• Meg Paskal

What Goes in the Blue Bin? (It's complicated!)

Since 1990, Los Angeles has had a Blue Bin recycling program in place. Due to its overwhelming success, by 1997 the original 14-gallon bin was replaced by a 90-gallon bin. Los Angeles sends about 500 tons of mixed recycling daily to facilities to be sorted and bailed for further processing. For 30 years the U.S. has primarily depended on China to process our recycling materials. This decision stymied the development of a domestic recycling program. While the arrangement appeared to benefit all parties, upon closer inspection 30% of the recycling materials were contaminated, rendering them non-recyclable. The tainted materials ultimately ended up in Chinese landfills and waterways.

In 2018, with the newly established National Sword Policy, China imposed a policy of rejecting recycling materials that were more than .05% impure. This new policy has upended the recycling market. Currently in the U.S. there is no Federal recycling program. It has been left to individual municipalities to establish recycling programs. What has resulted is a disjointed recycling program without national mandates and standards. This has put communities at a disadvantage as the marketplace for these items has been reduced to the point of costing more to recycle than to incinerate or landfill. As a result of the changing market conditions, new opportunities and creative thinking are helping to solve these problems. Many cities are rising to the challenge by setting goals to keep 80% of waste out of landfills, requiring the use of compostable/recyclables containers by food vendors and many more innovative initiatives.

So just what does go in our blue bins?

Please keep in mind that it is important to wash and dry all plastic containers to reduce the possibility of contamination of the recyclables. While plastics numbered 1-7 designated by the stamped universal national recycling symbol on the bottom of the item are listed as recyclable, PETE #1 and HDPE #2 are the only types of plastics that can currently be recycled. Plastics #3 - #7 unfortunately often end up being incinerated, landfilled or exported. Please see the chart below that details what the numbers 1-7 represent. They are the resin identification code which relates to what type of plastic the item is made from.

Just as important as what can be put in the blue bin is what is not accepted in the bin. If these items are placed in the blue container, there's a likelihood of contaminating the other clean materials. Please ensure that the items placed in the blue container are clean and free from contaminants. The following items should be placed in the black bin:

ContaminatedpPaper: heavily soiled papers or bags with oils or food waste should be placed inside the black bin.

Certain kinds of glass: window glass, mirror glass, auto glass, standard light bulbs, crystal, ceramics

Miscellaneous materials: cloth/fabric, mini blinds, kitchen utensils, lawn furniture, garden hoses,

rubber tires and construction materials, including asphalt or concrete, wood and wood products

Additional commonly used items that we should keep out of the blue bins include computer printed shopping receipts which use BPA’s to imprint the information on the receipt. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor. If possible, decline the receipt or opt for the electronic delivered option. Other problematic items include plastic shopping bags, cling film and bubble wrap as they tend to get entangled in the sorting equipment. Plastic can only be recycled one time, and usually not into food containers. Glass and metals can be recycled indefinitely. Just keep in mind that recyclers will not accept broken glass. Cardboard and paper can be recycled 5-7 times before they become too degraded.

A guide to a few more helpful links can be found below:



While the current state of recycling seems fragile, encouraging changes are in motion. The future of recycling is taking shape in the increasing use of recycled materials for both consumer and industrial use. This helps to reduce the demand for the extraction and production of raw materials. While it is important that corporations listen to the consumer and incorporate more recycled materials in their products, consumer habits need to adapt as well. This can be achieved by phasing out single use plastics and instead begin purchasing items in glass and aluminum packaging. When we find ourselves unable to source easily recycled products there are options to use companies like TerraCycle, that successfully recycle items that cannot be commonly recycled.

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