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Recycling 101: Keep These Items Out of Your Curbside Bin

Recycling can be tricky — how do you know if an item belongs in the recycle bin? Here are some tips on items that should NOT go into your curbside recycling bin in Boulder County. Watch the Recycling 101 video above for more do’s and don’ts.

As Boulder moves towards becoming a Zero Waste community, it is important to know what goes in the compost, recycle and landfill bins. A material is recyclable only if it can be sold to a manufacturer and turned into something new. The numbers and symbol are for manufacturers; they are not a good way to tell if something can go into the recycle bin.

Here are three common items that mistakenly end up in the curbside recycling bin:

Plastic Bags​

Plastic bags are the biggest problem for the recycling center. Bags get stuck in the machines and cause the whole system to break down! Please don’t put your recyclables or compostables in plastic bags when you send them to the curb.

Want to recycle your plastic bags? You can take them to the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) or to some local grocery stores. CHaRM accepts plastic bags marked with a #2 or #4 only (which primarily includes grocery bags, dry cleaning bags, and newspaper bags). They MUST be clean, dry and empty. 


It comes as a surprise to many, but cups are not recyclable at the Boulder County recycling facility! Coffee cups are paper lined with plastic, so they don’t break down like other paper does when recycled and other cups are not recyclable because stable markets do not exist here for these materials. Some cups are compostable, but make sure they say BPI compostable before you throw them in your green bin.

To-go Boxes

Many to-go boxes, like the one shown, are paper lined in plastic and therefore should not go in your recycle or compost bin. Some are wax lined and can be composted — check for “BPI Certified Compostable” letting you know that is the case, usually located on the bottom of the container. When in doubt, throw it out!

For more information, including resources on where to take hard to recycle materials and our Sorting 101 video, visit the city’s What Goes Where page.

Materials photos courtesy of Eco-cycle

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