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What you can and can’t recycle in Los Angeles

Did you know that Angelenos are excellent recyclers? A municipal recycling survey back in 2009 ranked Los Angeles as the top recycler in the nation, meaning we have the highest recycling rate out of the ten largest cities in the United States. (San Jose, New York, San Diego and Chicago round out the top five.) The city’s sanitation department shares that it regularly collects 240,000 tons of recyclables and 480,000 tons of yard trimmings. In fact, Los Angeles surpasses its 50% mandated target for landfill diversion. 

So as a city, Los Angeles does well in terms of figuring out the contents of the blue bins. And yet, recycling can still seem like an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in post-consumer compostable wax paper. We all know that paper, glass, and plastic are bound for the blue recycling bin. But what about pizza boxes and light bulbs? What about broken glass? Can wood be recycled? All these objects deserve a pause over their placement, leaving many of us mystified over their final origin.

Luckily, there are answers to be had within the mysterious world of the blue bins. Via the Bureau of Sanitation, here’s what we found can be included in easy, curbside recycling in the city of Los Angeles.

All clean, dry paper, cardboard boxes, and chipboard have a home in the blue bins. This means computer, ledger, arts and craft, and wrapping paper. It also includes unwanted mail, flyers, telephone books, note cards, newspaper, Post-it notes, catalogs blueprints, magazines, file folders, and paper bags. You can even recycle paper envelopes with the clear windows. Further, you can recycle all food, shoe and detergent boxes, as well as paper towel and toilet rolls.  Corrugated boxes that have been broken down are also welcome in the bins.

Then there is glass. You can recycle all glass containers, even broken bottles. (That’s bottles, not random broken glass. More on that later.) Just be sure to rinse the containers and be careful of broken glass.

You can recycle cartons. This means all cartons that are refrigerated, shelf-stable, and aseptic packaging. Aseptic is when a product is packaged in a way that maintains sterility. This includes fruit juice, milk, soy milk, cream cartons and more.

Metals including aluminum, tin, metal, and bi-metal cans are recyclable. This means food cans as well as clean aluminum foils, empty paint and aerosol cans with plastic caps removed, and wire hangers. Be sure to rinse everything when possible. Also, the paint and aerosol cans must be completely empty.

Plastics stamped with the numbers 1 through 7 can be recycled. You can find the numbers on the bottom of the container. Once again, make sure containers are rinsed out. Further, plastic planters, food and blister packaging can be recycled.  (Blister packaging is when a product shows up enveloped in a hard plastic that you generally must cut through with scissors. It is not to be confused with bubble wrap.)

All plastic grocery bags can be placed in the blue bins. This includes clear dry cleaner bags.  All clean Styrofoam can be recycled, including block, egg shell, and clam packaging.

Finally, other plastics can be recycled, including plastic coat hangers, toys, swimming pools and laundry baskets.

But what can’t we recycle in the blue bins?

It seems like a pizza box is destined for a second life. However, if paper is soiled by food or oils, it cannot be properly processed for recycling. In fact, no paper that is contaminated by food waste can be recycled. This means napkins and paper towels can only be recycled if they are unused. Wet paper may also contaminate the blue bins.

Broken glass also cannot be recycled. While broken glass bottles can be included, other pieces such as window glass, light bulbs, auto class and more are not allowed in the blue bins. Wood and wood products are also banned.

Hazardous materials are also not allowed in the blue bins. This includes batteries, medical waste, pesticides, pool cleaners, and garden chemicals. These can be taken to area S.A.F.E. (Solvents/Automotive/Flammables/Electronics) disposal centers. (Here is a list of centers.) You can also take them to various collection events sponsored by the city.  

And speaking of hazardous waste: you cannot recycle diapers. It is considered too difficult to extract the plastic and paper from a soiled diaper.

As for the other random things if our lives? As the Bureau of Sanitation shares, you cannot recycle “electrical cords, cloth/fabric, appliances, mini blinds, kitchen utensils, lawn furniture, garden hoses, rubber tires, construction materials, including asphalt or concrete, wood and wood products.”

Finally, if you are about to recycle something that can be reused, consider donating it to L.A. Shares. This is a non-profit program that takes donations of reusable goods and materials from the local business community. Tax-deductible, your donations can be office supplies, furniture, paper products, art supplies and more. Computers are acceptable if they are of recent incarnation due to software requirements. L.A. Shares will then redistribute your items to various non-profits or schools. Here’s a complete list of possible items to donate. 

You can read more about recycling in Los Angeles at the Bureau of Sanitation.

Image: peterkaminski/Flickrcrabchick/Flickr