Putting our Discards in their Place

Most of the sorting of waste doesn’t happen out on the curb. It happens in our kitchens, bedrooms, family rooms, home offices and restrooms. Strategies that create easy ways to separate waste right where it is generated in the house will increase the chance that things get to the right cart and ultimately to their correct destination. 

Walk through the house and ask yourself, “Is it as easy to recycle in this room as it is to throw things away?” “Are there certain recyclables that are getting tossed in some rooms but not others?


One principal to good recycling is to provide a recycling container everywhere where there is a garbage can. Even in the most motivated households, if you only have a garbage can in place, recyclables may get tossed in the garbage. If you only have a recycling container in place, garbage might end up in your recycling. Signs can help. You can ask your local jurisdiction for stickers or signs for your containers. Post them so they are visible.

It is also important to check the two containers to ensure that materials are in the right place. People often make decisions about which container to use by looking into the container and seeing what is already there rather than reading signs or asking questions. One person’s mistake can quickly become a household norm.


Rinse containers clean of food before you put them in recycling. That way containers do not leak onto paper recycling and food does not attract rodents at the recycling facilities and shipping containers. They do not have to be sanitary enough to eat from, though. You should not have to use hot water to rinse them. Flower pots should be free of dirt. Paper products, cardboard and aluminum foil should not have any food or grease on them.


Folks in our region are such motivated recyclers, some of the bigger recycling problems come from the wishful recyclers rather than the missed opportunity. When people do not understand where materials are going and the immense volume of materials that are sorted, people will err on the side of recycling mystery items.

But the lists that are distributed in the community are well thought out and include discussions with recyclers and processers. It is important that only the materials that recyclers can use and processers can sort get in the recycling and compost containers.

Jim Maddry (Class 36) explains why labels don’t matter.

What should you do if you don't know which container to use?

YES: Check the official accepted list to see if an item you are wondering about is specifically named in the yes or no list. If it is not listed, it is likely not accepted.

NO: Do NOT read the label of the container to determine if it is recyclable or compostable. Packaging labels can be misleading. They simply cannot apply to all of the varying rules of the multiple jurisdictions throughout the country.

When in doubt, throw it out.

Or contact  the Metro Recycling Information Center, 503-234-3000 to make sure it goes in.


Once you know that your system is well set up, have a conversation with the whole household about how to use the system. If some in the house are less motivated to sort materials, aim for the easiest materials and the important ‘no’ list. Let guests know how to use the system, as well. You can request Yes/No information and materials from your local jurisdiction to post next to containers inside the house.