Recycle Responsibly

An Update You Can Use from the EarthWays Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden

Many of us recycle—a good habit that keeps getting better.

But while recycling is geared to handle a wide range of materials, your recycling bin is not a catch-all. The Garden’s EarthWays Center joins with OneSTL recycling partners all over St. Louis to remind adults and kids how to recycle responsibly and keep recycling working for us all.


MBG Visitors Recycling

“Single-Stream” recycling is the service most of us have at home, at work, at school—even at places like ballparks, airports, and festivals. Everything we can recycle goes “co-mingled” into one bin. As recycling gets easier and more convenient, more people participate in recycling, right? True, but this increased participation comes with some challenges.

Recycling has become so easy and so convenient that our practice of recycling has gone slack. Our OneSTL regional sustainability partnership is helping us all get back on track. These easy steps will update our habits to be responsible—and resourceful—recyclers.


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1. Stick with the Six!

Recycling companies that handle Single Stream only want materials they can sort, bale, and ship to manufacturers of recycled-content products. These six types of Recycle Responsibly items include:

  • Plastic bottles and containers—with caps and lids left on
  • Glass bottles and jars, also with lids on
  • Metal food and beverage cans, including aluminum pans
  • Food and beverage cartons, also with lids on
  • Household and office paper, including junk mail and magazines
  • Cardboard, both light and heavyweight—flatten the boxes, please!


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2. No Plastic Bags in the Bin!

Plastic bags and plastic “film” of any kind should NEVER go into your Single Stream recycling bin.

  • Recycling facilities shut down for hours when plastic bags jam machinery. Equipment malfunctions also put workers at risk for injuries.
  • To recycle plastic bags bring them back to your local grocery or retail store. Plastic bags (and plastic “film” including shrink wrap, bubble wrap, and the air-filled pillows from your online shipments) require a different collection system and processing equipment than our home, school and workplace recycling services provide.
  • Visit to learn more about plastic bag and film recycling and to find a drop-off location near you.

Always bring your reusable bags when shopping! The Garden’s cloth bags make great gifts for any recycler.


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3. Loose, Clean, and Dry

To keep food waste out of recycling, please give your recyclables a good rinse and dry them whenever possible. Keep your items loose, not bagged, and always flatten your cardboard so there is more room in the bin for recyclables!


4. When in Doubt, Throw it Out—or Find Another Way to Recycle

The first part of this message is exactly the opposite of what many dedicated recyclers have been doing, but it’s a very important update for recycling today. Even with good intentions, putting the wrong items in your recycling bin does more harm than good.

Why not recycle other items in your blue bin? Single Stream recycling companies can’t use these materials. Items accepted in Single Stream will be sold to manufacturers of recycled-content products. Anything else in your blue bin contaminates that stream of useful materials. Contamination drives up costs for recycling. In today’s global marketplace, contamination in the recycling stream has endangered our U.S. recycling industry. It’s up to us recyclers to keep this system working well!

In addition to plastic bags, here are some of the worst offenders. Never put this stuff in your recycling bin:

  • Any kind of “Styrofoam” including cups, boxes and packing materials—avoid using Styrofoam!
  • Single-use coffee cups and lids
  • Any kind of disposable food service item (such as plastic utensils or straws)
  • Food waste that glops up the useful materials
  • Plastic toys
  • Scrap metal
  • Garden hoses or any kind of “tangler” that will lock up recycling plant equipment
  • Any kind of multiple-material item, like 3-ring binders or a potato chip canister
  • Sharp objects or any kind of medical substance or item—they are a health and safety risk for recycling workers!

The new recycling rule is: Not on the List? Not in the Bin!

The good news is there are plenty of options to recycle items that Single Stream can’t use. St. Louis City Recycles has compiled a terrific database that covers many specialized recycling services in the St. Louis region.


Waste Station 2017 WEBSIZE
Zero Waste Station at Garden events

Grow Your Recycling Know-how!

From bringing lessons and student project help to schools to working with corporations to staff Zero Waste Stations at Garden events, EarthWays Center programs support responsible recycling efforts and knowledge.


Jean Ponzi
Green Resources Manager, EarthWays Center

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