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Got Plastic Bottles, Bags & Containers from July 4th? Might be Time for Recycling Refresher

Onondaga County Parks

Many Onondaga County residents might think they’re doing good by throwing anything plastic with a recycle symbol in their blue bin for recycling.  After all, we have one of the best recycling rates in the nation.  But Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agencyspokesperson Kristen Lawton says over-eager recyclers might actually be doing harm to the recycling stream.

“Sometimes what that means is they become ‘over-recyclers’ or people who are sort of wishful recyclers.  It actually contaminates the recycling stream.  So it makes it difficult for the material to be resold because if a bail of material has too much contamination, that material is either devalued or maybe that material is thrown out altogether.”

Some people are over-zealous about recycling, putting all kinds of plastics into the blue bin. OCRRA says that can do more harm than good.

Lawton says it’s an ongoing challenge to educate the community on what plastics  can and cannot be recycled.  She says OCRRA will only accept plastic bottles labelled number 1 and 2, and dairy containers with a number 5.  That’s it.  No other containers with those numbers are recyclable.  But she says some think seeing a 1, 2, or 5 on any plastic item means it can be recycled.

“Those resin codes, or the numbers with the chasing recycle symbol, those do not denote whether something is recyclable in a community.  They actually define the type of plastic that the product is made of and they’re used to help the material recycling facilities, where your recycling is sorted, they’re used to help sort the materials.”


OCCRA’s contractor sorts and bales recyclables, using a complex system of specialized machinery and hand-sorting. After that, bales are sold to an international market, and buyers of recyclable materials can be particular about what goes in their bales.  

Lawton says one of the worst things a home recycler can throw in their bin is a plastic bag.  Most large grocery stores will take these bags, if they’re clean, but at the recycling operations, she says, they can literally gum up the works.

These items, when they go to that material recovery facility, what they do is wind up almost like a really tight rope around the machinery and the equipment has to be stopped multiple times a day to literally cut them out of the machinery.  So it slows down the machinery and on top of that those materials are not being recycled because to recycle a plastic bag at a big box store, they must be cleaned.  And as you can imagine, by the time a plastic bag goes into your bin, gets in the garbage truck, it is no longer clean.”

Recyclers with questions are always encouraged to call OCRRA , or visit their website at


Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.