Can I recycle this?

Blog post

Find out which plastics can go in your recycling bin, and which can’t.

Published

You’re holding a plastic cup, hovering over the recycling bin, but doubting yourself. Does it go in recycling? Or maybe trash? 

Plastics are especially confusing when it comes to recycling. Here’s a run-down of what goes where and why:

Can I recycle these?

A question mark, surrounded by plastics such as forks/spoons, clamshell containers, lids, and cups.

No. These plastics should not go in your regular recycling container.

Various plastic containers with a red line through them.

At work, and at home, the only plastics you should put in your recycling container are bottles, tubs (6oz or larger), buckets and jugs.

Side by side: spray bottle, one-liter soda bottle, sports drink bottle, yogurt cups, plastic bucket, milk jug

Why?

Sometimes it’s because the items are too small (like lids), making them too hard to sort out from paper, cardboard and other recyclables.

Other times it’s because the global market for a particular type of plastic changes too frequently. Recycling only works if it makes financial sense for companies to buy the used plastics to turn into new plastics.

What about the numbers on the bottom of plastics?

A side by side list of recycling numbers, 1 through 7.

Ignore the numbers. The numbers on the bottom of plastics are used by manufacturers to mark what the product is made of. They are not indicators of whether or not a plastic item is recyclable in Portland.

It's about size and shape. The allowed plastics – bottles, tubs, buckets and jugs – are the right shapes to get successfully sorted, and they’re the types of plastic that recycling companies want to buy.

What about plastics labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable?”

Never put plastics labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable” into any recycling container. These “plastics” are made to break down quickly and will contaminate the plastics recycling process and reduce the quality of goods produced from the recycled materials. (Also never put them in compost, at home or at work. They should go in the trash.)

Side-by-side: compostable plastic cups, compostable paper clamshell, with a red line through them

Order free posters for your workplace that show what goes into recycling, compost and trash.