Rethink Waste Project Answers Community Questions

community Q&A video 11.15.23 (1)

Only 21% of recyclable material is being recycled. That’s what the 2024 State of Recycling Report by the Recycling Partnership found. That’s around 1 in 5 recyclable items.

We understand that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about recycling. Many people have heard that recycling isn’t actually happening and it all goes to the landfill (not true.) Or that recycling is not a cure to our waste and consumption crisis (mostly true.) And recycling itself, and determining whether or not a certain piece of plastic can be recycled can be confusing, leading many to simply wish so as they toss it in the recycling bin.

So in preparation for America Recycles Day on November 15, 2023, we put out a call in the community for recycling questions that folks were looking for clarity on. And we invited local recycling experts, Courtney Voss from Republic Services and Tim Brownell from Deschutes County Solid Waste, to join us on Instagram Live to help provide definitive answers on what is recyclable or not in Deschutes County, and also the larger question of what happens to our recycling, whether it is helping, and how we can have the most impact. You can view the full recording on Youtube here. We’ve compiled the questions and answers for you below. We’ve condensed and paraphrased the answers for clarity.

1. Is recycling actually happening?

Yes! If you put materials that are recyclable in the curbside cart, they will be recycled. If you put materials that are not recyclable in our community, they’ll contaminate the recycling, add additional costs and work to the process, and still end up going to the landfill. Learning to recycle right is important and helps ensure a more efficient and effective recycling process.

2. I’m confused as to why the paper takeout containers and pizza boxes aren’t ok to recycle. From a podcast I listened to recently, pizza boxes are absolutely able to be recycled. Why is there such a difference of opinions on these things?

Pizza boxes *are* recyclable. Takeout containers aren’t. For pizza boxes, just take out the white liners. Some grease is okay. Takeout containers are usually lined with some kind of coating and so aren’t accepted.

3. Conflicting information regarding items and confusing to know what is and isn’t recyclable.

It is confusing because it’s dependent on your locality and region. Oregon’s Recycling Modernization Act starting in July 2025 will help change that with a standardized statewide list of items that are acceptable for recycling. For now, a few simple rules for Deschutes County:

  • Paper and cardboard is recyclable. As long as it’s not wax coated or multi-layered.
  • For plastics, only bottles, jugs, and tubs are recyclable. All or most other plastics aren’t.
  • All glass bottles and jars are recyclable in the separate glass recycling collection.
  • Cans (aluminum and steel) are recyclable.

For everything else, check our Rethink Waste Guide or directly with your waste hauler. If you don’t have a chance to do that, when in doubt, throw it out.

4. My only question is when is my glass getting picked up?

A fair question, especially with the amount of times glass service was skipped early last year. Courtney from Republic Services shared that it’s not the level of service they want to provide, but also shared some of the challenges they’ve had with staffing with it being a very manual operation. She also acknowledged that is not an excuse and they have taken and are taking steps to live up to their service agreements. Tim also added that the County is also quite aware of the issue and taking steps to modify agreements to ensure or encourage timely collection.

5. Live Question by RAD LLC: Is there a possibility of a program where specific sets of items could be pulled out of the trash and be made available for local resale? Things like appliances, electronics, furniture, etc.

Tim answered that there are programs around the country that have recovery and reuse opportunities at landfills and transfer stations. The County is looking to see if that would be a viable option for us, and whether it would require additional infrastructure or distribution system for resale. In the meantime, he recommended checking to see if there are opportunities to thrift it – either at one of the local thrift stores, on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, or any other buy nothing or thrifting groups around. Another suggestion for clothes is arranging a clothing swap with friends.

The Rethink Waste Project also offers Repair Cafes throughout the year, which is another opportunity to repair an item for free instead of just replacing it with a new one.

6. What types of plastics can be recycled? And do the numbers on them mean anything here?

The numbers mean a little bit, but for us locally, the current advice is to know that only three types of plastics are recyclable: bottles, jugs, and tubs (stated by Tim, “1 and 2 are generally recyclable if they are in the form of a bottle or a tub. That also extends to plastics 4 and 5, that are usually tubs.”) Anything larger than 4oz and up to a 5 gallon tub. Clamshells and most other plastics are not accepted. “Don’t depend on the number and the arrows, because that can be a little bit misleading,” adds Courtney.

7. Can you recycle bubble wrap and those larger air bags with the grocery bags?

Plastic bags and bubble wrap are not recyclable curbside. You can see if your grocery store or other point of purchase accepts them to be converted into plastic lumber or similar products. This is not a circular system, and so the recommendation would be to use reusable bags or avoid bubble wrap where possible.

We wouldn’t take those in your curbside recycling cart. Plastic bags in particular create huge problems for us and they gum up our machinery.

Courtney Voss

The point of purchase is really the only place that you can recycle the plastic bags. It’s really any plastic that you can stretch to a little degree – a garbage bag, a grocery bag, bubble-wrap I believe is acceptable in those programs, but they really don’t want all your bubble wrap, because they have a small collection right. That material, the plastic bag material, is not going back into plastic bags, it’ll generally go into plastic lumber. A lot of them have contracts with people like Trex which makes plastic lumber. The plastic lumber itself isn’t recyclable, so it’s really that’s why we encourage folks to minimize their use of plastic bags and bubble wrap. It’s going to have one more use and it’s not circular, it’s interred in another product.

Tim Brownell

8. What about Junk mail and plastic windows on envelopes?

Junk mail and plastic windows on envelopes are okay to recycle. If you have the time and energy, you can cut it out and throw it out. But it’s not required. In the past, some of the glues that were used and the plastic itself would cause problems, but with changes in the materials and systems, it is no longer an issue. Don’t hesitate to throw all of your junk mail and envelopes into the paper recycling.

9. Are Dog food bags recyclable? If not, how can we encourage manufacturers to use paper bags so that it’s recyclable?

Due to multi-layered packaging, dog food bags are not recyclable in the curbside bin. However,  many pet food stores take them back, so check with your local pet food store.

10. Rapid fire round!

  • Lids from tin cans: Yes
  • Aluminum Foil: preferred if clean (predominantly food free, or “clean-ish”)
  • Batteries: Don’t put them in the trash – take them to Deschutes Recycling or any of the transfer sites around the County. Particularly button batteries (if they have CR on it, that means it’s a lithium battery which is flammable, and that’s a real concern, particularly in recycling facilities people are putting birthday cards with the little batteries and so facilities are dealing with floor fliers. And also catch the garbage trucks on fire. Batteries are not a good thing to place in either, facilities you can dispose of throughout the county. So please do that. 
  • Light bulbs: Household light bulbs in the garbage. Fluorescent light bulbs should be delivered to the transfer stations. Fluorescent bulbs are hazardous, so not in garbage.
  • Wrapping paper and tissue paper used in gift bags: Yeah, over the holidays they can. As long as it’s foil free, take the ribbons off, take as much as possible of the scotch tape off, but those materials are recyclable as long as they are foil and glitter free.

Recycling Right is important and can make a difference, especially in how many virgin resources are being used. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that the majority of impacts are on the upstream side, and while recycling can help, going further up the waste hierarchy and focusing on reduce and reuse can have more impact.

If you’re interested in learning more about the recycling system, check out this 10-min Chasing Arrows video from the Alliance of Mission-Based Recyclers.

If you have any recycling questions, email so we can get them answered  in our next community round-up.