Food Containers: How Clean is Clean?

Recycling Rules

How clean do food and drink containers really need to be?

Small amounts of food 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 issues!

How to “clean” your containers:
  1. Dump liquids out (the drier the better).
  2. Scrape all the solid or sticky food out of containers (use a spoon or spatula!)…. a little grime is okay, like a stubborn noodle, a splash of sauce, or small remnants of peanut butter, BUT if you can make another sandwich with that peanut butter or mayonnaise, please empty it.
  3. If you still think it’s not clean enough, lightly rinse and swish it out (use leftover dishwater to prevent wasting any clean water). Even when considering water use, recycling almost always leads to energy savings in comparison to producing virgin glass, steel, plastic, or aluminum.
  4. For stickier residue (jelly, margarine, mustard, etc), try wiping it out with a used napkin or paper towel (hey, you can compost that!).
  5. For any chemicals, we ask that you triple rinse the container and keep the cap off to let it air-dry (please protect our team!).
Why do we want “clean” materials?
  • Respect: The brave recycling team who hand-sorts your waste 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, but 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.
  • Odor: Once your recyclables are in your bin, they don’t always get processed immediately. The longer they sit out in your bin, in the truck, or at the recycling facility before being sorted, the worse the odor can get.
  • Pests: Odor attracts lots of pests like flies, maggots and rats. Pests carry diseases that cause health concerns and they are not fun to deal with at the recycling facility.
  • Wasteful: Leaving enough peanut butter in your container to make another sandwich or leaving half your pasta sauce in the jar is wasteful. If food has gone bad, don’t forget about composting! (Check out this composting 101 guide from the City of Sioux Falls)
  • Contamination:  Containers with food or liquid can spoil other materials like cardboard and paper, sometimes to the point of not being able to be recycled.
  • Gums Up Equipment: Food particles can potentially gum-up recycling machinery and cause efficiency issues: Less gum-up, less time-loss in processing.
  • Reduces the Value: The cleaner your containers, the more they’re worth in 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. Lower value materials mean less funding to spend on things like improving services, education and technology.

No Thank You… Check out this load full of food waste that was dumped at our facility:

Food Waste at Millennium

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.