Confused about recycling? You're not alone

Despite the “recycle numbers” on the bottom, plastic cups are not recyclable. Photo by Tara Wendell

It seems that most people have good intentions when it comes to recycling, which is wonderful. However, “hopeful recycling” – which means putting an item in your recycling bin and hoping that it will be recycled – can sabotage all of your efforts. One item can contaminate your whole bin, so it is important to learn what you can, and cannot, throw into your recycling bin in Cuyahoga County.

Luckily for us, we have a fabulous resource called the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District. Their website,, offers a lot of information about what should be placed into your recycling.

The site even has a “What do I do with?” tool that allows you to enter in an item that you are not sure what to do with, for example “Styrofoam.” When you enter in  "Styrofoam," a couple of choices pop up: “Styrofoam blocks” and “Styrofoam containers.” I chose “containers.” The site then tells you how to deal with this kind of waste.

In this case, Styrofoam cannot go into recycling, however there is a mail-in program available for Styrofoam cups and it also directs you to another site for further recycling options. If you are not able to recycle your Styrofoam, the best place for it is in the trash directed to the landfill. With the “what do I do with” tool, you can enter in virtually anything you are looking to get rid of to find out the most responsible way to dispose of the item.

Okay, back to recycling. Right now, when you go on to, it immediately shows what you can and can’t put into your curbside recycling. These items that CAN go in are: cans, cartons, glass, paper and boxes, plastic bottles and jugs. This means no cups of any kind. I know, there are "recycle numbers" on the bottom of those red plastic cups that are so popular. That doesn’t matter. They can’t go in.

The District's website provides an explanation about plastic number codes: "The numbers on plastic containers are resin codes used by the plastics industry to identify the type of plastic chemicals used to make the container. It does not indicate whether that chemical compound can be manufactured into something new. So, not all plastics with the 1-7 symbol are recyclable."

Plastic berry containers from the grocery store also are not recyclable. They must be placed in the trash. Plastic blue bags from the grocery or other stores are not recyclable curbside. They are recyclable at Giant Eagle, Target, Lowe's, and other places that collect plastic bags. I collect plastic film, such as the plastic that is wrapped around some products and cereal bags (rinsed, no food) and place them in the plastic bag recycling bins at these locations as well. 

Hosting a summer barbeque? If you use all disposable plates, utensils and cups, they will all need to go into the trash. Plastic forks, knives, and spoons are not recyclable. Neither are plates and as I said before neither are cups. To host a more earth-friendly party, consider using reusable items. In the past I have purchased extra drinking glasses at thrift stores for cheap (around $1 each) and I store them in a box in the basement and use them when needed. In my opinion, it is also nicer for guests to drink cocktails out of real glass, rather than plastic. The same goes for plates and eating utensils, you can find these for cheap at thrift stores as well. The good news about your summer barbeque? You can recycle all of your beer cans, pop cans and bottles! 

I hope you will use the website whenever you are in doubt about what you can and cannot place in your curbside recycling. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and while most people have good intentions, they can easily sabotage their own efforts by putting the wrong stuff in. Also, when you put items in the trash bound for the landfill, remember you are not throwing it “away.” There is no “away,” it’s heading to a landfill to sit for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. 

Read More on The Green Report
Volume 10, Issue 13, Posted 9:21 AM, 07.03.2018