Sioux Falls asks for material to be “Empty of Liquid And Food Waste” before recycling – but how clean do food, drink and cleaning containers really need to be?
Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at the WHY behind the answer. When you put your recyclables on the curb, they get picked up by a waste hauler and sent to the recycling facility to be sorted, baled, and sent to a reprocessing facility where they could be ground up, melted down or chipped into flakes to make new products.
So why do we want “clean” materials?
- Causes Odor: Once your recyclables are in your bin, they aren’t processed right away. The longer they sit outside, or in the truck, or at the recycling facility before being sorted, the worse the odor can get.
- Attracts Pests: Odor attracts lots of pests like flies, maggots and rats. Pests carry diseases that cause health concerns and they are not fun to try to get rid of.
- It’s Disrespectful: The brave recycling team who hand-sorts the items really appreciate people taking a minute to make sure their containers are clean. Not only can the smell and extra “ick” factor ruin their day, any harmful chemicals left in aerosol cans or bottles can actually HURT them! Please respect the people sorting through your waste and remember, real people touch that.
- It’s Wasteful: Leaving enough peanut butter in your container to make another sandwich or leaving half your pasta sauce in the jar is wasteful of food. If food scraps remain or have gone bad, don’t forget about composting! (Check out this composting 101 guide from the City of Sioux Falls)
- Causes Contamination: Containers with remaining contents can spoil other materials. Food or liquids can contaminate cardboard and paper, sometimes to the point of not being able to be recycled. Oil and grease are also big contaminants- which is why we ask that you remove the oily part of pizza boxes and only recycle the clean part.
- Gums Up Equipment: Food particles can potentially gum-up recycling machines and cause efficiency issues: Less gum-up, less time loss in processing.
- Reduces the Value: The cleaner your containers, the more they’re worth on the market. When end-processors receive food and liquid contaminated items, they offer less than market value since they have to do more work to get it into usable shape. The less value materials bring back to the original recycling facility, the less they have to spend on things like improving service, education and technology.
How Clean is Clean:
Small amounts of food left don’t interfere with the process, but your effort of scraping out as much food residue as possible can make a big difference to prevent what we discussed above! Follow these tips to get your containers as “clean” as they need to be:
- Dump all liquids out of containers, the drier the better to keep paper goods recyclable.
- Scrape all the solid food scraps out of jars and cans with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. A little grime is okay, aka that stubborn noodle, splash of sauce, or peanut butter remnants, but if you could make another sandwich with the peanut butter or mayonnaise left in the jar, please empty it.
- If you’re concerned about left over food after scraping, lightly rinse out your jars and cans. Using left over dishwater is best as there’s no point wasting good water. Even when considering water use, recycling almost always leads to energy savings when you consider the water needed to produce virgin glass, steel, plastic, or aluminum.
- For stickier residue (Jelly, margarine, mustard, etc), try wiping out wide-mouth containers with a used napkin or paper towel (don’t forget, you can compost that!).
Remember, recycling is just one of the 3 R’s! To reduce the cleanup work on your end, try cutting down on packaging in the first place. Opt for items in bulk where possible and compare the type and amount of packaging from brand to brand before buying. Thank you for your dedication to helping Sioux Falls recycle as much as possible! If you have questions on specific items, check out our where do I take this page or download our simple recycling guide.