On average, 18.9% of the material that’s put in Madison’s green recycling carts cannot be recycled.
Recycling can be confusing. We’re breaking down the details so you can make sure you’re recycling in the most effective way possible.
The following information is for Madison, WI, but applies to most other programs in the area.
♻️ Do I need to sort my recyclables?
Most recycling systems in the US have gone single-stream, including Madison. That means your recyclables can go in 1 bin. In fact, the city recommends putting recycling items directly into the carts — no bags needed. The only exception to this is shredded paper, which needs to go into a clear bag.
♻️ Give us the do’s + don’ts.
The City of Madison gives you the full list of what you can + can’t recycle. Our highlights:
✅ Plastic bottles marked 1-7 are all recyclable in Madison — just leave the lids attached. Otherwise they slip through the cracks + get missorted.
⚠️ Food/drink containers should be visibly clean. Rinse milk cartons + soda cans, and run peanut butter jars through the wash (or give them to your dog first).
❌ Plastic bags are the No. 1 thing people try to recycle — but they fly off trucks, become litter, and jam sorting rollers. Instead, bring them back to a grocer — like Festival Foods, Pick n’ Save, Metcalfes + others — or a food pantry that uses them for its operations.
And if you ever need a refresher, The City of Madison Streets Division has a handy fridge printout.
♻️ Thinking outside the blue bins.
Want to become a Master Recycler? Sustain Dane’s 2022 classes are open for registration. Over 44,000 Madison residents have learned how to recycle right + recycle more.