Recycling right

The best thing you can do to support recycling is to recycle the right stuff

Recycle the right stuff

Recycling has been in the news a lot lately with shifts in markets and policy changes in China. This has left many Minnesotans wondering what is happening to the recycling placed in their bins, and what they can do now to support recycling.

Minnesota state law prohibits materials separated and collected for recycling from being trashed. Your recyclables are getting recycled!

“Most people are familiar with the benefits of recycling, which include conserving natural resources, saving energy, and supporting our local economy, which has a history of strong recycling markets,” said Ben Knudson, a recycling expert with Hennepin County. “However, people are less familiar with the importance, now more than ever, of reducing contamination – or keeping materials that don’t belong in the recycling out.”

See our recycling guide for a list of materials that are accepted and not accepted for recycling throughout Hennepin County. 

Keep these out of your recycling bin

Some of the most important materials to keep out of the bin are:

  • Plastic bags and wrap: Do not put these materials in your recycling cart as they get tangled in equipment at recycling centers. Bring them to a retail drop-off location for recycling, avoid by finding reusable alternatives, or put them in the trash. Learn more at www.hennepin.us/green-disposal-guide/items/plastic-bags-wrap.
  • Cords, hoses and string lights: Do not put these materials in your recycling cart as they get tangled in the equipment at recycling centers. You can recycle cords and string lights at a drop-off location, or you can put these materials in the trash. Learn more at www.hennepin.us/green-disposal-guide/items/string-holiday-lights and www.hennepin.us/green-disposal-guide/items/electrical-cords.
  • Paper cups and plates: Do not put paper cups and plates in your recycling cart as these materials are often lined with plastic or contaminated with food. Avoid by carrying reusable water bottles and mugs and by choosing reusable or compostable alternatives. Put paper cups and plates in the trash.
  • Plastic utensils and straws: do not put plastic forks, knives, spoons or straws in your recycling cart as there aren’t good recycling markets for these materials and they are too small to sort at recycling facilities. Avoid by carrying reusable utensils and straws with you, refuse straws when you can, use compostable alternatives, or put them in the trash.
  • Plastic foam: Do not put plastic foam containers, cups or packing materials in your recycling cart as there aren’t good recycling markets for this material and transporting and sorting the material is difficult. Avoid by finding reusable, recyclable or compostable alternatives, and put these materials in the trash.

Do not put your recycling in bags in your recycling cart. Bags of materials don’t get properly sorted at the recycling center, and recyclers can’t tell what’s in the bag. Use an unlined bin or bag to collect materials in your home, and place recyclables – emptied and clean – loose in your recycling cart.

Keep recycling, but when in doubt, throw it out

Recyclables are still in demand from manufacturers who want high quality materials to make new products and from consumers who want to buy products with recycled content. Because of the market changes, recyclers nationally and internationally are seeking recycling streams that are high quality and don’t contain a lot of contamination.

Minnesotans overall do a good job of recycling and have low contamination rates compared to other places in the country. But still about 10 percent of our recycling stream is materials that shouldn’t be recycled.

“The best thing you can do now to support recycling is to recycle right by making sure you know what does and does not go in your recycling cart,” explained Knudson. “There’s a lot of confusing packaging and other materials out there, and we know this isn’t a message everyone wants to hear, but you can actually support the recycling market by following the ‘when in doubt, throw it out’ rule.”

Learn more about our recycling efforts at

www.hennepin.us/recycling