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The Resource

Date: Oct 25, 2019
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Bath and beauty products come packaged in a variety of materials that can confuse even the most dedicated recyclers. Head over to Clean Green Baltimore County on Facebook and watch a new video hosted by Bureau of Solid Waste Management employees, "Kat & Nat," to learn about what you can and can't recycle in the bathroom or at your vanity. 

To view a full list of accepted recyclables, visit the Bureau of Solid Waste Management's residential recycling collection information page on the County's website. 

By Richard Keller, Department of Public Works

Photo of the bureau chief at a facility.

The Bureau of Solid Waste Management travels around Baltimore County to promote recycling. Our efforts include tours of our Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Cockeysville, presentations to elementary school students and discussions with local community groups. 

As we travel, there are questions that many County residents have about what is acceptable in our recycling program. Listed below are responses to some of these common questions.

What is the best way to know what items to set out in curbside recycling containers?

The County has published lists of acceptable and unacceptable materials in its program guide, on its website and in other outreach materials. Check the list to learn what you should and shouldn’t put out for recycling collection.

If a particular item is not on the list, and you have doubts about whether it can be recycled, contact us at 410-887-2000. If you are unsure about an item’s recyclability and need to make an immediate decision, the rule is, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Why does the County want plastic bags, polystyrene (Styrofoam ™) and clamshells kept out of the curbside recycling containers?

Plastic bags and other “tanglers” (such as clothing, ropes, garden hoses and similar items) get caught in the MRF equipment and must be cut out by hand, one by one, for operations to resume. Four temporary employees and two county employees spend hours each day cutting tanglers from between dozens of “stars” on the MRF’s five sorting screens. Use reusable shopping bags whenever possible. You can reuse plastic bags or take them to grocery stores and other retailers that accept them for recycling.

As for Styrofoam ™, it is about 95 percent air. While it is technically recyclable, it is very difficult to impossible to economically sort and ship this material to market.

Clamshell containers are also technically recyclable but, at this point, the County has not identified a market for these plastics.

How clean should recyclables be?

The County recommends a “light rinse” for glass, metal and plastic containers. Get the large quantities of “gunk” out but do not try to remove every speck of food or debris. Also, caps, labels, lids and rings can stay on.

What about pizza boxes?

The grease from pizza contaminates the fibers and makes the cardboard non-recyclable. Put grease soaked pizza boxes in the trash. However, you can tear the uncontaminated top off of the pizza box and put it in your recycling container.

Don’t the numbers on the bottom of a plastic container show that the container is recyclable?

The numbers on the bottom of a plastic container are intended to identify the type of resin in the plastic, not to indicate whether the product is recyclable. Recycling depends on a complex set of factors, including collection, processing and marketing. 

As an example, plastic water and soda bottles have strong markets so we accept them in our program. We have not been able to identify markets for clamshells, so we are not currently accepting them in the program. Both have #1 on the bottom of the plastic, but one is recyclable and the other is not.

What about plastic window envelopes?

At one time, plastic window envelopes were not recyclable. The paper industry has long since developed technology to handle these envelopes in the recycling process. While the plastic window itself is not recyclable, you can put these types of envelopes in your recycling container and the paper in the envelopes will be recycled.

What recyclables do many people fail to set out for recycling collection?

Most recyclers separate recyclable items such as plastic water and soda containers, plastic milk jugs, office paper and cardboard, glass containers and aluminum and steel cans from their trash. But people can miss the plastics in the “back of the house,” such as laundry detergent and bleach bottles, shampoo bottles and plastic hand sanitizer bottles, all of which are recyclable.

What about very small items?

Our facility runs at approximately 35 tons per hour. Very small pieces of paper, plastic, metal, etc. cannot be sorted by our workers. These items should be put in the trash.

Photo of the recycling booth

Keep Up the Good Work!

A recent study showed that 95 percent (by weight) of the material that County residents set out for recycling is correct. While we applaud this effort, tightening restrictions on the quality of recyclables by buyers require us to be even more aware of what is acceptable and unacceptable in our recycling program. We ask all residents not only to recycle, but to recycle smart.


Please consult your recycling collection schedule and program guide first. Then call us at 410-887-2000 or send an email to if you still have any questions about recycling.

Oct 2019
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Revised October 25, 2019