Recycle Better

Have you ever paused at the recycling bin and wondered if what you’re throwing out is actually recyclable, or what will happen to it after it’s picked up? You’re not alone! In the City of Madison about 12.8% of what goes into recycling bins is actually trash, and about 13% of material in the Dane County landfill could be recycled. Recycling keeps valuable material out of the landfill, saves energy and money, and avoids the environmental impact of extracting new materials. This program is brought to you in partnership with the City of Madison with support from The Carton Council.

Fast Facts: Did you know?

Local

There’s no national recycling standard, looking to national resources or product labels for answers to your questions can be misleading. Check your local guidelines!

Cartons

The carton containers for juice, milk, soup, wine, cream, and egg substitutes are all recyclable (you can keep their plastic caps on). What you may see as “wax” on a carton is actually a thin layer of polyethylene or plastic, which is recyclable too.

Size and shape

Recyclables should be larger than a standard sticky note (3”x3″). Paper (including cardboard) should be flat, while the rest of the recycling should be kept keep 3D (don’t crush your cans).

Plastics

Just because they have a number on them, doesn’t mean they are recyclable curbside. For example, plastic bags and film aren’t recyclable in your cart (some can be returned to retailers). Place recyclables loose in your bin.

Lids

Keep lids on plastic items and take them off glass items. Small metal lids like bottlecaps can be collected in an empty tin can and the top tightly pinched close.

Pizza boxes

Pizza Boxes are generally not recyclable. Any amount of food contamination, including grease, makes carboard unrecyclable. If the top of the box has no food residue whatsoever, you can rip it off and recycle it flat.

Wishcycling

Wishcycling is recycling an item that belongs in the garbage. It makes recycling less viable by slowing down the system sorting our recyclables and can be dangerous for the people working in the recycling centers. When in doubt, throw it out!

Impact

Recycling is one way to create a healthier planet, continue by getting involved with Sustain Dane programs.

Check your local guidelines

Because there’s no national recycling standard, looking to national resources or product labels for answers to your questions can be misleading. Most areas will have a recycling guide, or at least a webpage detailing your local guidelines. 

City of Madison City of Fitchburg City of Middleton
City of Monona City of Stoughton City of Sun Prairie
City of Verona Village of McFarland Dane County Recycling Recource Page
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Learn where your recycling goes in this video from Pellitteri.

Find out how recycled cartons become new products – from paper products to construction boards. 

Do you know all 7 Rs of Waste?

The seven Rs of waste can help you make decisions on what products to buy and how to dispose of what you have while using our planet’s resources responsibly.

So starting with Rethink which asks you what overall can be done differently? 

Can you Refuse the item or is it necessary? 

Are you able to Reduce the amount or frequency you use it?

Can it be Reused?

Can it be Repaired?

Can you Rot or compost it?

And then finally, is it Recyclable?

Not all plastics are recyclable

The numbers on plastics are called resin ID codes, and they don’t automatically mean the item is recyclable. They can help you determine the plastic type, and for identifying if something is recyclable or not. Each number corresponds to a type of plastic from #1 also known as PET which is mostly plastic bottles and frequently recycled, to #7 which is essentially a catchall for all other types of plastic, and is very rarely recycled at all. In Madison, only plastic containers #1-#7 are recyclable.

Master Recycler Program

Join us for our next Master Recycler program to learn the ins and outs of our local recycling system and get your recycling questions answered.  We launched this program in 2021 with 524 participants completing 68 outreach projects that reached 44,532 people with recycling knowledge. 99% of participants surveyed would recommend this class to a friend or colleague. Sign up for our Spring 2022 session or email us at hello@sustaindane.org to be added to waitlist for future sessions.

Master Recycler Participants

People impacted with outreach