Let’s keep our recyclables clean!

Keep recyclables clean!
December 26, 2018

Updated: January 2021


The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Solid Waste Services has seen an increase in the amount of non-recyclable items being erroneously placed in curbside recycling bins and carts. These materials can contaminate recyclable materials, rendering them no longer recyclable, and can also impact sorting operations at Montgomery County’s Recycling Center. While some of these items can be recycled through other recycling opportunities, they should not be placed in your blue recycling bin or blue wheeled cart for curbside recycling collection.


Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Right


The items we most often see inappropriately placed in blue recycling bins or mixed paper recycling carts, and that we want to remind residents NOT to put in their recycling bin/cart are:

  • Plastic Bags, Plastic Film or Shrink Wrap
  • Hazardous or Toxic Product Containers (such as containers for herbicides, pesticides, insecticides and automotive fluids)
  • Electronics (including computers, keyboards, TV’s, etc.)
  • Styrofoam® or Polystyrene (packing peanuts or foam blocks used to protect items in shipments, or other items marked #6 PS)
  • Home Health Care/Medical Supplies (including needles/syringes, plastic intravenous (IV) fluid bags, plastic respirator and medical equipment tubing, CPAP masks, gloves, etc.)


Also, please remember to empty and rinse all bottles, jars, cans and containers before placing these items in the recycling bin. Caps and lids should be left off the bottles, jars and containers, before placing them in the blue bin as well.


For materials that are not acceptable through the County’s curbside recycling program, there may be other opportunities to recycle those materials . To learn how to properly recycle or properly dispose of these materials, visit our website and click on “I want to recycle or dispose of…”. You can also call MC311 by dialing 311 or (240) 777-0311; TTY Maryland Relay 711.

39 comments on "Let’s keep our recyclables clean!"

  1. Kathy says:

    What about the shelf stable beverage containers – some kind of paper on outide but layers of non paper materials. I keep seeing on FB and ads that they are recyclable but are they recyclable in MoCo??

  2. Cat says:

    Thanks for your question, could you send us a photo at askdep@montgomerycountymd.gov or post a link to a picture of the shelf stable beverage container?

  3. Debbie Cohn says:

    I have several household and personal care products made from cellulose or silk. I want to know if any of these are recyclable and if so, how.
    1. Used dental floss made from silk fibers.

    2. Household cleaning sponge (for kitchen or bath) made from rayon which was made from bamboo.

    3. Household cleaning sponge (or personal care sponge) made from loofah.

    4. Three types of tooth brush. Two of the brushes have a handle made from bamboo. Can the handle be recylced? One brush uses boar’s hair bristles. The other brush uses a plant based nylon bristle. The bristles can be separated from the handle. Can either type of bristle be recylced and if so, how?

    The third toothbrush uses a handle made from cellulose sourced from timber. It has vegetable derived bristles. The brush head containing the bristles is replaceable and the handle can be reused. Can the vegetable derived bristles be recycled? Would these be placed in the yard waste stream and composted or do I need to wait for curbside pickup of food waste? If the reusable handle at a later point needed to be replaced, can the timber sourced cellulose handle be recycled? Would this be recycled as yard waste, textile waste delivered to the textile bin at Shady Grove or curbside recycling of food waste?

    I know these are lots of questions. I am trying to switch to non-plastic household and personal care items. Thanks for the help.

    1. Cat says:

      Thanks for getting in touch–great questions! At this time, the items listed are not accepted in our recycling program and may be added to your regular household trash. Again, thanks for the great questions and for your plastic reduction efforts!

    1. Cat says:

      Thanks for the link to the article. Our recycled materials are sold to commodity brokers on a monthly basis. Although we do not track the end user once it leaves our facility, virtually all of our material remains domestically. As a general rule, only mixed paper is sold to international markets but that is through commodity brokers and not tracked by the County.

  4. Andrea says:

    So caps and lids taken off bottles and containers should be just discarded in the regular trash or in the comingled bin with plastic, glass and metal?

    1. Cat says:

      Please place your caps and lids in the blue recycling bin along with your other recyclables. Check out our blue bin page: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/sws/recycling/blue-bin-items.html.

  5. Mary says:

    One acquaintance puts her cans and bottles in the dishwasher. I have an “eco” cycle and was considering the same, as the raccoons drag my recycle all over the yard. It’s hard to keep them clean. It’s a problem.

    1. Cat says:

      Hi, thanks for getting in touch and sorry that the raccoons are getting into your recyclables. We like residents to give cans and bottles a quick rinse before putting them in the blue bin. If you have the room, would it be possible to keep the blue bin inside a garage or another place not easily accessible to raccoons?

  6. mary knight says:

    It would be great if you developed a clip-on bubble-top lid for the bins. Something easily removable on collection day that wouldn’t get in the way, or a roll-over stretchy fabric cover – it would help keep things from blowing out on a windy day, from spills when there are tip-overs; and keep out the critters.

    1. Cat says:

      Thanks for your suggestions. I will pass them on to our collections team!

  7. Peggy Owens says:

    Are the lids that are metal with a rubbery liner on the inside recyclable? Like the kind you get off pickle jars or spaghetti sauce?

    Thank you.

    1. Cat says:

      Hi, thanks for reaching out. Yes, you may recycle the lids of pickle jars and spaghetti sauce. Please unscrew the lids from the containers and add them to your blue recycling bin. Thank you!

  8. Thank you for your tip to not recycle plastic bags or plastic wrap. I had no idea that those were things that can’t be recycled. I have been thinking of having one of those recycling companies come to my house every week. I will make sure to keep these tips in mind for that.

    1. Stuart Foster says:

      I think you’ll find that most supermarkets – certainly the large chains – have a bin near the door where you can deposit your collected plastic bags. It’s amazing how it piles up when you include plastic retail shopping bags, cereal box liners, bread bags, shrink wrap from paper towels and the like, dry cleaning bags, etc. I even peel the plastic sheet labels from drink bottles.

  9. Amanda Pong says:

    I see people putting dirty plastic containers in recycling bins in public places. Does this mean that the whole contents of the bin is considered “contaminated” and discarded? How can we better recycle food containers in places like a mall or food hall or at a conference, where items are being used once and discarded?

    1. Cat says:

      Hi, there. Contamination depends on the type of plastic container that is placed in the recycling bin. Malls and food halls should have clearly marked containers for recyclables–please let us know if you are having issues at a particular location.

      1. mary louise knight says:

        Cat, the clear plastic clamshells with greasy food, like chicken wings, or salad dressing, or congealed melted cheese, can get pretty dirty. Are we supposed to wash these out before putting in our home recycle bins? I have these regularly so it would be hepful to know. I also get senior meals delivered to our household of seniors; they are black plastic trays (like tv dinners) and the empties will have gravy and vegetable residues, as well as a film cover. How thoroughly should they be washed? Also, we’ve been saving these black plastic trays in case someone can use them. I have tall stacks of these – can they be recirculated, or just go into recycling?

  10. Margaret Schmidt says:

    I prefer putting out a cardboard box of paper recycling. Seems easier and more practical for the guys to just throw the whole thing in the truck and it’s also quicker than maneuvering the large wheeled bins. But what should I do on a rainy day with this sort of non-covered paper recycling? Is it ok for all the paper to get wet?

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hi, it’s ok for the paper to get wet, but we prefer paper as clean and dry as possible. Thanks for asking!

  11. Susan says:

    Will the county consider providing the tall slim 23 gal bin?. There is limited room in the townhouse garage and getting the bin between wall and auto in driveway to take to the street.

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hi Susan, thanks for getting in touch. We are always looking to improve our services–I have sent your suggestion to my manager. Please let us know if you need anything else.

  12. Harry Appelman says:

    I need to dispose of some packing materials that look to be made of compressed paper of some kind – a bit like egg carton material. They came in a box with a product, molded to immobilize the product.
    Are these recyclable?
    I can attach a picture (if you tell me how!)


    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hi Harry, thanks for your question. Yes, the material you’re describing is recyclable in our recycling program. You may place the packing material in your paper recycling cart. Please let us know if you need anything else.

  13. Harry Appelman says:


  14. Michelle says:

    Is it possible to recycle milk, orange juice, almond milk, half and half cartons here?
    I just moved to Mont. Cty and have read through all the recycling information, but I do not see these (wax?)coated paperboard cartons listed anywhere. Thank you!

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hi, thanks for reaching out and welcome to the County! Yes, you may add the wax-coated paper cartons to your paper recycling cart. For more information on paper and cardboard recycling, visit: https://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/DepHowDoI/material.aspx?tag=paper&material_key=24

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  15. Maggie Hayes-Parks says:

    Are you able to accept used refrigerator water filter cartridges? They are made of #5 plastic per the manufacturer but they contain the filter substrate… I’ve been searching for a program to recycle them but not having much luck.

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hi, this is a good question. Due to the composition of the filter, we are not able to accept the filter in our recycling program. Please ley us know if you have further questions.

  16. Claudia says:

    We are going through our file cabinets and coming up with a lot of paper. Is there a pound limit in the tall blue paper recycle containers? Is there a mechanical lift on the recycle trucks?

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hello, we do not have a specific weight limit for paper items in the wheeled carts. Our trucks do not have a lift–our crews empty the containers manually.

      1. mary knight says:

        Hi Cat, We have a yellow bin so the crew takes the bins to the curbside, then the next crews empty them. It takes a long time to fill up the tall cardboard/paper wheeled container, yet the first crew always takes it to the curb, even if there are just a few items. I try to hide it towards the back, but they are so efficient that doesn’t stop them. It is a waste of the workers effort to keep dragging it to the curb and enptying just a few items. Plus, I have to re-stow it so it is not out there all week. I’m just going to have to do better at hiding it when it’s not full.

  17. Pat Williams says:

    I have packing material that came with a box of food (like Hello Fresh) that says it is made from recycled water bottles and has the recycle number 1 label. We put it in the small blue recycle bin with the plastic bottles, but it often gets left behind by the county pickup service. Where am I supposed to recycle it?

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hi, thanks for letting us know. Once the water bottles are converted into packing materials, those materials cannot be recycled in our recycling program. You may dispose of the packing materials in your regular household trash.

  18. Steffany Sandoval says:

    Hey, we live on a hill with a very long driveway. Since our recycling bins don’t come with wheels, is it possible to use the wheeled cart instead? We are a very large family so we have about 4 heavy filled bins weekly with plastic, jars, cans.

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hello, you may use a container of your choice — with the exception of the County-provided wheeled paper recycling cart — for commingled recyclables. Kindly place a recycling label on your container: https://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/depwebstore/itemdetail.aspx?item_id=301&subcatalog=31

  19. mary louise knight says:

    Maybe the waste management department has some sort of conveyance with wheels for our recycle bins. Surely this is a common problem. They should have something, or DIY instructions to build something, rig something up.

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hello, you may use a container of your choice — with the exception of the County-provided wheeled paper recycling cart — for commingled recyclables. Kindly place a recycling label on your container: https://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/depwebstore/itemdetail.aspx?item_id=301&subcatalog=31

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