We all know how important recycling is, but it’s so confusing sometimes. It’s hard to know exactly what can go in the blue mixed-recycling bin or the yellow glass recycling bin. And what in the world do you do with things that should be recycled, like electronics, but can’t be recycled at the curb?
I’m here to break it all down for you. I’ll go over what can go out in the bins at the curb for weekly pickup, and I’ll point you in the right direction for recycling some other common items that you can’t leave at the curb. For other items, the city has a great resource for figuring out if there’s anywhere that will take them before you resort to throwing them in the trash.
The Green Compost Bin
First up, let’s talk about that green compost bin that’s picked up weekly. If you can compost something, you should. Food scraps make up 30,000 tons of unnecessary garbage every single year just in our area. Wow.
When you compost, the scraps can go to fertilizing yards and gardens instead of heading to landfills to rot. Composting also prevents soil erosion and has other environmental benefits, as well.
Remember, you can always compost in your own backyard if you want that nutrient-rich soil. But the city’s green bin also takes away items that you may not want to compost in your backyard (I’m looking at you, dairy products).
Don’t pack food too tightly. The weight limit for your green container is 135 pounds.
You can compost all food, including meat, eggs and eggshells, dairy products, bread, grains, spoiled food, fruits, and vegetables. You can also compost coffee filters, tea bags, paper napkins and towels, and pizza delivery boxes (cardboard only—any other items in the boxes should be discarded first).
In addition, you can compost yard debris, including leaves, grass, small branches, and fallen tree fruit. Don’t add dirt, rocks, treated wood, sawdust, sod, or large branches to your compost bin.
If you have yard debris that doesn’t fit in your green can, you can put it out in paper bags, cans, or bundles. Each extra item costs you $3.75.
The Blue Mixed-Recycling Bin
This recycling bin is awesome because it allows you to mix much of your recycling together in one place. But the problem is that enthusiastic Portlanders are mixing trash in with the recyclables, and that contaminates the recycling stream.
So, the most important thing to remember when you’re recycling is to make sure that the thing you’re putting in your bin can actually be recycled.
Don’t pack recyclables too tightly—they should fall out freely. The city also recommends that you put the bin out when it’s at least half full. The weight limit for your blue container is 135 pounds.
Paper: You can recycle all paper items, including newspaper, catalogs, and cardboard boxes (they should be flat and measure less than 36 inches in any direction).
Plastic: You can’t recycle all plastic. You can recycle bottles with a neck smaller than the base, tubs, plant pots, and buckets smaller than five gallons. Do not recycle containers under six ounces. Do not recycle caps or lids. You also can’t recycle take-out containers, trays that come with microwavable dinners, square snack containers, bowls, or coffee cups, lids, and straws. And don’t recycle plastic bags (though you can take those to your local grocery store for recycling.)
Metal: You can recycle aluminum, steel, and tin food cans, as well as empty dry metal paint cans, empty aerosol cans, foil, and scrap metal (as long as it’s smaller than 30 inches and less than 30 pounds). Small pieces of metal like beer bottle caps, glass jar lids, screws, and nails can be collected in steel cans and crimped closed and then put in your recycling bin.
The Yellow Recycling Bin
While much of our recycling is sold to China, Portland has a high-quality stream of recyclable glass that stays right here. It’s collected separately from the rest of your recycling.
This glass is often made into new bottles (which takes about 30% less energy than making new glass). It can also be mixed with other materials to be used as landfill liner or roadbed.
The city recommends putting this bin out when it’s at least halfway full.
Labels on the bottles are OK, and all colors of glass are acceptable. Don’t recycle light bulbs, drinking glasses, vases, ceramics, or any broken glass.
Did you know that you can actually recycle motor oil curbside in Portland? All you have to do is put it in a clear plastic bottle with a screw-on lid (like a milk jug) and place it next to your other recycling (don’t mix it in with other recycling, however).
You likely have a bunch of other items that you would like to recycle but that the city can’t take care of for you. If so, you’re in luck. We have a lot of places in our area that take items like these.
The Technology Conservation Group accepts 100% of the electronics they receive for recycling. They are committed to being in complete compliance with all regulations, and they can ensure the security of all of your electronic data (fees apply).
It’s important to recycle electronics properly because they often contain lead, mercury cadmium, and flame retardant that are toxic to the environment.
Here’s a complete list of items accepted at The Technology Conservation Group. They take things like laptops, printers, cables, home theater systems, televisions, and lab equipment. Often, they’ll even be able to give you some money for these items.
Appliances and Building Materials
Usable: If you have appliances, building materials, and furniture that are still useable, consider taking them to the Habitat for Humanity, which has four locations in our area.
They accept these items and either sell them at their ReStore locations or use them in homes they build for those in need.
They’ll even schedule a pickup for you! You can’t get much easier than that.
Non-usable: If you have building materials and appliances that are past the point of being useful to anyone, check out Environmentally Conscious Recycling.
They accept computers and components (except monitors), fax machines, copiers, corrugated cardboard, and most metals for free. They also accept washers, dryers, stoves, water heaters, dishwashers, and building materials (including carpet) for a small fee. It’s also extremely hard to get rid of mattresses since most places will not take them for others to use, but they take them here and disassemble them so they can recycle the components.
Craft and School Supplies
Not sure what to do with unwanted craft, school, and party supplies? While some of them can be recycled in your bin, here’s a better idea: take them to Scrap PDX. It’s a donation center and reuse store in Southwest Portland.
Their inventory changes constantly, so you never know what you’ll find for your next big project. But it’s always a fun place to go, and you’ll find materials at a huge discount over buying them new.
Last year, Scrap PDX diverted 140 tons of materials from the waste stream, so this is a cause worth supporting.
If you have other things you’d like to see if you can recycle, the City of Portland has this great resource where you can put in your address and the items to see what places may take them and whether or not there’s a fee associated with recycling them.
I hope this helps you have a better grasp on how to recycle in our city so we can do a better job of helping the environment. Truly, every little bit helps!