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Is Plastic Recycling that confusing?

Sep 9, 2020 | Contamination, Education, Trash Talk


From the inception of recycling in its modern day form, recycling has undergone many changes. For a fun, yet brief timeline of recycling history, click here. We get many questions at the district about what is recyclable and what is not. Questions like:

                   “What plastics are recyclable?”

                   “Why can’t I use the numbers on the plastics?”

                   “I used to be able to put all of my plastics in your bins and now I cannot.                              Why?”

 These are all great questions. Let’s look into this together.

The Numbers.

For those new to recycling, there are 7 different types of plastics. Each represents a different resin code that helps to sort plastics into different categories. For more on these numbers, click here. Nationally, waste haulers in the recycling industry that are moving away from using the well known numbers to identify the plastics they want in the recycling stream.

Why can’t I use the resin codes (#1-7)?

Nationally, we are moving away from this because not all plastics are recyclable. In the past, plastics #’s 1 and 2 were touted as “recyclable”. However, some plastics within those #’s are not recyclable as it stands in the market today.  Clam shell plastics, or food grade plastic containers, are not recyclable in our bins. The problem with these types of plastics is that the sorting technologies at the MRF’s are not able to sort them yet. Some plastics are made differently and the process they go through can determine how recyclable something can be. Hopefully, as technology improves, recycling can expand. Until then, we are focused on recycling PLASTIC BOTTLES AND JUGS.

Plastic Bottles and Jugs

The above picture highlights some of the most commonly used plastic bottles and jugs today. Plastic bottles and jugs are recyclable if they have a neck and shoulders. Think of your neck and shoulders. What does that look like? With plastic bottles and jugs, the neck doesn’t always set evenly in the middle of the bottle or jug. It can be offset to the side with a different shape. The important thing to look for is that it HAS a neck. The shoulders of a plastic bottle can look like yours and spread outward or be one-sided. Once you have identified your plastic bottle a jug as recyclable. make sure that it is CLEAN, DRY, and EMPTY of all liquids.


Many questions come to the District asking us “Why can’t I put my plastic bag in the recycling bin?” First, if you bring your recyclables in a plastic bag, that is fine. Just make sure that your recyclables are dumped into our bins. Why? All of these recyclables have to be sorted at Kimble’s MRF in Twinsburg. Plastic bags filled with recyclables do not sort well on conveyor belts. Simply dump your recycling into our bins and reuse your bag. It’s super simple! Additionally, plastic bags get caught inside of the machines at the MRF causing shutdowns, lost production, and money down the drain. The last thing we need to do is make an already expensive process more expensive. For more information, check out our blog on plastic bags.

Always read the label.

On every bin in the District, we place pictures, names of the specific items we want and how we want them (Clean, Dry, Empty) on the label. Give those plastic bottles and jugs a quick rinse to remove any remaining liquids/contaminants from the recyclable. Following these simple requests leads to cleaner recycling, lower recycling costs, and keeps good recycling out of the landfill.


1) Don’t use the recycling numbers anymore (1-7) to determine if it is recyclable!

2) Recycle Plastic Bottles and Jugs only!

3) Dump your recyclables loosely and take your plastic bag home!

4) Always read the labels!

As always, if you have any questions, you can always reach out to us by commenting below, hitting us up on Facebook, or emailing the district. Happy recycling!


  1. Dan

    The restrictions on plastic make it unreasonable to recycle the few items left. It’s easier to trash it all.

    • Steve Tharp

      We appreciate your comment. However, the market determines what can be recycled at this time. We don’t have a say in it; we just share the information and collect it. We hope that you will recycle plastic bottles and jugs.

    • Joan

      I agree recycling is so limited now is it really worth it? So the only reason plastic bags can’t be recycled is because of machinery ? Really

  2. Barbara

    Plastic recycling is very confusing. What about shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles? There are many containers that some would say have a neck and others would say they do not. Vitamin bottles and over counter meds, plastic peanut butter jars, contact solution bottles etc. Then there is paper or cardboard. Do cereal boxes and other cardboard packaging go in paper or cardboard? What about paper towel and toilet paper rolls? Is cardboard only shipping boxes and that type of material? Just asking for better guidance. Is it possible to have pictures and/or better lists of items on each recycle bin? I find myself just throwing more away because of the uncertainty of what is acceptable.

    • Steve Tharp


      You make some really great points. Shampoo bottles, conditioners, and body wash bottles I use all have neck and shoulders (as opposed to head and shoulders HA!). That was a shampoo joke (a bad one). Vitamin bottles and other over the counter medication bottles can be recycled as long as they have the neck and shoulders AND are larger than a credit card. I am working on gathering more information on that point. All of the plastic bottles and jugs must be clean, dry, and empty otherwise should be thrown away. Cereal boxes are a paper. We only want the corrugated stuff in the cardboard. Paper towels and toilet paper rolls are not recyclable. We want people to take the pictures and words not the labels literally. I will work on putting together a list with pictures in one of our blogs to better articulate what can be recycled but the reality is that we couldn’t possibly capture everything even if we tried. However, we will work to get something out there soon! If you have any more questions, let us know!

  3. Jack Lewis

    I recycle as much as I can. I wash and clean metal and plastic cans and bottles. I recycle my newspapers and cardboard. What I am now having trouble with is what to do with all the plastic bags. Walmart and other store bags, bread, newspaper bags, etc. What can I do with these? Walmart no longer has the bag recycle box inside the door. Why can’t you put one recycle bin behind Buehler’s in New Philadelphia just for plastic bags. I hate to throw them out in the trash.

    • Steve Tharp


      Thanks for reaching out. The plastic bags you are referring to doesn’t have a market locally for to recycle them. Kimble, Waste Management, Republic and others do not want to collect the plastic bags for that reason. Additionally, these items are also known as tanglers and cause a lot of problems in our regular recycling. We have seen that the plastic bag collections at some local grocery stores have been removed but we can’t say for certain that they were being recycled. We just haven’t been able to nail that down. We hate to tell you to throw it away but it certainly can’t go in our recycling bins. I know this isn’t the answer you were hoping for but I really appreciate you sharing with us your concern.

      • Pam Smith

        I take my plastic bags inside Buehlers. They have a bin right inside the door

        • Steve Tharp

          That’s good news. Some places have removed their plastic bag collections.

  4. Mike

    You need to have a bin to put the plastic bags in at the recycle drop off locations, if you don’t want them in with the recyclables.

    • Steve Tharp

      Hello. We have thought of that but there is no way for us to collect and no place to recycle it.

  5. Sharon Toney

    I have large pieces of styrafoam that were used for packing my treadmill and microwave cart. Can you direct me where to take them?

    • Steve Tharp

      Hi, Sharon! Unfortunately, we are unaware of a local styrofoam recycler. We recommend breaking it up and throwing it out in the trash.

  6. John Abt

    We pick up trash and recyclables from the sides of roads. Yesterday, there was a large number of beer bottles in the ditch. We took the caps off, and emptied them. But they were a little bit dirty on the outside. Not caked with mud, but dirty. Are these OK to put in the bins? At the recyclers do they wash off the glass?

    And a second question. Should caps be removed or left on plastic bottles for recycling?

    • Steve Tharp

      Bottles should be clean, dry, and empty. Otherwise, they are considered contamination. They do not wash the materials at the transfer station. Plastic bottles and jugs should have the caps left on as it helps when they are sorted at the MRF. If they don’t have a cap, it’s still ok but our vendor wants them on if possible. Hope that helps!

  7. Kathy Belden


    I read all these comments and they were helpful!! I do need one clarification.
    On your reply dated Oct 20, 2020 you said paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls are NOT recyclable?? Ive been throwing them in with newspaper recycling.
    Should I stop doing this? Please advise.

    • Steve Tharp

      Kathy, great question! We have been saying not to place it in the recycling.




    • Steve Tharp

      Plastic dog food and bird food bags go in the trash. If it is not a plastic bottle or jug, we do not want it in our bin. All other plastics go into the trash. The trash side of things is something you will have to explore.

  9. Helen Ballard

    Are flattened cereal boxes recyclable in my home curb recycling?

    Is it true that I should add sour cream type containers and the thin containers a deli gives you when you order a pound of something like let’s say, soup or potato salad in the trash and not in my recycle bin?

    Are pop cans and other food cans OK to add to my home recycle bin?

    What about the one-time use pie plates that are made from a silver foil type material?

    And I am curious about the waxy covered paper glasses I get my soda in at Lee’s everyday, shall I add them to my recycle bin?

    Thanks for the info. I imagine other areas of the country can recycle other types of materials that we can’t locally, correct?

    • Steve Tharp

      1) Yes, they are recyclable in your home recycling
      2) Yes, throw those items away
      3) Yes, you can recycle metal cans in your home recycling
      4) One time use materials should be reused or discarded in your trash.
      5) You need to ask your hauler if waxy covered paper glasses are covered in their recycling.
      6) Recycling is all local. It depends on who can take it and if there is a market for it.

  10. Cam

    What about plastic peanut butter jars? The top is slightly smaller than the body but it is not a pourable spout. Is this considered a bottle with a neck?

    • Steve Tharp



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