You’re foraging through your fridge and you find an expired, half-eaten, humus container. Should you throw the container in the trash because it’s dirty, or can you recycle it? If you have five seconds to spare, here’s how you can recycle those dirty plastic, glass, and metal food containers:

  • Scrape, dump, or pour out excess food or liquid into your trash or sink (that burrito is not recyclable but the foil it’s wrapped in is),
  • If the container is still dirty, give it a three-second rinse and shake (a little residue left is OK),
  • It does not need to be dry, but it shouldn’t be wet or gooey enough that it will leak out on the other recyclables,
  • Labels, caps, and lids are OK left on (but make sure it’s empty!).

What about a paper plate with just a tiny bit of pizza grease on it? Nope. All paper products (napkins, towels, tissues, and plates) that have been used for food cannot be recycled because paper can rot.

Overall, the cleaner the better, but if your recyclables have a little bit of residue left on them, the recycling facilities can handle that too.

Note: Recycling programs accept different items depending on location. These are tips are adapted for New York, however may be applicable in other major cities. Please check with your local facility to see what they can accept.