No, You Can’t Recycle Your Pizza Box.

by Maggie Strom

As I worry over whether this empty peanut butter container is clean enough, I thought it was finally time to put together a set of easy-to-follow directions on how to “Recycle Right” in Shelby County, Tennessee. It has gotten complicated over the past few years, and while I’ve recycled since I was a little kid, even I’m confused these days.

In general, if you live in Shelby County, you can recycle the following containers, but remember the three keywords: clean, empty and dry.


While it’s important that containers are clean before you recycle them, they don’t need to be spotless. The goal is to make sure they are clean and dry enough to keep them from contaminating the rest of the recyclables, like paper. In other words, just because you can’t get any more ketchup out of that container, it doesn’t mean it’s ready for the recycle bin. You NEED to rinse it out.

So, give your recyclable containers a rinse, then tap out the excess water. And yes, you DO have to work a little harder on those containers of sticky stuff, like my peanut butter container. If your container just won’t get clean, throw it out. You don’t want to contaminate the whole truckload.  


Paper is pretty straight forward: clean, dry paper can be recycled. If it gets wet in the rain in your bin, it’s no longer recyclable. If your paper has any kind of coating or contamination, throw it away. Here are some dos and don’ts:

Recycle this paper:

Flat cardboard
Cereal boxes
Office paper

Do not recycle this paper:

Any wet paper
Waxy paper
Paper with a plastic coating
Takeaway drink cups
Boxes from frozen food with a wax coating
Shredded-paper – it wrecks the machinery
Pizza boxes


The little number inside the recycle symbol tells you what kind of plastic you have. Numbers 1 and 2 are hard plastics and the easiest to recycle. You should also recycle #3, #4, #5, #6 and #7 plastics. These are commodities, and workers at the sorting facilities want them all so they can separate them and send them to the right place for recycling.

You cannot recycle plastic bags at home, so don’t bag your recyclables or put plastic bags in your bin. Instead, take them to the grocery store and look for bag recycling bins in the lobby.

And what about lids?  Lids are often made of #5 plastic and are different from their respective container. In our community, it’s recommended that you remove all lids from your recyclables.


Metal has the same potential contamination issues as plastic. Make sure it’s empty, clean and dry. In general, food containers are made of steel or aluminum and are great to recycle. However, you cannot recycle random metal objects like bicycles, swing sets, tools or paint containers. Stick with containers and you can’t go wrong.


Keep recycling glass and yes, the same rules apply – clean, empty and dry! Sometimes there are metal or plastic lids on glass. To keep this recycling stream clean, take off those metal and plastic lids and give them a good rinse before putting them in your bin separately.  your container will be open, make sure you have it pretty clean because you don’t want to contaminate your bin.


●    All recyclables must be CLEAN, EMPTY and DRY.
●    Recycle paper.
●    Recycle plastic, metal and glass containers.
●    Plastic containers = Lids on
●    Glass containers = Lids off


City of Memphis Recycling Guide
City of Germantown Recycling Guide (Plastics #1, #2, #4, #5 and #7)
City of Collierville Recycling Guide (Plastics #1 and #2 only)
City of Bartlett Recycling Guide (Plastics #1-7)
City of Millington Recycling Guide

Posted by Maggie Strom at 16:39