Do You Have to Rinse Before Recycling?

By Laurie Fanelli in Thinking Sustainably

Recycling is something we can all do to help protect the environment and create less waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the many benefits of recycling include reducing landfill waste, conserving resources, preventing pollution, and saving energy. It's not always clear how to best prepare items for recycling, though. For instance, do you have to rinse before recycling?

The EPA explains that, yes, generally speaking, plastic, metal, and glass containers must be empty and clean before recycling. Individual states have their own best practices, so you'll want to visit your state's website for specific recycling guidelines. Be sure to include your kids, nieces, or nephews in this process. It's never too early to learn about how to promote a greener planet. In the meantime, learn what to consider when preparing three of the most common recyclable materials.

It is encouraged to rinse before recycling plastics.


Plastic isn't biodegradable, so it's important to properly recycle items made from this material. Unfortunately, not all plastics are recyclable everywhere. It's a good idea to check with your local recycling provider to learn which types of plastics are accepted at your nearest facility. Most plastic products, such as juice containers, takeout boxes, and soda bottles, have a number code surrounded by the recycling symbol—a triangle made of arrows—on the bottom. Your recycling provider can tell you which numbers are accepted and which are not.

Once you've determined that your plastic product is recyclable, rinse it out, flatten it, and place it in the bin. For both plastics and aluminum, flattening is an important step to save space.


Cans are the most common form of recycled aluminum—though storm doors, foil, baking pans, and window frames may also be approved for recycling depending on where you live. Always rinse and flatten cans before recycling. Like plastic, aluminum isn't biodegradable, so it's important to recycle it properly. If you're unsure about whether an item is made from aluminum, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services suggests placing a magnet on it. If it falls off, it's aluminum, and you're good to go. If it sticks, it's steel. Stainless steel materials often can't be recycled curbside. If this is the case in your area, consider taking them to a scrap metal recycler instead.

If you're interested in recycling larger aluminum items, such as a storm door, check with your local recycling provider to see if it can be picked up from your house with the rest of your recyclables or if you have to drop it off.

It is encouraged to rinse glass before recycling.


The last common non-biodegradable material on the list is glass. Rinse and dry glass food and beverage containers and remove the lids—which are most likely made from a different material—before recycling. Eco-Cycle explains that metal lids can often be placed loose in the recycling bin, while plastic lids and caps may need to be thrown away. Most recycling plants don't require labels on glass containers to be removed, but it's a good idea to check with your location to make sure.

Now that your glass containers are rinsed and ready to go, think color. Consult your local recycling facility to see which colors they accept and whether they have the capacity to recycle comingled glass. According to Recycle Nation, different colors can't always be recycled together, so you may need to sort your clears, greens, browns, and blues.

Do you have to rinse before recycling? In short, yes—it's always a good idea. If you still have questions as to what goes in the recycling bin, call your local recycling facility for guidance. For inspiration on how to get creative with recycling, check out these ideas for fun recycled crafts.

Do you ever make craft projects with recyclables? Tag us on Instagram at @Toms_of_Maine with your favorite ideas.

Image Sources: Public Domain Pictures | Public Domain Pictures | Pixnio

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Why It's Good

By following some general guidelines and checking with your local recycling facility, you can help to ensure that your recyclables end up in the right place.