Yes, Montgomery County Recycles!

September 17, 2020

Continued reports in the national news say that recyclables, such as plastics are being sent to landfills or incinerated, rather than being recycled. We hear your concerns. We want to assure you that yes, here in Montgomery County, Maryland, we are recycling and we continue to recycle everything that we ask residents and businesses to recycle.

The County values recycling and considers recycling a key initiative in protecting our land, air, and water, and preserving natural resources for the future.

We recycle acceptable materials collected in our County-provided curbside recycling program and send these materials to companies who will take them, further process them, and recycle them into new uses or products. This includes:

  • mixed paper and cardboard
  • glass bottles and jars
  • metal steel/tin cans
  • empty, non-hazardous aerosol cans
  • aluminum cans
  • foil and foil products
  • plastic bottles, jars, containers, tubs, lids
  • #1 clamshell containers
  • bakery domes
  • flower pots, and much more!

We also regularly monitor the recycling markets and look for opportunities to recycle additional materials.

What happens to the materials after we sort them at the Recycling Center?

The materials are sold to commodity brokers on a monthly basis. Once the materials leave our facility, virtually all of them are sold to domestic markets. As a general rule, only mixed paper is sold to international markets but that is via domestic commodity brokers.

Below are some ways you can help to keep recycling working in Montgomery County!

What you need to know: 

1. Keep our recyclables “clean” – What does that mean?  Keep items like plastic bags, hazardous materials, electronics, Styrofoam®, or home medical supplies out of your blue recycling bins. Learn more about how to keep your recycling clean here:

2. Check our A-Z list of how to properly recycle or dispose of materials: Type the item you want to recycle or dispose of in our A-Z materials list. Don’t see your item on the list? Comment below or send us an email at

The Plastics Recycling Factsheet has examples of plastics that can be recycled in Montgomery County, as well as items that need to be kept out of the recycling bin.

3. Learn about Montgomery County’s Recycling Center: Learn how we sort and prepare materials for recycling markets at the Recycling Center. While in-person tours are temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 health emergency, check out our information on how we separate recyclable materials.

21 comments on "Yes, Montgomery County Recycles!"

  1. Josh Rabinowitz says:

    what do you do with the materials after they’ve been received, shredded/pulled? bundle them up on pallets and send them….

  2. Cat says:

    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.

  3. Janice McLean says:

    It is my understand that a few years ago, the Resource Recovery Facility was to build/acquire a state-of-the-art recycling facility at Shady Grove. Was this plant built and is it operating? If so, is it generating any income for the County?
    Thanks, Janice McLean
    Leisure World
    co-president Leisure World Green

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Hi, thanks for reaching out. The Resource Recovery Facility (RRF) in Dickerson, MD accepts refuse for incineration, creating an energy source. Our Recycling Center located at the Shady Grove Transfer Station in Derwood, MD sorts recyclable materials collected curbside from our residential recycling program and recyclable materials dropped off at our facility. Those materials are baled and sold to brokers on a monthly basis. Revenue for those materials fluctuates based on market conditions.

  4. Travis says:

    No other programs in the region can recycle clamshell and bakery containers. What end use or buyer did our County find for this material?

    1. Cat Lee says:

      The Montgomery County recycling program accepts #1 clamshell (not #6) containers for recycling. We sell our processed materials to brokers on a monthly basis.

  5. Tatyana says:

    Are plant plastic pots recyclable?

    1. Cat Lee says:

      Yes, nursery and flower pots labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7!

  6. Doug Percival says:

    A recent article by Vermont PIRG (see link below) says that black plastic specifically “is particularly problematic. Even though it is often labelled as recyclable, this plastic is almost never recycled. In addition, some black plastic items are sourced from plastic parts recycled from discarded electronic products, meaning that they are higher in toxic chemicals than other plastics”. I wonder how Montgomery County’s recycling program deals with this particular issue?

    1. Annmarie says:

      They’re not dealing with most of it. More than 50% of Montgomery County’s recycling is sent out of county or out of state for processing. And those processors dispose of black plastic and hard to manage materials like clamshell containers.

  7. Josie says:

    Many of us are still concerned that there is no accountability of the plastic “recyclables” once they leave your facility. If you do not track the end user, how can you be sure that they are not simply ending up in a landfill or being incinerated?

    1. Drew says:

      And if they DO know the end user, please tell us who/what that is- not just “a broker” or “a contract.” Because that’s not accountability. That’s avoidance of the actual question. The York, Pennsylvania processor used by MoCo doesn’t magically have access to markets that no other regional entities can secure. If they did, you’d see communities in PA recycling clamshell, takeout containers and nursery pots. But they’re not.

    2. Cat Lee says:

      Hi, thanks for reaching out and for asking about recycling in Montgomery County. In short, yes, Montgomery County recycles. Each month, our recyclable materials are sold to brokers. Once the brokers purchase the recycled materials, we do not have a way of tracking the materials. If you have further questions, please let me know. You may also visit our Recycling Center to see how County-provided curbside collection of recyclables is processed.

  8. Jane says:

    Could you please answer Josie’s question of March 28, 2021? This is a valid concern.
    Thank you.

    1. Drew says:

      They provided the closest you’ll get to an honest response from this agency, “Once the brokers purchase the recycled materials, we do not have a way of tracking the materials.” Which is to say, there’s no available evidence of actual recycling for some items, and they get to deflect any responsibility. Blame the “brokers.” I’m going to point out again that no other blue bin recycling program in Maryland accepts clamshell containers, cake domes, fruit and vegetable containers and baskets. Why? Because they don’t want to collect items they know are just going to end up in the trash. Some plastics suck. If there’s no market, it is what it is, no one will blame local government for global market deficiencies for complicated materials. So why aren’t they just transparent about the reality? Why greenwash it?

  9. Rebecca says:

    Someone has taken my recycling bin. How do I recycle while waiting for the new bin?

    1. Andrew Ralston says:

      You could borrow some. You could also borrow one from neighbors, etc.

  10. Andrew Ralston says:

    Spreading more recycling bins around the town, and maybe county, with specific moderated drug recycling safety to make sure the correct trash is being disposed of, and no dangerous substances, etc., are being disposed of in Kensington, Maryland. This could be beneficial because of multiple pharmacies around town.

  11. E. L. says:

    Have there been any changes/improvements in Montgomery County’s accountability around proper recycling via tracking of recyclable materials sold to brokers, in order to ensure s they are being properly recycled and not just dumped / incinerated? Or is there still absolutely no way for residents to have any confidence that it isn’t all just a charade beyond the sale point?

    As a return resident to the state after decades away, I’m disappointed at the seeming lack of transparency and integrity of MoCo’s recycling program. The program possibly could even be resulting in increased harm by misleading residents into thinking our materials are benign due to being recycled, when in actuality they’re just as likely (if not more likely) to be polluting our environment. Maddening.

    1. sorry not sorry says:

      Spot on. The program relies on most people simply not paying attention to details or caring whether all the plastics ultimately get recycled or not. Recyclers get to feel good tossing things into a blue bin and MoCo Government gets to look good without providing actual materials accountability. That’s enough of a win for most people. One thing that’s sad about this situation is that MoCo has some genuinely good recycling efforts…but dishonesty and lack of transparency in one program make it difficult to trust in other programs that work. This ends up affecting recycling efforts in neighboring counties as well. Maddening indeed.

  12. KDinMCMD says:

    1. Why can’t I find an answer to my question, ” what do the recycle trucks look like in Montgomery County, MD?” I am not around when they pick up but am interested in how they keep stuff separated in the truck.

    2. How do we know that the stuff isn’t just put in a land fill? Rumors heard.

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