National Waste & Recycling Association

The National Waste & Recycling Association is the trade association that represents the private sector solid waste and recycling industry. Visit and learn more the Association at wasterecycling.org.

Begin with the Bin is a public education resource developed by the National Waste & Recycling Association.

The National Waste & Recycling Association is located at:
4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20008
T: 800-424-2869, 202-244-4700
F: 202-966-4824
E: info@wasterecycling.org
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To use our contact form and to subscribe to our free publications, click here.
Media: Chris Doherty at 202-364-3751 or cdoherty@wasterecycling.org.

Begin with the Bin

Begin with the Bin is a public education resource developed by the National Waste & Recycling Association. The site offers information and resources related to the waste and recycling industries. Visit and learn more at beginwiththebin.org.

Recycling Smart

While recycling is the first step in the process, it's important to put materials in the bin that actually belong there. Know before you throw!

The National Waste & Recycling Association, working with Keep America Beautiful, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Solid Waste Association of North America, have come up with a graphic so people will know what can be accepted at any recycling facility in the United States. It's available for use in several configurations, which are outlined below.

 

Recycling smart images to share on social media

Myths about recycling

Some Americans believe that recycling is hard, or that recyclables don’t get turned into new products. They do! Learn more about how and what here on this site.

  • Recycling has grown tremendously over the last decade. That is a major win for the environment.
    • The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we recycle about a third of all our waste – which is a lot, considering that the average American generates about 4 pounds of trash per day!
    • Most Americans have some kind of recycling program in their community.
  • Part of the reason we’re recycling more is because it's gotten easier!
    • Many Americans have access to “single-stream” recycling, where we throw all our recyclables into one separate cart that is collected right alongside our trash.
    • Most of these recyclables are taken to a “MRF” – materials recovery facility – where automated technology like optical scanners and magnets are used to sort and bale recyclable items into usable materials.
  • Recycling can be a major business!
    • Recyclables are commodities worth billions of dollars when turned into new products, from recycled paper to aluminum cans to textiles made from plastics.
  • Companies that use recyclables demand high-quality starting products. That is why it is so important to keep trash out of the recycling bin!

What shouldn't go in the recycling bin?

  • Plastic bags 
    • It’s a very common mistake to place your recyclables into a plastic grocery bag and then place that bag in the bin. Please do not do this!
    • Plastic bags cannot be recycled at the MRF, and in fact, can wrap around the screens. This can stop the machine and then stop the entire process.

Instead, take your clean, empty plastic bags back to the grocery store for recycling. Most grocery stores have a bin just for that purpose.

  • Pizza boxes
    • Corrugated cardboard is usually recyclable, but only if it’s free of grease.
    • What to do? Place the clean top of your pizza box in the recycling bin and throw away the greasy bottom in compost.
    • Plastic containers that held food, like a peanut butter jar, should be as empty as possible.
    • And while you don’t want to waste too much water cleaning your recyclables, a quick rinse will be appreciated by your local recycling facility! The cleaner an item is the more value it will have as a recycled material.
  • Dirty plastic food containers
    • Shredded paper
    • Drinking glass, mirrors and ceramics
    • Soiled paper, diapers
    • Flexible plastics, like plastic wrap, juice pouches and garden hoses
    • Plastic or metal clothes hangers – we recommend taking those back to your dry cleaners or donating them.
  • What happens when you put the wrong items in the recycling bin?
    • Contamination occurs when non-recyclable or dirty items are mixed in with clean recyclable content.
    • Recyclables are worth a lot of money to the manufacturers that use them, but only when they are high quality!
    • Generally speaking, our recyclables are taken to state-of the-art automated recycling centers called MRFs, which use magnets, eddy currents and optical scanners to sort and bale our pile of recyclables into usable materials.
    • When the wrong thing – like a plastic bag or a garden hose – ends up in the system, it can really break things down and cause major delays.
    • It contributes to the overall contamination of the recycling stream so the material is removed and landfilled.
    • It can break the recycling equipment.
  • I want to recycle more materials – why doesn’t the industry try to recycle those materials? 
    • Our industry continues to innovate so that there continue to be more options and access to recycling.
    • Some items that can’t be put into the single-stream bin have alternative options.
    • We also continue to advance the technology so that even more items can be recycled.