Navigating Chicago’s recycling rules can be tricky and time consuming. You want to be mindful of what you’re throwing away, but maybe you’ve never taken the time to learn what’s acceptable to recycle. It’s possible you’ve been causing more work for haulers and ultimately putting more into the landfill than you think.
First and foremost, never bag your recyclables. Putting your items in bags within your recycling bin causes many problems for the system, including tangling up the sorters and creating a barrier on what can be seen in each load. Read a more detailed explanation from Recycle by City.
More fast and loose advice for recycling in Chicago:
- Plastics. Most plastics can be recycled, but not thinner plastics, such as plastic grocery bags or plastic wrap. Thicker plastics that are unnumbered, like toothbrushes or Nalgene bottles, are usually not recyclable.
- Glass. Glass containers (bottles, jars) can be recycled, but never recycle your glassware (cups, kitchenware, etc.).
- Cardboard. Cardboard is fine if folded in your bin, but if it becomes soggy or greasy, throw it away.
- Styrofoam. Never recyclable.
- Empty containers. Always make sure a container of any kind is empty before putting it in the recycling bin. It doesn’t have to be completely clean, just empty.
- Recycling symbol. Just because the arrowed recycling symbol is on a product, doesn’t always mean it’s recyclable. Chicago’s recycling system accepts all numbers but number 6, which is Styrofoam.
- Tanglers. Items like plastic bags, shredded paper, and garden hoses are not recyclable because they literally tangle up the process.
- Other recyclable items:
- wrapping paper, without glitter/bows/ribbons
- junk mail/phone books
- greeting cards (paper only)
- file folders
- tin or steel cans (you can leave labels on)
Lid Guide: On or Off?
Here are common recyclables grouped by whether or not you can keep the lid on in the bin.
Plastic bottles – kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room
Plastic jugs (milk)
Note: throw away all nozzles and pumps inside plastic bottles – the metal in these is not recyclable.
Aerosol cans (recycle lids separately)
Glass jars (recycle lids separately)
Glass bottles (but not corks)
Stuff that is never recyclable in Chicago:
Greasy or soiled cardboard
Glassware, aside from bottles and jars
Disposable cups (e.g., Starbucks cup)
Plastic plant pots
Hangers (plastic or metal)
Tanks (e.g., propane)
If your apartment building or home doesn’t offer recycling services, there are several recycling centers in Chicago where you can drop off your recyclables. (But again, don’t drop them off in bags. Dump recyclables into the bins, loose.) Though Chicago’s Department of Streets & Sanitation is slowly phasing out drop-off centers (in favor of requiring every residence to have recycling options), below are the four that still exist in the city.
- Far North Side: 6441 N. Ravenswood
- Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility: 1150 N. North Branch
- West Loop: 1519 W. Warren Blvd.
- Near South: 1758 S. Clark Street
If you feel like you’re now ready to recycle properly in Chicago, take this helpful recycling quiz to see how much you know!