Recycling's Dirty Dozen — Yucky Stuff NEVER Goes in Your Curbside Bin

Recycling’s Dirty Dozen — Yucky Stuff NEVER Goes in Your Curbside Bin

  • Editor’s Note: This article is written by Kerri Gale, director of Environmental Health, Jackson County, Murphysboro, IL, along with Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland, both of whom are members of the Illinois Task Force for Recycling Contamination Solutions. The article is part of a year-long a series on the “Dirty Dozen” of recycling — the 12 items that should NOT go in your recycling cart. Got local questions or concerns? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or

At home or work when you are getting ready to recycle those everyday items, such cardboard, bottles, cans or jars, remember to think before you put them in the bin. Anything that is covered in “yucky stuff” should be kept out of the recycling cart.

If it is a recyclable item and you can clean it, great, do so and recycle it, but if not trash it. Applause to all of the committed recyclers out there, but there are some things to remember as you are putting the items in your bin.


You can recycle cardboard, but cardboard with any food residue or grease is a no go!

Put your greasy cardboard in the trash because that residue creates contamination in the paper recycling.

Putting this type of cardboard in the recycling process and it can cause an issue for the entire load of cardboard!

Pizza Boxes

Some pizza boxes have clean tops and greasy bottoms, in which case you can tear it in half and recycle the top portion and throw out the bottom.

Paper Towels, Plates And Napkins

These kinds of paper items are NOT recyclable. Even if they are clean or unused, napkins, paper towels and tissues are low-grade paper and are not recyclable because the wood fibers from which they are made are too short and brittle.

And anyway they are often smeared with food or grease. These kinds of things can interfere in the remanufacturing process if not caught before the bale heads to the paper mill.


Do I need to wash my bottles, cans and jars?

For liquids, just empty them out and pop the lid back on the bottle, before recycling. There is no need to rinse.


If it is a food bottle, can or jar, give them a quick rinse, empty them out and then put the lid back on to recycle. Leaving food residue in these items causes issues inside your recycle bin and at the recycling center.

Be judicious with your water use, of course. Popping things in the dishwasher is the best way to get them clean enough to recycle. Labels are fine to leave on!

Recyclable items may be deemed garbage if they carry the remnants of food that they once held.

ALSO START COMPOSTING! — NO FOOD in the recycle bin! To start composting, visit this page of the Illinois Composts website to get started!

Cigarette Butts

If there are cigarette butts in a container, throw it in the garbage.


It’s hard to believe that we have to say anything about this, but evidently the sorting facilities find a lot of full diapers in the recycling! They should obviously be going in the trash.

The plastic outer is beyond rescue at this point and is of course not recyclable. And the contents are the epitome of “yucky stuff!”

The sorting facility workers certainly do not need this (stuff) in the recycling stream!

Thank you for your efforts to keep it clean!

Read The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Series!