The Dirty Dozen of Recycling

Recycling Rules

When placed in your recycling bin, the Dirty Dozen (listed below) can really hurt the recycling process. They have the potential to:

  1. Jam the sorting equipment by wrapping around and stopping moving parts.
  2. Reduce the recyclability of other materials from contamination.
  3. Pose dangerous risks to recycling workers.

THE DIRTY DOZEN: Keep these out of your recycling cart!

1. Plastic Bags: Plastic bags and film are very hard to capture, require TONS of labor to sort, and easily get stuck in equipment. Instead of trashing them, bring to drop-off locations who can accept them and bring your own bag to reduce waste.

2. Batteries & Electronics: Batteries cause fires when they get crushed in transit or at the recycling facility. Check with your city how to properly dispose of batteries. In Sioux Falls, the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facility accepts batteries and e-waste year round. You can also take them directly to SEAM for recycling, located right up the road from the HHW facility.

3. Hoses: Garden hoses are made of different types of materials, making them very difficult to recycle. Along with their complicated makeup, if “stringy” items like garden hoses make it onto the process, they get caught in equipment and force us to shut down to get them out. If your hose can be reused, donate it to a local thrift store so someone else can use it! If it’s not able to be reused try to make something new with it – Check out these ideas from or these from

4. Clothes, Fabric & Dryer Lint: Fabric like clothing, blankets, bedding, towels etc. get caught in the recycling equipment and causes major problems at recycling facilities. Usually clothes get so damaged or contaminated from the waste truck that they have to be thrown away after being pulled out. Donate to one of the many community organizations, charities or thrift stores instead: Check out this list from the local best for some ideas. Dryer lint, composed of tiny bits of fabric fibers, are also not recyclable and should be placed in the garbage.

5. Diapers & Home Health Waste: Diapers (Clean OR Dirty), syringes, needles, plastic tubing, catheters, pills, crutches, bandages, pretty much anything you can relate to home healthcare is not recyclable – even if unused. Not only do recycling employees have to touch it to remove it, but none of those materials are recyclable in the single stream- keep them out! (learn where to take sharps and medications in Sioux Falls instead).

6. Hangers: Hangers, regardless if metal, plastic or wood, are not recyclable in your bin. They get caught on recycling equipment cause massive damage to the system. Take wire hangers to a scrap metal business who specializes in metal. Locally, you can check with TJN or other outlets before trashing them. Many dry cleaners and thrift stores will also accept all types of hangers as donations

7. Metal Scrap: Scrap metal like Dumbbells, Barbells, Kettlebells, Car Parts, Pots & Pans, Silverware, Bikes, etc, do not belong in your recycling bin. It causes MAJOR damage to the recycling equipment. The only metal accepted in your recycling bin is metal cans. That’s it.

8. Food Residue & Grease: Cardboard and paper are recyclable, food and grease are not. If your pizza box is full of cheese and grease, it can contaminate recyclable materials in the bin or pulping process. If minimal grease is on the box, recycle it. If food is stuck to the box or it’s soaked in grease, check to see if the top is clean, if so – rip the top off and recycle it. If not, trash the box.

9. Plastic Toys: Because toys are made up of so many different materials, they are extremely difficult to recycle. If complex items like toys come in, they damage the equipment or worse, injure our employees. Consider donating toys to local organizations and give them a second life to make another child smile.

10. VHS Tapes: If even one VHS or cassette tape makes it in the recycling bin, it can damage the recycling equipment. The “stringy” makeup of VHS tapes are horrible for the process and can completely shut us down if they get wrapped up. Check with local electronics recycling companies like SEAM for disposal. You could also find some reuse options if a thrift store or library will accept them, or sell online.

11. Styrofoam: This squeaky, messy material also known as expanded polystyrene is NOT recyclable in your bin. More than 95% of styrofoam is just air, which means it takes up a lot of space, weighs very little, and yields a tiny amount of new material when processed – this makes the logistics of trying to collect it and move it very difficult. Please leave foam cups, plates, peanuts and any other type of polystyrene OUT of your bin. Also, make sure you remove it from your cardboad box before recycling.

12. Yard Waste: Leaves, branches, grass clippings and other yard waste items are NOT allowed in your recycling bin. It contaminates clean recyclables and jams up our system… just imagine smashed veggies, clumps of mud, grass and sticks mucking up the process– it turns into a big mess quickly! Bring yard waste to the Sioux Falls landfill or city dropoff sites for proper disposal.


Can’t it all just get sorted out?

Watch the process to understand why these items can’t go in the bin: