Oct 15, 2021 - News

Ask Axios: What can and can't I recycle?

An illustration of a hanger shaped like a recycling sign.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Recycling etiquette is at the top of some of your minds after our story last week about Des Moines homeowners who lost their recycling privileges this year.

  • We turned to Des Moines Public Works director Jonathan Gano and sanitation administrator Jo Ferrell to answer your questions.

Catch up quick: Throwing the wrong items into the blue carts costs the city tens of thousands of dollars a year. Des Moines has started cracking down on violators.

  • There will be a public education push about the city's recycling program in coming months. In the meantime, lots of details can be found here.

Question: "Is it true that lots of recycling ends up at the dump anyway?" — Abby Dougherty, Windsor Heights

  • Answer: 100% of the recyclable material placed in our recycling carts gets recycled into new products. None of it goes to the landfill, city officials said.

Question: "On the point of not bagging your recyclables so that sorting machines can work properly: I've always bagged mine so loose recyclables aren't strewn across my neighborhood. What’s DMPW's official position on this?" — Joe Schueller, Waukee

  • Answer: Avoid plastic bags. You may bag items in a paper grocery bag and DMPW encourages people to do so, especially for shredded paper.

Question: "Why is milk, yogurt and margarine containers OK but sour cream, cottage cheese and cool whip are not OK?" — Patrick Coughlin, DSM

  • Answer: The limitation is principally driven by a lack of demand in the secondary markets for that kind of plastic.

Question: Coughlin also wanted to know, "Why are laundry detergent bottles OK, but antifreeze bottles are not? They all look the same to me."

  • Answer: It has to do with the contents contaminating the container. Antifreeze, motor oil, and other petroleum products are considered a hazardous waste and should be disposed of at the Metro Waste Authority's hazardous waste facility in Bondurant or at a Mega Scrub event hazmat trailer.

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