How Clean Is Clean Enough For Recycling?

For those of use whose cities offer recycling, it’s always a question: Just how clean do those empty cans and bottles have to be?

There are some items, like pet food cans, yogurt containers and empty cans of beans that seem to take endless amounts of water to clean up. But isn’t that defeating the point of recycling?

How Clean Is Clean?

Recology, the garbage and recycling company that services my home, tells me that “all containers must be empty. Rinsing not necessary.”

However, when Kiera Butler of Mother Jones called Recology, here’s what they had to say:

Most facilities won’t throw away a container simply because it’s dirty. And it’s not a giant deal if containers have little food residue on them (say, the yogurt your spoon couldn’t extract from the plastic cup).

But here’s the interesting part: The cleaner your containers, the more they’re worth on the recyclables market. Municipal facilities first sort recycling by type (paper, several kinds of plastic, tin, etc.), and then by quality. Workers separate clean recyclables from soiled ones, into bales. “If the bale is lower quality, there is less revenue coming back into the system from the sale of recyclables, which helps pay for the program,” says Reed. The takeaway: By providing clean recyclables, you can actually save your city (and ultimately, taxpayers) money.
So, apparently, the cleaner your empty is, the more it is worth.

Most companies seem to agree that you should follow your city’s guidelines on cleaning out containers, but that in general, you don’t have to get them super clean.

Your Pet Can Help You Get Clean

So maybe this is where pets come in helpful. Why not encourage your cat or dog to lick out your empty food containers?

Of perhaps put those containers out in the backyard, where the bugs and worms can clean out those cans really well. Always assuming that the  wasps and raccoons don’t get there first!

What do you think? What works for you?

Photo credit: PburghStever via Creative Commons


William C
William C2 months ago


W. C
W. C2 months ago

I wondered about this, thank you.

Enoch C Gould
Enoch C. Gould3 years ago

Frankly, heavy rinsing often isn't required--I've been selling scrap metals (including aluminum cans [beverage and pet food] for years, and when this is done, they merely have to be fairly clean). Good idea about your cat cleaning out the pet food containers--I don't know how they do it, but they never cut their tongues on the edges.
Frankly, I don't use much of any plastic containers--but the ones I salvage, I merely put in the garbage to be incinerated for energy, as they are too difficult to clean--it takes way too much time. That's my take on this issue, anyway.
Well, thanks for reading and considering, everyone!
God bless you all! Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior!

Jane Warren
Jane Warren6 years ago

I'm not using any extra water to clean the recycled containers - I just put them in the dishpan with the other dirty dishes and wash them off along with. Then air dry everything (unless my mother is coming to visit of course).
What IS an increased cost for me cleaning the recycled containers is that I usually cut my finger while trying to get them super-clean. (So there's no way I would let a pet lick them.)

Nan SEA L.
Nan Sea Love6 years ago

Elizabeth M. wants suggestions on better ways to clean and not waste water. i am reluctant to let our rescued pets lick the few cans we use for fear of them cutting their tongues, however i have a lot of rags i have saved over the years and now just give recyclables a quick wipe. Food containers left outside could attract rats.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M6 years ago

Thanks for this information. I have been cleaning my recycables for a couple of years now. It keeps sticking in my mind that I am wasting water and I am trying to figure out how to have them clean without the wastage of precious water. Any Ideas???

Khat Bliss
Past Member 6 years ago

I agree, clean containers are the best and they don't smell!

Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

rinse your cans? but then you waste water? by cons, give them to your pets lick me I do

Cyrille D.
Cyrille D6 years ago

I always rinse everything that I throw away and will be recycled. It's just common sense, to me. I don't know.

Emily Anne G.
Emily Anne G6 years ago

I didn't know that. I've always just rinsed my recyclables, so it's nice to know I'm doing an okay job as it is!