Can I Recycle That? A Quick Guide to Single Stream Recycling in Pittsburgh

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Last week, our borough distributed new recycling bins for residents, and we were pumped to get a brand new container since our old one had started to crack. (You know you’re getting old when …)

Along with the new recycling bin came instructions on how to place the container at the curb for proper pick-up as well as recycling guidelines. Some of the guidelines seem pretty straightforward, but we were still doing a few incorrectly. Whether your neighborhood provides recycling containers for residents or not, these are handy guidelines for any household in the Pittsburgh area that recycles.

What Can be Recycled?

Four main categories of goods are encouraged to be recycled curbside as often as you’re able to. These include:

  • Plastic bottles, jars, and jugs like empty coffee containers, juice jugs, liquid dish detergent, and others. Containers should be narrow neck labeled #1 and #2 (more on this next).
  • Food and beverage cans in steel, tin, and aluminum. Examples include empty cans of vegetables or fruits.
  • Paper, like brown paper bags, old newspapers and magazines, and non-confidential office paper.
  • Cardboard and paperboard, as long as it’s flattened first.

The first category of plastic bottles mentions #1 and #2 containers. You can find out whether the container meets this guideline by looking for the triangle on the container and the number within in it. Plastics are divided into seven categories but usually only the first two are common household recyclable goods. From

“If you look at the number inside the triangle on your plastic, it will range from one to seven. This will tell you both the type of plastic used and which type is recyclable or even reusable. Many plastic-based products cannot break down and cannot be recycled.”

Photo credit: Old Farmer’s Almanac

Another note about approved containers: make sure to thoroughly rinse or clean empty containers before putting them in recycling. A gallon of milk, for example, should be rinsed out and clean.

Also note that paper put in recycling containers cannot be shredded.

Even if most of the items in your recycling bin are approved, if a box isn’t torn down properly or empty food jars aren’t cleaned, those items go in the garbage anyway. So if you don’t feel like rinsing out your plastic containers, just throw them in the trash instead.  

What Can’t be Recycled?

Chances are, many households have been recycling something the wrong way without even realizing it. The following are off limits:

  • Leftover food – Waste Management’s tip was to compost food waste instead if you still want to reuse it.
  • Plastic bags and film
  • Foam cups and containers, like takeout containers
  • Medical waste, like needles
  • Glass bottles and containers

Additionally, don’t put approved recyclables in plastic bags. Just throw them directly into the recycling container once they’re cleaned (if they need to be cleaned).  

Photo credit: Waste Management.

Other Recycling Sites in Pittsburgh

What about glass containers or plastic bags? If you live within the City of Pittsburgh, go to their recycling website here for a number of locations and list of approved items. Their guidelines are less strict than curbside pickup; for example, cardboard doesn’t have to be flattened and paper can be shredded, and shredded and non-shredded paper can be bagged together. And, just last year, Pittsburgh piloted three standalone glass recycling drop-off centers, which you can read about here in the Post-Gazette.  

Plastic bags can be recycled at any Giant Eagle store or by visiting to find a recycling site near you. To properly dispose of medical waste, you can talk to your doctor or pharmacist about options, and you can also request an approved medical waste box from your trash collector.

Anyone who lives in Allegheny County can find out where the closest recycling site is to them in this resource from the Allegheny County Health Department. You can also visit the website of your local municipality.

You can visit Recycle Right by Waste Management to read more about recycling do’s and don’ts. Be sure to check out their page on a full list of what can and cannot be recycled. They have a handful of downloads for age-based kids’ activities to make recycling fun or to do a project with your kiddos using recycled goods, like cereal boxes for example. This resource of kids’ activities has a ton of stuff to do.

Single stream recycling is easy, but it’s still common to put some of the wrong things in the recycling container, or skip the last step of cleaning or breaking down boxes. Use these guidelines to ensure that what you’re recycling can be reused properly. 

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Julia Germeyer
Julia is a lifelong writer, part-time adventurer, and lover of good wine and carbs. She lives in the South Hills with her family: a husband, two littles, and two cats, and the oldest child is in the Army. She owns a digital marketing consulting firm and was also an Adjunct Instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. Julia has an MBA from Point Park University and a Bachelor's degree from Pitt. She enjoys hanging out with her family, traveling to new places, Wheel of Fortune, and sleep. If she had a superpower, it would be to fly: traffic jams would be a thing of the past.