What to Know Before You Throw Away Recyclables in the Hudson Valley

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Do you want to recycle more but get confused about what’s OK to throw away? Here’s what to keep in mind when sorting your scraps.

Recycling is important and it should be easy—but it’s not. How to handle cardboard boxes with plastic windows? What do those numbers on plastic containers even mean? Are all products with a “please recycle” logo actually recyclable? (Um, no.)

Counties assume we are all sorting experts—but Hudson Valley residents are constantly playing a guessing game of what is and isn’t OK to toss, causing chaos and delays at facilities. “If your local recycling center or transfer station can’t handle something, there’s no point in giving it to them. It can slow down the process and will just go to a landfill,” says Lalita Malik, president of the Mid-Hudson chapter of the Sierra Club. Saving the planet shouldn’t be complicated, so we’ve gathered a list of household items that are generally acceptable to recycle in our region.

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■ While some centers are beginning to accept plastic-lined paper disposable cups (like what you get at a coffee shop), both Ulster and Dutchess counties’ recycling authorities say no. Check with your provider.

■ Clean and dry cardboard is nearly always accepted, but make sure to break down boxes first so they lay flat in your bin, says national provider Waste Management (WM). Items like pizza boxes can only be accepted if there is no liner or food scraps, and minimal grease.

■ Newspapers, magazines, flyers, and printer paper can all be recycled—newspapers might need to be kept separate, though, depending on the rules in your town.

■ Per Angelina Brandt, director of sustainability at the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA), it’s generally not necessary to remove the plastic window from an envelope or pasta box. “When mixed paper is recycled it turns into a soupy pulp during processing. Since the plastic is a different material and density, it can be easily removed from the solution.”

■ Shredded paper is commonly accepted in curbside programs. Some places, like Westchester County, might require you to place it in a paper bag first.

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■ You’ve probably noticed that on all plastic goods, numbers 1 –7 are imprinted on the bottom. This is a resin identification code, assigned depending on the material. In general, almost all recycling centers accept numbers 1 and 2 (containers), but never recycle 7-grades—they’re made of mixed plastics that are difficult to repurpose.

■ PVC pipes and materials (number 3) are difficult to recycle because of their composition—leave them out of the bin.

■ According to Orange County’s recycling department, loose plastic bags (number 4) and bagged recyclables should never be put into a pick-up bin—plastic bags can damage sorting machines. Instead, drop off plastic bags at grocery stores, where collection bins are common. (In truth, you should go with reusable bags if you haven’t already done so).

■ Polypropylene containers (number 5), commonly found in the form of shampoo bottles or yogurt cups, are often recyclable, but because of their density, double-check with your provider.

■ Polystyrene (number 6) is a toss-up—it’s best to check with your local center to see if they accept it, but as of 2022, the material can’t be sold in stores or as take-out containers in the state.

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■ Brandt suggests recycling by shape—bottles, jugs, jars, and cans are highly recoverable, but laundry baskets and toys aren’t, even if they’re numbered 1 or 2.

recycling recyclables
Photo: RT images-stock.Adobe.com


■ Rockland Green says that broken glass should never be put in the bin to avoid injuries.

■ Empty glass bottles and jars are usually recyclable. Rules vary depending on your center’s abilities; you may only be able to put brown, clear, and green glass in the bin.


■ Empty tin, aluminum, and steel cans are recyclable. In New York, most beverage cans have a five-cent deposit that you can get back from a recycling machine or center, per the state’s Returnable Container Act. This also applies to plastic and glass bottles that are under a gallon.

■ Empty aerosol cans are also OK, but remove the cap (and make sure they’re empty).

■ Tin and aluminum foil can be recycled, but must be free of food residue. UCRRA recommends that you crush these items into a ball before throwing in the bin.

Related: How to Live an Eco-Friendly Hudson Valley Lifestyle This Year

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