Every month, Philadelphia throws out enough glass jars to fill the Municipal Services Building to the brim – you know the one, the 17-story building on 15th Street and JFK Boulevard. If not recycled properly, those glass jars will go to a landfill where they will take more than 4,000 years to decompose.
The city has made it easy to recycle properly, and even get rewarded for it.
Where to get a recycling bin
The city offers free recycling bins to residents, which can be picked up at several locations in the city. You can also use any household container, smaller than 32 gallons, as long as it is marked as recycling. The Philadelphia Streets Department recommends not using cardboard to put out recycling because it falls apart when wet.
When to recycle
Philadelphia offers single-stream recycling, meaning you can put out plastic, glass and paper products together in one recycling bin and set them out alongside household trash cans on your neighborhood’s regular pickup day.
To find your trash pickup day, visit Property.phila.gov.
How to earn rewards
Since 2010, the Philadelphia Recycling Rewards program has been offering redeemable discounts and deals through to neighbors for recycling properly. To sign up, go online at RecycleBank or call 1-888-727-2978 to sign up over the phone.
You will get a sticker in the mail with a scannable barcode that can be placed on any recycling bin. Participants earn points each week recycling is picked up.
Make sure the items can be recycled through regular curbside pickup.
Plastics: Food and beverage containers, plastic cups and lids, detergent and shampoo bottles, pails, buckets, garden pots. Hard plastic takeout food containers are acceptable, but styrofoam should be put out with household trash.
Paper: Newspapers, magazines, brochures, cards, junk mail, envelopes, paper bags, paperback books, phone books and non-metallic gift wrap.
Cartons: Milk, juice, ice cream, wine, soup.
Metals: Aluminum, steel and tin cans, empty paint and aerosol cans, metal trays and baking dishes, clean aluminum foil and jar lids and bottle caps that have been separated from the container.
Glass: All bottles and jars.
Cardboard: All cardboard should be flattened and clean of grease and food. Shipping boxes, paper towel rolls, egg cartons, dry food boxes and clean pizza boxes. Pizza boxes soiled by food or grease should be put out with household trash.
The following items should be placed in the household trash: plastic bags, food waste, electronics, styrofoam takeout containers and packing materials, wet or food-soiled paper, wax plates and cups, greasy pizza boxes, tissues, paper towels, napkins, light bulbs, garden hoses, porcelain and non-container glass.
Some items can be recycled through an additional process.
Forget about plastic bags! These items should not be recycled curbside. The thin plastic can rip, and get wrapped around machinery which leads to increased maintenance costs and worker safety issues.
Find your closest drop-off location for plastic bags, which are most commonly found outside grocery stores on marked bins.
In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to put electronics like computers, stereos and televisions in the trash. This also includes batteries and cassette tapes.
The Salvation Army offers free, tax-deductible pickups you can schedule online. To drop off in person, check with your local stores like Staples and Best Buy, or visit one of the six Philadelphia Sanitation Convenience Center locations in the city.
While food waste can be properly disposed of with trash pickup, check out the EPA’s guide to composting, a process that creates nutrient rich soil and helps cut the emission of greenhouse gases in landfills.
– Text and photo by Brianna Spause.