The Ultimate Guide to Recycling in Portland

We all know how important recycling is for our environment, but it can be confusing sometimes. Without understanding the state policies and guidelines on recycling, it is hard to know what goes 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 returns most of the nutrients back to the soil, prevents soil erosion, and has other environmental benefits, as well.

That said, if you ever wanted to fertilize the soil in your backyard, you can always take steps to compost in your backyard. 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).

Guidelines

Make sure that you are not packing the garbage too tightly. The weight limit for your green bin is 135 pounds. Anything above that may break the handles on your green container, so be mindful of that. 

You can compost all kinds of 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, vines, small branches, and fallen tree fruit. Don’t add dirt, rocks, treated wood, sawdust, sod, or large branches to your compost bin, as they need to be packed separately. 

If you have yard debris that doesn’t fit in your green can, you can put it out in paper bags, cans, or bundles. The same goes for pet waste, large branches, and large amounts of liquid waste, such as grease or oil. Each extra item or bundle costs you $3.75.

See Portland’s complete list of composting guidelines here.

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.

Guidelines

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, electric cords, chains, aerosol cans that still contain liquid, screws, and nails can be collected in steel cans and crimped closed and then put in your blue recycling bin.

See Portland’s complete list of mixed-recycling bin guidelines here.

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.

Guidelines

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.

See Portland’s complete list of glass recycling guidelines here.

Motor Oil

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).

Other Items

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.

Electronics

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 retardants that are toxic to the environment.

At The Technology Conservation Group, they accept all kinds of electronics for recycling including, laptops, printers, cables, home theater systems, televisions, and lab equipment. Often, they’ll even be able to give you some money in return for these items.

Appliances and Building Materials

Usable: If you have appliances, building materials, and furniture that are still usable, 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! It 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, consider taking them to Environmentally Conscious Recycling.

They accept old computer parts (except monitors), fax machines, copiers, corrugated cardboard, and most metals at no expense. 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 to recycle their 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.

Other Items

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.

Recycling can be a daunting task as not all materials in your household can be recycled. It can become confusing especially if you are not familiar with your city’s recycling guidelines. I hope this guide 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!

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