What Can You Recycle In Portland, Oregon?

What Can You Recycle In Portland, Oregon?


In this special episode we’re going to play a game:  “What can you recycle in Portland, Oregon?”


Specifically, we’ll be talking about your curbside pickup for Portland and the surrounding neighborhoods in the metro area.


To be perfectly candid, my family and I thought we were doing pretty well sorting our garbage for recycling … but after doing the research for this video, man, let me tell you how badly we were messing up.


You may have also heard that each garbage and recycling service accepts different items, so there is no consistency.  Is that true? We’ll let’s find out.


Before we start our little game, let’s remember these rules to follow:


“When in doubt, throw it out”  This means if you’re not 100% sure that it’s recyclable, then just throw it out.


And the other saying to remember, is something I made up, that goes a little like this, “If you mean it, clean it”.  This simply means that if you know for sure that you can recycle the item, make sure it’s clean.  And I’ll get into that in more detail coming up.


Okay, let’s break things down into 5 main groups of recycling:


  • Paper Products
  • Plastic Products
  • Metal Products
  • Glass Products
  • Yard Debris


Most likely, you’ll have 3-4 containers for your curbside pickup.  One for your garbage, one for your glass products, one for your mixed recycling items, and one for your yard debris.


I’m here in West Linn, so the recycling bins are gray, where most other locations they’ll be blue or green.


Interestingly enough there is a non-profit organization, Recycling Across America (dot) org has been trying to create a uniformed label movement for all things recycling.  Just like road signs, where a stop sign is the same in any town you drive through, the same thing should happen with recycling labels and bins.


Getting back to our little game.


Remember, when in doubt, throw it out and if you mean it, clean it.




Let’s look at our paper products.  Which items do you think can be thrown into the recycling bin?


  • Cardboard Box
  • Junk Mail
  • Paper Towels
  • Toilet Paper Rolls
  • Milk Cartons
  • Frozen Food Boxes
  • Pizza Boxes
  • Shredded Paper


4 out of the 8 paper products here are recyclable, another 2 are recyclable depending on how it is prepared and there are 2 that are definitely NOT recyclable.


Starting with the Cardboard Box, it is preferred that any heavy tape or staples be removed from the box, plus to break it down and flatten it.  Remember if you mean it, clean it.


Junk mail which includes magazines, phone books, envelopes with plastic film is okay, believe it or not can be recycled, and in some areas want you to keep it loose and separated, don’t bundle the junk mail.  So check with your local service to see how they want the materials prepared.


Paper Towels.  Even if it’s clean and unused, this is NOT recyclable.  To be honest, I think we’ve tossed clean paper towels into the recycle bin thinking it would be okay, but alas, it is not.


Speaking of paper towels.  While the sheets are NOT recyclable, the cardboard rolls are and that includes toilet paper rolls.


Milk Cartons can also be recycled, but have to be rinsed out first.  If you mean it, clean it.


And what about the plastic caps on the cartons?  You’ll have to check with your local pickup crew if they accept them or not.  So, when in doubt, throw it out.  I know that the Association of Plastic Recyclers is making an effort to accept plastic caps on milk cartons and plastic bottles, but it’s best to check with your local company first.


What about frozen food boxes?  Unfortunately, since they are classified as “wet strength” paper products they are NOT recyclable.


Pizza Boxes!  Yes, only if they are 100% clean of any food debris and oils.  Many times the bottom layer of a pizza box will be soiled with the oil, even if the pizza company uses a wax paper to try and absorb the oils.  However, the top section of the pizza box can be cut off and recycled as it’s usually the clean part of the cardboard box.


Finally, shredded paper.  Yes you can recycle this material but only if it’s placed inside a paper bag.  If your shredded paper strips are loose in the bin it’s like confetti, it gets everywhere, so you may have to seal the paper bag up.


Speaking of mixed paper, did you know that NOT all wrapping paper is made the same.  So, if you have a foil type wrapper or wrapping paper with glitter, it CANNOT be recycled.  Ribbons and bows are also NOT recyclable.


How did you do with the paper product test?


I can honestly say that I’ve messed up on the shredded paper preparation, the paper towels, and pizza boxes in the past.


Okay, onto the Plastic Products!




We have …


  • Plastic Water Bottle (Over 6 ounces)
  • Plastic Water Bottle (Under 6 ounces)
  • Soap Bottle
  • Sour Cream Container with Lid
  • Fruit Clam Shells
  • Food Take Out Containers
  • Bucket (Over 5 gallons)
  • Nursery Pot (Over 4 inches Across)
  • Plastic Bag
  • Plastic Amazon Mailer


Are you ready?  This is an easy one, is this water bottle recyclable?  Yes it is, but what about the cap? Again for now, when in doubt, throw it out.  The reason is that small plastics, especially ones that are made from harder materials don’t always get processed at every recycling center.


What about this small water bottle?  Actually, since it’s under 6 ounces, it is NOT recyclable.  This includes the small prescription bottles.  Apparently the small plastic parts gum up the machinery.


What about this soap bottle?  Yes, as long it’s been rinsed out.  Again, if you mean it, clean it.


What does this exactly mean?  If we don’t take the time to clean and prep our recyclable materials, it can contaminate an entire load.  Also, properly preparing recyclable materials helps keep the whole process affordable.


Okay, back to our game.  What about a sour cream container?  What about the lid? The container can be recycled, but the lid cannot.


What about plastic containers for fruit and vegetables?  Or these take-out food containers? Other known as clamshells.  No, they are NOT recyclable.  They used to be, but then the largest buyer of this material, China, stopped buying the material.


What about a plastic bucket, or a nursery pot?  Yes, but a bucket normally has to be smaller than 5 gallons and the nursery pot has to be under 4 inches across.  And they have to be clean. If you mean it, clean it.


What about plastic bags?  Or other plastic film like material?  Right, these are NOT recyclable in our curbside pickups, but they are recyclable when you bring them to many grocery stores.


Plastic film is a real menace for most facilities because they gum up and jam the machinery.


Speaking of plastic film, let’s talk about Amazon.


How many packaging materials that come from Amazon are recyclable?  If you get these plastic packaging with paper labels on them, you’ll have to cut out and throw away the labels but can add the plastic film to your pile that will go to the grocery stores.


This blue and white bubble wrap type packing from Amazon is also considered plastic film.  Again, you’ll have to cut out the label and throw it away, but this type of bag can be recycled at the grocery store.


Speaking of bubble wrap … since it’s considered plastic film it too can be recycled at the grocery stores.


But what about the paper padded envelopes with plastic bubble wrap inside?  Unfortunately, these types of mailers are NOT recyclable and have to be thrown away.  Craz, huh? They’re made of two types of materials that can be recycled, but put together in one product, it CANNOT.


How did you do in this section?




Let’s take a look at Metal Materials now.


Aluminum.  As long as it’s clean it is recyclable.  So if you have dirty food on your foil, it cannot be recycled.


Metal food cans and containers like pie plates and trays that have been cleaned are recyclable.  If you mean it, clean it.


And did you know that empty aerosol cans are recyclable?  I didn’t know that.


Lastly, some dried empty paint cans are accepted in some areas of Portland, so be sure to check with your local service.  Most of the time, an empty paint can is still considered hazardous waste and will have to be disposed of correctly. This is a time you don’t want to throw them out, if you suspect it’s hazardous.


Items like fluorescent light bulbs and batteries can be recycled at Home Depot.


Okay, let’s move onto Glass Products …




Most glass bottles and jars can be recycled, but what about glass kitchenware?  What about broken glass?


That’s right, glass kitchenware and broken glass is NOT recyclable.


Speaking of glass bottles with metal caps.  You’re actually supposed to place the metal caps into a can and then crimp the can so make sure the small cap doesn’t get thrown out and jamming the machinery.




We’re almost done.  Yard debris. It’s pretty much meant for grass clippings, leaves, and small shrubbery.


They really don’t want you placing oversized clippings in the bins, as well as, they don’t want dirt, wood, rocks, concrete bits, plastic bags, which is why they prefer the paper bags that will biodegrade.


And they don’t normally like you to throw your compostable food items into the yard debris bins.  So, you’ll either have to throw away the food bits or start a composting system at home.


Speaking of composting!  The city of Portland, and some outlying cities offer curbside pickup of your compostable food.  Here in West Linn, there is not that option, so be sure to check your local services to see what they prefer.


In regards to yard debris, the best way to think about it … how does the yard debris get turned into mulch?  What items don’t belong in mulch? That’s right, dirt, rocks, concrete, wires, etc. During Christmas time, you might have a wreath that is constructed with wires in the back.  That whole thing has to be thrown out.


Lastly, with yard debris sometimes comes garden hoses.  Some people think garden hoses are recyclable. They are NOT.  Garden hoses do a lot of damage to the machinery, so be sure to throw away or donate your old garden hose.


Some last minute items to address.  Old electronics can be recycled at various locations throughout the Portland Metro area.


As well as, styrofoam can be recycled at certain drop off locations in Portland.  


And did you know that you can recycle your old mattress?  It’s true, so be sure to check the links below.


That’s about it!


Remember, when in doubt, throw it out and if you mean it, clean it.


Probably the best way to approach the sorting your recyclable materials is to ask, “Will this gum up the machinery and how do I help make the process more efficient?”


When in doubt, throw it out.  If you mean it, clean it.


We’ll I hope you got some useful information out of this special episode.


And if you’re still confused, I put together a resource page that links most of the waste and recycling services that are offered here in the Portland Metro area.


Just go to http://aroundtheneighborhood.tv/resources


Again that’s at http://aroundtheneighborhood.tv/resources


You can download and print out handy posters and place them near your recycling bins as a friendly reminder of what and what can’t be recycled.


Again, since the show is sponsored by my real estate services, all my contact information is listed below.  So, if you ever have a question about buying or selling a home, feel free to say hello.


With that said, that’s for tuning in and I’ll see you around the neighborhood.