Recycling Q&A: What Does 'Tub' Mean in Curbside Recycling?

Recycling Q&A: What Does ‘Tub’ Mean in Curbside Recycling?

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of recycling Q&A tips from Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or

Q: What The Heck Are ‘Tubs’ in The World of Recycling?

From: Jeff

Subject: recycling plastic food containers

Hello, I have a question I’d like you to address in an article and/or on the Kane County recycling page. I think this question would benefit most if not all of your recycling readers.

The question is about the clear plastic containers for packaging fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, etc. — as pictured below.

“Recycle only empty containers: plastic (bottles, tubs, jugs, jars)” doesn’t make it clear whether these should be considered tubs or not — they’re not like a butter tub. So given the other guidance I’ve seen from you of “if in doubt, throw it out,” our family and probably many others are putting many of these containers in the garbage.

They are so prevalent in packaging. Can you provide us guidance on what to do with them?

Thanks much!


A: A ‘Tub’ Is a Container That Has a Bottom And Sides

From: Jarland, Jennifer

Subject: recycling plastic food containers

Hi Jeff,

Yes, you are not the only one who has that question.

Many of the questions people ask me are about plastic items.

For example, what exactly does “tub” mean? Like, what about yogurt cups or clamshell take-out containers, or fruit boxes?

Here’s the key:

A tub is a three-dimensional container — and it is that “dimensionality” that makes it recyclable.

In order for an object to be recyclable, the shape of it has to be able to be sorted at the sorting facility, using the technology we have available.

So a tub is a shape that has a bottom and sides.



Clamshells are like two tubs stuck together or a tub with a lid connected — so, yes, they can be recycled.

Yogurt Cups, Margarine Containers, Etc.

Yogurt cups, sour cream and margarine containers, hummus containers, and the like are all considered tubs and can be recycled.

Fruit And Lettuce Boxes

Fruit boxes and lettuce boxes are considered tubs and can all be recycled.

The Skinny on Lids


If the lids to these tubs can be snapped back on tightly, then do so, and they will also get recycled.

If the lid is thin and flat and does not snap on tightly, it is actually better to place it in the trash — because they will not be able to be sorted by shape by the machines and will either end up in with the paper or being discarded out the end of the process and sent to the landfill.

A good test is to put the lid on and squeeze the container a bit. If it pops off, then trash it, if it stays on then leave it on and recycle it with the container.

Thank you for your efforts and attention to detail.

Reminder: Saturday, June 13, Is First Recycling Event of Season!

Kane County’s Saturday Recycling Events are scheduled to resume, starting with the June 13 event.

  • Where: 540 S. Randall Road, St. Charles, IL 60174
  • When: 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays: June 13, July 11, Aug. 8, Sept. 12, Oct. 10 and Nov. 14, 2020
  • Accepting: Electronics, Clothing & Textiles, and BOOKS. (Kane County Recycles events accept books of any size, age or condition and redistribute as many as possible for reuse. The worn, torn, and old books are recycled into new paper products. Note: Kane County Recycles only takes books at the events, not at the drop-off locations.)
  • Rules of Use: Please click, review and follow these rules in the name of health and safety.
  • Costs: All recycling at these events except for TVs and monitors. Pay online and bring printed receipt.

Read More Recycling Q&A Articles!