Recycling Contamination 101!

Blue Bin overflowing with Styrofoam and Plastic Bags.

What is contamination?

Contamination happens when items that are not accepted in the Blue Bins end up there anyway. When this occurs, there is a greater chance that the whole bin will be too contaminated to be recycled. Unfortunately, this means that if even one of your neighbors is bagging recyclables it could be enough to contaminate the whole bin. This leads to all of the items in the Blue Bin being sent to the landfill instead of the recycling facility.

Contamination can occur on a consistent basis, or it can be heavier during holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Let’s find out what the deal with contamination is and how to stop it!

What are the major contaminates?

Plastic bags, like the ones at the grocery store, are the worst contaminant in our single stream recycling. They do not belong in your Blue Bin- instead they go back to the grocery store! You can skip plastic bags all together if you choose a reusable tote bag instead. Don’t have a reusable bag? Stop by our office to pick up a free one!

Food waste does not belong in your Blue Bin. It is the 2nd largest form of contamination in our recycling! If you are able to compost, turning food waste into valuable soil is the best! If not, it should be placed in the trash dumpster. Yard Waste is not composted municipally so food waste does NOT go in the green bin!

Styrofoam never goes in your Blue Bin! It should always be placed in the trash dumpster. Double check your cardboard boxes for Styrofoam and plastic packaging materials before placing the box in the Blue Bin!

Single Use Disposables like Chip Bags, Granola Bar Wrappers, Plastic Utensils, or used Paper Cups/Plates. These items do not go in your Blue Bin and instead go in the trash dumpster. It’s easy to avoid these items when you rethink your purchases and choose reusables instead!

Solid Waste always presents a contamination issue for recycling when residential trash dumpsters become too full. Sometimes people aren’t even sure which dumpster is for which items. This contaminates the Blue Bin very quickly, which can lead to the entire load being sent to the landfill, while also causing a loss of production for the whole recycling process. Click here to learn more about the recycling process and take a virtual tour!

What Bin does it go in?

One of the most difficult parts of beginning to recycle is knowing what can go in the Blue Bin. It is really easy to do once you get the hang of it! You can use our “What Bin” page on our website to learn the basics, it even has pictures of examples! Click here to try it out.

How can we make change?

Improving your recycling knowledge and habits is a good first step. By doing this you can help inform your neighbors and friends! You can start this journey by viewing our recycling resources. Click here to see online versions. You can also stop by our office anytime Monday – Friday 8am – 5pm and pick up resources too!

At Saint Louis City Recycles we have a Recycling Ambassador Program which allows those who want to volunteer, help us spread the word of proper recycling! One of the common things Recycling Ambassadors help out with is volunteering at events we attend to represent Saint Louis City Recycles, another is handing out information to neighbors and friends, and one of the most popular is placing dumpster stickers around the city! We have two types of dumpster stickers, one for trash and one for recycling. Signage on each bin can help improve the usage of each of them. This can help decrease contamination and increase waste diversion from the landfill!

Small Steps. BIG Impact!

By taking small steps to improve your recycling habits you can have a BIG impact! Small steps could be mentioning one or two things about recycling to your neighbors or friends, or placing a dumpster sticker on your alley bin- which could lead to 2-3 more people learning about recycling!

Change isn’t instant. It can and will take time!





Please feel free to contact us through email: or by calling us at 314-772-4646. We are in the office Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm.

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