, the more they’re worth on the recyclables market. Sorted recyclables are packaged into compacted cubes called bales. “If the bale is lower quality, there is less revenue coming back into the system from the sale of recyclables, which helps pay for the program,” says Robert Reed of Recology, the company that runs San Francisco’s recycling program. The takeaway: By providing clean recyclables, you can actually save your city (and ultimately, taxpayers) money.
Since you don’t have to get items clean enough to store food or eat from again, there’s no need to use so much soap and water that they are sterilized or completely grime-free. The top priority is to ensure that any food, beverage, or other product in the container won’t leak out and contaminate other valuable materials in the recycling bin, like clean paper or cardboard. By getting your recyclables mostly clean, you’re doing your part.
*To be even more environmentally friendly, you can even use water that is left over after washing hands or dishes.