Recycling 101

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What does it mean to recycle? To put it simply, recycling is the act of turning waste into something else that we can use. Something that I didn’t know before I started, is recycling requirements differ from city to city. What may be recyclable in one city may not be in another or the proper way to recycle an item may not be the correct way to do so in another. A good example of this is, in Southern California, you are asked to crush plastic water bottles before putting them in your recyclables, in Tucson you are NOT supposed to do this. This blog will discuss the do’s and don’t for recycling in Tucson. But I will provide resources at the end to help you find recycling requirements in your municipality. 

Let’s start with what to do with all recyclables:

  1. Clean all recyclables: You want to feel comfortable enough to drink out of the container, that’s how clean. I learned on my recycling tour if it’s not a #1 or  #2 plastics don’t bother wasting water to clean the container, just put it in the trash. This is because #1 and #2 plastics have high demand, plastics #3-#7 have little to no demand and often sit around until bought
  2. Make sure after you’ve cleaned the containers they are dry.
  3. Do not flatten your recyclables: This can affect the sorting machines. The machines do not allow materials less than the size of a tennis ball to pass through. So if you flatter a plastic bottle and it’s around the size of a tennis ball or smaller, the sorter won’t let it pass through and your efforts were wasted 🙁

Now what can and cannot be recycled in your blue bin: 


Plastic containers / bottles / jugs:  Please recycle #1 and #2 plastics. This includes water, soda, juice bottles milk, softener, and detergent containers, etc. After they have been cleaned and dried leave the caps on the containers

Paper: Most paper items are recyclable, provided they don’t contain grease, food residue, or a wax coating. Things like glue, tape, staples, and envelope windows are ok. Even glossy magazines are accepted, but be sure to remove any plastic wrapper. Shredded paper goes in a plastic bag this is the only time plastic bags are allowed in the recycling

Cardboard: Corrugated cardboard, pizza boxes, and egg cartons with minimal food residue, shoe boxes, cereal boxes, paper towel cores, cardboard cans used for potato chips, frozen juice, and household cleansers are accepted.

Glass Bottles / Jars: Remove any food residue and clean and dry. Recycle lids on the container too. No broken glass or household glass like your drinking glasses in recycling.

Aluminum + Tin Cans: Remove any food residue and push lid into can or place in bottom and pinch can to hold lid inside. Only clean aluminum foil containers and wrap are suitable for recycling


  • Plastic grocery bags: This includes ones from the grocery store, plastic shopping bags, zip lock baggies. However, these can be recycled at any grocery chain store in Tucson.
  • Clothing: Instead try donating or selling unwanted clothing on a second-hand selling app like Poshmark. Give really worn down clothes a second life by fixing them up or turning them into something new.
  • Styrofoam: Not recyclable anywhere, I try to avoid as best as can altogether. There are other eco-options for protecting your goods.
  • Diapers: You’d think this is obvious but people do it. Not worth those fines, just put it in the trash.
  • Food waste: Trash it always, or even better compost it. Check out my Composting 101 blog to learn the basics of composting. It’s not as hard as you think.
  • Any household hazardous waste: Items with a hazardous warning label. This includes things like paint, Aerosol Cans, car batteries, electronic waste, appliances, etc. These items can be dropped off at a household hazardous waste drop off area.
  • Plant Trimmings: This doesn’t even go in your trash, take it directly to the dump or wait for your bi-annual brush and Bulky collection – check the calendar for pick-up dates. 
  • Other items that belong in your brush & bulky collection NOT recycling: 
    • Lumber (up to 5 feet long and stacked in a separate pile)
    • PVC and metal pipes (up to 5 feet long)
    • Railroad ties (limit 5)
    • Furniture, carpet, and doors
    • Lawnmowers with fuel tank and crankcase removed
    • Scrap metal (bicycles, swing sets, etc., broken into 5-foot lengths)
    • Cacti (must be contained in a box – up to 25 lbs.)
    • Appliances (remove freezer/refrigerator doors)
    • Car tires (limit of five automobile tires. Tires must be separated from the pile. A separate truck will pick them up within the week.)
    • Metal drums (empty and cut in half)

I tried to cover as much as I could in this post but there will be some things you may not know what to do with after reading this blog. Feel free to reach out to me on my Instagram and I will try to find the answer for you or you can use the City of Tucson’s Recycle Coach to help. I use this tool often and it’s helped teach me a lot about how to recycle in the city of Tucson. 

Why Is It Smart To Recycle? 

  1. Saves your city money to be allocated to more important things like education. For example, the effects of poor recycling have cost the City of Tucson 4 MILLION DOLLARS annually. Also, proper recycling can EARN your city money. Recycling used to bring in income for our city, if we all recycle right, it can happen again.
  2. Recycling saves energy. By recycling about 30% of our waste every year, Americans save the equivalent of 11.9 billion gallons of gasoline and reduce the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road.
  3. Recycling creates jobs. For every one job at a landfill, there are ten jobs in recycling processing and 25 jobs in recycling-based manufacturing. The recycling industry employs more workers than in the auto industry.
  4. There’s only so much space for our trash. What happens when we reach that threshold? Let’s just recycle and repurpose our waste so we don’t have to worry about that huge problem.
  5. It helps our planet, you know the thing that gives us life? Why make more waste when you can turn existing waste into something useful.

Source: Los Reales Landfill Tour + Eco Cyle

What if I don’t live in Tucson, what can I recycle in my city? 

  1. The best option is to check your local city’s recycling requirements. A simple google search of What can I recycle in city?  That should pull up a bunch of answers for you. 
  2. This recycling tool by Earth911  will answer recycling questions based on your zip code.
  3. You can use this resource from the EPA for general recycling requirements and education.
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