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Dear Wally,

I keep hearing that recycling is changing and some people say it’s not even worth it anymore.  Where do I find out if what I’m putting in my recycling bin is being recycled?


Confused Recycler


Dear Confused Recycler,

 It’s true that recycling is changing since buyers of the materials we recycle began insisting upon quality vs. quantity in what they will accept.  This is a big deal because we discard a tremendous volume of materials, and our recycling habits have been a bit wishful – tossing things into the recycling bin we hope will be recycled without really knowing – and sometimes dirty, which impacts quality.

Recycling is still worth doing from an environmental standpoint as we have a finite amount of resources on our planet which are more and more expensive to extract.  Recycling creates a resource loop of continual creation and use of materials instead of the resources existing into eternity in landfills.

But with these four simple tips, recycling is easy!

1) The material must be CLEAN! If your item is recyclable locally but it is not clean it may contaminate other clean recycled items or be discarded and not recycled.  Unfortunately, the best thing to do with something you cannot clean out is to put it in the garbage.  And remember, there are people handling and sorting your recycling. Think about them before you put diapers or containers of rotting food in the recycling bin!

2) The material must be EMPTY & DRY! Please water plants with old water or drain sodas and milk into the sink. That way the bottle or container is void of food and liquids that can contaminate paper and cardboard in your recycling bin.

3) The material must be LOOSE. Even if you put recyclables in other containers that are recyclable (think metal cans inside a closed plastic container), these materials will not be separated properly by the machines and will likely be sent to the landfill. Any filled bags with recyclables in your recycling bin are sent directly to landfill at the Materials Recovery Facility as the system does not open and sort bags as most are filled with non-recyclables. The only exception to this is shredded paper, continue to put shredded paper in a clear plastic bag or paper bag and tie shut.

4) Recycle only what can be Recycled Locally. The easiest way to know that what you’re putting in your recycling bin is being recycled is to check What Goes Where? – the free recycling app designed for Monterey County – to see if it is an item currently accepted for recycling. Simply enter the item in the search bar, and it will tell you where it goes for proper disposal based on your location. What Goes Where? is available for Apple iOS and Android mobile devices, or you can use the search tool on to discover whether or not an item can be recycled.


The app has been available for almost a year and has resulted in tens of thousands of searches. It fills Wally’s heart to see that so many people want to recycle right and keep resources out of the landfill! It also has shown us what items are giving people the most confusion about what goes where in our recycling and trash. Here are the more commonly searched items and what to do with them:

Item What to do with it
Plastic bag


Clean, Dry & Empty – Bag all plastic bags into one and take to the take-back center at your grocery store;

Or – Place in Trash (tie in a knot to keep it from blowing away)

Plastic take-out container

(Look for the number inside the chasing arrows symbol on the container #1-#7)

#1-5 – Clean, Dry & Empty – Recycle  

#6 or #7 (or no number) – Trash

Plastic wrap Trash
Gable top carton Clean, Dry & Empty – Recycle
Juice box or pouch Trash
Plastic baggies Trash
Light bulb (not CFL) Trash
Metal food can Clean, Dry & Empty – Recycle
Plastic straw Trash
Chip bag Trash


What Goes Where? has been recently updated with what is recyclable in all of the local programs, and with more information/items that were searched but not previously found in the database. The What Goes Where? app is worth downloading and trying it out to always have easy answers at your fingertips.  

It’s still important to recycle as much as we can, but sometimes what we don’t put in the recycling bin is just as important as what we do put there. Whenever you have the question “Can I recycle this?” then ask the app What Goes Where?

Thank you for continuing to recycle, and for trying to recycle right!


Wally Waste-Not