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Per a 2022 sort of the recyclables, over 17% of the material that is put in Madison's green recycling carts should not be there.

This material is removed at the recycling plant and sent to the landfill. This misplaced trash costs Madison taxpayers thousands of dollars.  And, in some cases, the wrong material can be dangerous.

Use the information available to be sure you, your roommates, your family, and coworkers are recycling right. 

And you may want to check out the video that shows how your recycling is sorted to understand these rules better.

Below are some of the mistakes folks make when putting things into their recycling.

recycling mistakes

Full Boxes

You need to empty and flatten your cardboard boxes before putting them into the recycling. A lot of packing material cannot be recycled.


Wrong Glass

Drinking glasses, baking dishes, windows, light bulbs, and other glass items do not belong in your recycling cart.

Only bottles and jars can be placed into your recycling.


Too Small

If the item is smaller than a standard sticky note, then it should go into the trash.

Small things like bottle caps, or loose shredded paper, fall in with the glass.



Flat Plastic

Flat items get sorted with paper and cardboard. If you put a flat plastic thing into your recycling cart (like a CD or a gift card) that gets mixed into the paper products where it does not belong. Do not place flat plastic items into your cart.


Rigid Plastics

Buckets, flower pots, toys, and other rigid plastic items do not belong in your cart.

Only put the correct plastic containers into the recycling.


Plastic Bags and Film

Do not place plastic film into your recycling carts. It tangles the sorting equipment.


Plastic Cups

Most common plastic cups, like the popular red ones that are easily cracked, do not belong in your recycling cart.

Cups that are made from #1, #2, and #5 plastic are okay if they are empty, clean, and dry.


Plastic 6-pack Rings

Do not put these into your recycling cart. The clip-on style six-pack rings are too flat to go into your recycling cart because they will act like paper. Some liquor stores or tap rooms (or possibly even home brewers) may accept them for recycling or reuse. Traditional six-pack rings also belong in the trash.


Plastic Insulation

Some meal preparation kit deliveries come with plastic insulation that goes into your trash. This cannot go into your recycling cart. Yes, the insulation says to put it in your recycling cart, but that labeling is wrong.


Plastic Cutlery

These items are too flat for your cart.


problem items


Batteries can be dangerous and they are common source of fires. Never place batteries in the recycling.  Follow these steps to recycle them.


Propane Tanks (all sizes)

Camp stove containers and all other propane tanks do not belong in the recycling cart.

The small ones can be taken to Dane County Clean Sweep.  The large ones more appropriate for gas grills can be recycled at the drop-off sites if they are empty and the valve is open.


Water Filters

They are plastic on the outside, but full of charcoal or some other media on the inside to filter the water.  Do not put them in your recycling. Check with the manufacturer to see if a mailback program is available.


Ice Cream Tubs, Chinese Takeout Food Boxes (and other takeout boxes) etc.

Same premise as the takeout cups above. The extra coating of wax or plastic on the paper means it should not be recycled.


K-Cups or Other Coffee Pods

These small pods can clog the screens used to sort glass.



Even if the clothes are made from plastic, they belong in the trash if they cannot be donated. Clothes tangles recycling sorting equipment.



They contain human waste, and it's a mix of plastic and paper projects. Put these in the trash (and choose reusable ones if you can).


Flexible Packaging (metallic pouches, squeeze pouches, etc.)

They belong in the trash.



Like clothes, it can entangle recycling equipment.



Like ropes and clothes, it can jam up recycling sorting equipment.


Bear Paws

Should go without saying that animal parts should not go into the recycling.