The information on this page relates to residential and commercial single stream recycling programs where items made of various recyclable materials are co-mingled in a single bin or dumpster. These co-mingled materials are delivered to Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), which sort the material using a combination of people-power and sophisticated equipment. In order to be successfully recycled by a MRF, items need to follow each of the following four rules:
#1) They must be made primarily of only one of the following materials: paper, metal, glass or plastic (though there are a few important exceptions to this rule, including paper cups and multi-layer cartons)
#2) They must be reasonably clean
#3) They must be machine sortable without clogging or jamming equipment
#4) There must be an end market to buy and reuse the material
Placing items that break one or more of these rules in the recycling bin is sometimes called "wish-cycling." Wish-cycling is a problem because the best-case outcome is that these non-recyclable items simply come out the other side of the MRF and go to the landfill, but this long and needless trip through the facility increases the cost of recycling for everyone. The worst case is that wish-cycled items can injure or sicken workers at MRFs. Kane County recently produced a flier (2 pages) and guide (6 pages) about wish-cycling.
The following guidance should also help you understand better what SHOULD and SHOULD NOT go in that blue bin. By understanding and following this guidance, you are doing your part to make recycling work for everyone!
At least as far as metal, glass and plastic go, single-stream recycling programs are primarily designed to handle containers.
ALUMINUM CANS AND FOIL
- Aluminum cans (empty, do not crush or flatten)
- Aluminum foil (scrunch clean foil to balls 2 inches or larger - small pieces should be collected and balled together, do not fold flat)
- Aluminum pie plates & baking trays (must be free of food)
- Food and Drink Cartons
- Milk, Soup, and Juice cartons and boxes (please empty and rinse, do not crush or flatten, plastic nozzles, caps and tabs can be left on)
- See a great flyer on the carton recycling process
- See article on carton recycling industry
GLASS BOTTLES AND JARS
- Food cans and lids (empty, rinsed, labels can be left on)
- Empty and depressurized aerosol cans for food and personal products (after can no longer dispenses product adequately, continue holding the trigger down until there is no more hissing sound of propellant being expressed)
- Metal paint cans and lids (must be empty - minimal dried paint residue is fine)
- Metal lids are recyclable
- NO sharps (needles, syringes, razor blades or knives)
NO utensils, full or partially full aerosols, propane tanks, wire hangers, metal cook or bakeware or small appliances (aerosols, small propane tanks, and scrap metals can be recycled at one of Kane County's Recycling Centers.)
- All colors are accepted (empty, rinsed or scraped out, labels and lids can be left on)
NO window or auto glass, bakeware, ceramics, mirrors, light bulbs, coffee pots or drinking glasses
Please recycle ONLY Bottles, Tubs, Jugs, and Jars - regardless of the number in the recycling triangle on the product.
BOTTLES (i.e. empty and rinsed water, soda, juice, laundry detergent, soap, shampoo, health and beauty product, and cleaning product bottles. Screw-top caps can be put back on bottles, but NO pumps or spray nozzles)
TUBS (i.e. empty and rinsed or scraped tofu, cottage cheese, yogurt, margarine tubs)
JUGS (i.e. empty and rinsed milk, juice, water, laundry detergent jugs. Caps can be put back on after rinsing)
JARS (i.e. empty and rinsed or scraped mayo and peanut butter jars. Caps can be put back on after rinsing)
NO plastic bags, including poly/bubble mailers (do not put in the curbside bin, see
Plastic Bag Recycling page) - the number one wish-cycled item in single-stream recycling!
- NO diapers, used or clean
- NO clothing or nylon fabric items
NO plastic film (plastic wraps, sandwich bags, freezer bags, tarps or plastic sheeting- do not put in the curbside bin, see Plastic Bag Recycling page)
NO plastic utensils or plates
NO plastic cups, lids or straws
NO black plastic items (the dyes used in black plastic make it impossible to recycle with other plastics and there is no market for it alone)
NO plastic toys or hard plastic packaging
NO candy wrappers, cereal bags, potato chip bags, or snack bags
- NO clam-shell containers
- NO electronic devices (note that Illinois law prohibits putting computers (laptop or desktop), computer monitors, computer keyboards & mice, televisions, fax machines, printers, scanners, VCRs, disc players, portable music players, video game consoles, cable boxes, satellite receivers, digital converter boxes, and small scale (non-commercial) servers in the trash. These items also cannot be put in curbside recycling. They should be delivered to one of Kane County's Recycling Centers.)
NO empty motor oil, pesticide, or chemical bottles
NO polystyrene foam/Styrofoam (see "Styrofoam" on our A-Z list for drop-off locations)
PAPER & CARDBOARD
- Newspaper and inserts (NO plastic newspaper sleeves)
- Magazines, catalogs, and phone books (NO plastic sleeves)
- Office paper including notebooks computer print outs, hanging file folders, pastel colored sticky notes (no fluorescent), glossy brochures, index cards, stationary, manila folders and envelopes. Remove large metal pieces such as binder clips and file hangers - staples and paper clips are okay.
- Junk mail (please remove all non-paper: plastic cards, magnets, etc.)
- New in 2023: Paper cups, such as those used to serve coffee and soda can go in recycling. These items have a thin coating of plastic material on the inside to make them waterproof. While the materials can be separated and the paper can be recycled, for a long time there weren't enough paper mills doing it to offer wide-scale recycling. That has now changed! (NO plastic lids, straws, coffee stirrers etc.)
- Greeting cards and wrapping paper (NO foil, glitter, or poly coating)
- Chipboard/paperboard - cereal, cracker, tissue, shoe, gift, and 6/12-pack boxes, paper towel tubes, and egg cartons
- Corrugated cardboard (shipping) boxes must be flattened
- Brown paper grocery bags
- Paperback books (no hardcover books)
- NO food-contaminated paper, including paper plates, pizza boxes, fry or burger cartons. If pizza box top is clean you can tear it off and recycle it.
NO paper towels, tissues, or napkins, which are not recyclable because the fibers are too small to reuse (please compost them with kitchen food scraps if possible)
- NO neon colored paper - the strength of the dye prevents it from being recycled with other paper. Other colored paper (pastel, non-neon construction paper, etc. is okay)
NO Shredded Paper - Loose shredded paper causes major sorting problems in single-stream recycling, so please save your documents for a shred event or best practice is to tear off the confidential portion and recycle the rest of the sheet whole.
NO frozen food boxes, which are made of a hybrid of paper and plastic, and are not wanted by paper mills.
Close the Loop
Buying products with recycled content is an important step in improving sustainability. Look for household paper products like tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels that have recycled fiber content. These products reduce our need to cut down trees to make new paper. Office paper is available with 10% to 100% post-consumer recycled content, which means it was made out of paper that was milled and manufactured, purchased, used, recycled, and then remanufactured, to be used again!