Recycling Correctly? A Few Things I Learned From Visiting A Recycling Center

Last week I visited the Recycling Center in my town and I met the recycling coordinator who was kind enough to show me around and answer a few questions. I keep up to date with the rules and regulations for recycling in my area but I learned a lot by visiting in person.

Where I live in Morris county, New Jersey, is more suburban/rural to give you a bit of background. My local center does not sort and process recycling, that actually takes place at a large transfer station in a nearby city. Instead, the local center is more of a middleman in the process and offers other eco-friendly services for locals.

What Does A Recycling Center Do?

Every center is different, so always check with your local one to see what they accept or don't accept, below is a list of services mine offers:

  • My local center offers electronic recycling, more specifically, 6 items including: TVs, computers, laptops, desktops, printers and fax machines. If you try to recycle items that are not accepted such as space heaters, air conditioners, speakers and vacuums they will just end up in a landfill if you drop them off. If you do have other electronic waste that is not accepted by your town, hold onto it and take it to a retailer that does accept it like a Staples or Best Buy (click here to learn more).  Also, it is asked that the hard drive of any computer or laptop is removed prior to recycling. You may smash the cover off to get it out or properly unscrew it and remove it, whichever works fine.

  • The center is open to the public to discard of vegetative waste such as trees, shrubbery, brush and so on. Grass clippings and leaves go into the brown bags that the garbage company, Blue Diamond, picks up curbside during the week. Say there is a storm and a few large branches or even trees fell on the yard, instead of paying a landscaper to discard of it you may drop it off at the center, free of charge. Once at the center, the vegetative waste is converted into a natural mulch that is free for citizens of the township to use.

  • Tire recycling is also available at a very low cost of $4-$7 per tire. Typically when you get new tires put on your car, the mechanic will handle the proper disposal of the tires for you but if you end up with one, your local recycling center may accept it.

  • Lastly, the center accepts regular single-stream recycling items like boxes, plastic bottles, paper, aluminum cans and so on. This option is for any locals that prefer to drop it off in person instead of leaving it curbside for the garbage company to collect. Once dropped off in person, it is simply filtered through and any non recyclable items are removed. When the dumpsters are filled they are transported to the main recycling facility or as they refer to it MRF, for it to be processed.

To see where you can recycle items that are not accepted at the local recycling center, go to

Q&A with the recycling coordinator Patty Romano:

Why can't bottle caps be recycled?

“They are too small and get stuck in the machines.”

You must remove all plastic caps from bottles and place them in regular garbage before recycling the bottle. Also, rinse out the bottle with water before you toss it in the bin.

Why are only certain numbers on plastic accepted for recycling and not all? (Plastic containers and bottles have a small number inside of a recycling symbol on the bottom, and only specific numbers are accepted typically)

“Numbers 3 & 6 are high in chemicals” and are not accepted because of this. Number 6 is usually styrofoam which is rarely recycled.

What percentage of our town recycles?

“In 2015, 45% did.”

She further explained that the goal for New Jersey is to have 50% of the population recycle and that Morris county is close to that goal, one of the more conscious counties.

Has the China incident affected our area? (China accepted 45% of the world’s plastic waste imports until the start of 2018, it refused to take more, citing local environmental concerns." learn more here)

“No, we are still able to recycle through our contract with blue diamond but more money has had to be put into the MRF (recycling facility) to slow down the lines to reduce contamination and to hire more workers to process it.”

Are dirty plastics recycled?


Dirty plastics will not be recycled. If you don’t rinse out that plastic recyclable food container from Cheesecake Factory or that empty jelly plastic container, it will not be recycled. Contamination of plastic is a huge problem, if the plastic is not rinsed out of clean it cannot be reused! Instead workers will sort through and discard dirty plastics into the trash/landfill. So please take the extra 10 seconds to rinse or wipe out dirty plastics so it can be reused instead of wasting away in an already overwhelmed landfill.

Are batteries recycled here?

“Alkaline batteries like your AA go in the regular garbage but rechargeable and button batteries (the mini ones) are hazardous and can be recycled here”

My recycling center had a small box in the entrance where you can place them in small plastic bags for recycling. If you cannot make it to your local center but you pass by a Best Buy or Staples more often, you may recycle your batteries there as well, my last post , "The E-Waste Crisis & How You Can Help" ,explains in depth how to go about that.

A few more quotes from Patty Romano-

“When in doubt, throw it out.”

Many people are 'aspirational recyclers', hoping that whatever they put in their recycling bin will be accepted, like dirty diapers, broken hangars and random garbage, but that is not realistic. Keep up with your towns recycling regulations and know what is and what is not accepted. This helps workers at the recycling facility to do their job better instead of having to remove these random items from destroying the expensive machinery the town has paid for to aid in the recycling process.

“It’s a law to recycle but it takes money to reinforce it.”

People get upset or offended when you question their waste habits or check to see if they truly recycled so it can be hard to discuss these topics with the public sometimes, Romano found. Also, I learned the only way to fine someone for any environmental laws broken is to catch them in the act, if not, the police can't do anything without proof. If you ever do come across someone illegally dumping for example, getting down their license plate and description can help authorities fine the person responsible.

“We try to educate younger kids about recycling.”

In my town, the elementary students receive the majority of seminars and assemblies regarding recycling because they are like sponges and retain the information better and bring home what they learned to their parents. Does your community do something similar? And I believe high school students and adults would also greatly benefit from such seminars.

“Plastic bags are the worst.”

Do NOT place your recycling in plastic bags, it will not be recycled. And do NOT place plastic bags in your recycling bin. Plastic bags can destroy the expensive machinery that separates our recycling because they get stuck inside. In my town, the only time plastic bags may be used for recycling is to place shredded paper inside, (it must be a clear bag that you can see through for it to be accepted) but it could be different for where you live.

Final Thoughts

I learned a lot from my visit to the small recycling center in my town. I want to thank Patty Romano again for her time and efforts in the community. I also want to encourage anyone reading to be more involved in their community, and to keep up with recycling regulations by simply googling 'recycling regulations in ___ (town and state where you live)' or clicking on the link below. Find out what your local center that recycles accepts, they are all different. Share the information you learn with family and friends, we all need to increase efforts to recycle! Let's change the goal from getting 50% of the population recycle, to 100%.

Remember, small changes have the greatest impact.


Want to know what the recycling regulations in your area are? Visit and enter your zip code.

To see where you can recycle items your center may not accept go to and type in what your interested in recycling from organic waste to clothing to glasses or batteries along with your zip code and voila!

For NJ residents- check out  for more info.


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