Four brightly colored recycling bins in a row and text "How to Recycle Like a Pro"

How to Recycle Like a Pro

by Rhys Jones, Two Bettys Project Manager

June 2, 2021

You already recycle. You have for years! But are you doing it like a pro? There are three common mistakes that even dedicated recyclers often make. These no-nos can jam up the works at the recycling plant. They turn what’s supposed to be an efficient, automatic process into a slow, manual one. Or worse yet, doing a so-so job at prepping your recyclables can lead to piles of things that can’t be recycled—and end up in a landfill. 

Good news—becoming an A+ recycler is easy. Up your game (and do the planet and recycling workers a solid) by making these three simple things a habit: 

Rinse it out

This is many people’s least favorite thing about recycling—we totally get it. But food waste can damage the sorting equipment in your county’s recycling plant. It can even lead to a huge batch of recyclables having to be thrown away. You might feel like it doesn’t matter if you skip rinsing just one peanut butter jar—what’s the big deal? But if everyone gives themselves a pass for “just one thing,” that’s a whole mess of PB jars that can’t be recycled.

  • Rinse as you go. Use a can of beans for your chili? Give it a quick rinse before the liquid in the can gets crusty.
  • Soak sticky/messy items to make rinsing easier. You can even put some items through the dishwasher with your other dishes. Plastics should go in the top rack, and metal and glass items can go anywhere. When you’re emptying the clean load, simply toss the recyclables in the bin.

Break it down

If there’s enough space in your curbside bin, it’s cool to toss in a few cardboard boxes without breaking them down, right? Not so much. Flattening boxes (both big and small) makes them easier and quicker to sort at the recycling plant. Plus, it maximizes space in your recycling bin (this is especially important if you live in a multi-unit building). Is breaking down boxes an extra step? Sure. But it doesn’t have to be a total drag. Turn on a podcast or audiobook and bust out the box cutter. Or pretend you’re the Incredible Hulk and pull them apart with your hands. Or jump on the boxes till they’re flat (a very cathartic option!).

Dump it out

Do you use a paper grocery bag to collect recyclables during the week, then put the whole bag in your curbside bin once it’s full? We understand this seems like a stroke of recycling genius—we’ve been guilty of it too. But it turns out that recycling programs prefer that you dump loose items out of the paper bag into your curbside bin, then toss the empty bag in with the rest of your recycling. Why? Recyclables packed in paper bags slow down the sorting process at the recycling plant. Sometimes workers even have to manually tear the bags apart so their magic sorting machine can do its job. 

There you have it! Three simple ways to be a better recycler. 

Need a refresher on what you can and can’t recycle? Here you go: 

Hennepin County Recycling Guide 

Ramsey County A to Z Recycling & Disposal Guide