Relearn Recycling Best Practices and Acceptable Items

Welcome to the PRC Recycling Guide, where you can learn about recycling best practices.

All recycling is based on simple market economic principles. As commodities, things like aluminum cans are recyclable because industry recognizes their inherent value. In other words, an item is only recyclable if someone finds a use for the material. These markets exist for many of our household waste materials. Recycling works when the value of the particular material supports the collection, processing and re-manufacture of a product into a new one.

Scroll down for recycling best practices and read acceptable in residential curbside recycling programs.

Download a printable PDF of the Household Recycling Guide.

Act 101

Pennsylvania’s recycling law, Act 101, established a variety of rules ensuring Pennsylvanians have free and convenient access to recycling services for commonly recycled materials from their homes and at their places of business. While Act 101 does not guarantee residents access to recycling for all common materials, market conditions have supported the collection for most.

Please note that this information is based on PRC’s extensive technical expertise in the recycling industry and may be different than your municipality’s recycling guidelines.

Best Practices

  • Place CLEAN and DRY materials un-bagged into a blue recycling bin.
  • Set materials on the curb, separate from your trash, between 6 pm the day before collection and 6 am the morning of collection.
  • Protect your recycling and trash haulers, and NEVER put broken glass or other sharps in recycling. Instead, wrap the sharp object in softer trash.
  • If you keep your bin outside, keep the lid on until it’s time for your hauler to pick it up. The lid protects your recyclables from both the weather and curious vermin. The recycling haulers work very quickly, and your lid may go flying and or be misplaced.
  • When in doubt, ask PRC.

Mixed Paper

Do Recycle*

  • Office Paper
  • Newspaper
  • Magazines and catalogs
  • Hard and soft cover books
  • Junk mail
  • Paperboard

Don’t Recycle

  • No paper or cardboard covered in grease or food
  • No lottery scratch off tickets
  • No disposable paper cups that have a wax coating on the inside
    • No paper coffee cups
  • No paper plates
  • No milk/orange juice cartons
  • No shopping receipts



Do Recycle

  • Plastic Bottles, jars, and jugs #1 & #2
    • Lids should be on the bottle. Do not remove your lids and throw them in your recycling bin.

Don’t Recycle

  • No clam-shell containers
  • No plastics #3-#7 or unnumbered plastics
  • No utensils
  • No furniture or toys
  • No caps or lids
  • No tubs
  • No straws
  • No Keurig cups
  • No yogurt containers
  • No Styrofoam

* Why are plastics #1 & #2 the only plastics being recycled? – Plastic markets are increasingly demanding better quality material. With no market for higher numbered plastics, Material Recover Facilities (MRFs) can only accept the plastics that they are able to sell. For more information on the recycling crisis click here.


Do Recycle

  • Beverage Cans
  • Food Cans
    • Pet food cans
  • Aerosol Cans
    • Must be empty

Don’t Recycle

  • No metal clothing hangers


Glass may not be recyclable in all residential and/or commercial recycling programs. Check with your municipality.

Southwest PA residents can find PRC’s Traveling Glass Bin schedule and permanent glass recycling sites here.



Do Recycle

  • All Cardboard
    • Clean and Dry
    • Flattened

Don’t Recycle

  • No pizza boxes
    • If the top of the pizza box is not soiled, cut it off, and recycle it separately from the soiled portion
  • No wet or soiled cardboard

Recyclable at Specific Events or Locations:

  • Household Chemical Waste 
    • Automotive oil & fluids
    • Household cleaners
    • Paint
  • Electronics
    • Computers
    • Most light bulbs
    • Small appliances
  • Pharmaceuticals 
  • Plastic Film
    • Many grocery stores like Giant Eagle can take plastic bags and film
  • Styrofoam
    • To see where you can recycle Styrofoam, follow the link.
  • Yard Waste and Tires
    • The City of Pittsburgh offers curbside yard waste collections twice a year.
    • To learn more about dropping off yard waste and tires, click here.
  • To learn more about recycling in Pennsylvania, call the Department of Environmental Protection Recycling Hotline at 1-800-346-4242

 Never Goes in Curbside Recycling:

  • No plastic bags or film
  • No food or organic matter
  • No liquids
  • No Styrofoam
  • No electronic Devices
  • No glass
  • No Polyurethane (couch stuffing)

Most Recyclable Materials

PRC constantly analyzes policies and markets to ensure that we understand the best practices regarding recycling, so we are able to support the most vibrant and responsible waste diversion system possible in Pennsylvania.

Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) separate materials into bales of recyclable commodities (like cardboard, paper, aluminum, etc.). These bales are then sold to buyers who eventually re-manufacture or recycle these commodities into new products or materials. Recently, domestic and international buyers of these commodities have demanded higher quality material and are allowing ever lower contamination levels. With this refocus on quality standards, MRFs are having a difficult time finding economically viable markets to consume the materials. To overcome this challenge, MRFs are beginning to focus on a core group of consistently recyclable and marketable materials.

This update in the recycling market is what guides PRC’s communication at Recycling Bin Distribution Events and beyond. In fact, it is this very approach which has led to the bin distribution program itself; an effort to improve the quality of Pittsburgh’s recycling by removing the plastic bags from the system. It is also important to note that the challenge is not just in the marketability of a particular material but may also include that materials impact on the quality of what are otherwise highly valuable materials.

PRC therefore asks residents to focus on recycling the materials which are supported by clear market demand. We know that Pittsburgh residents, especially those like yourself who self-select to receive a recycling bin, are committed to recycling. To honor that commitment, we want to give you the most current information for which materials are in demand now and are expected to be into the future. We further desire to help you increase the volume of materials not only being collected for recycling but being processed and sold in environmentally responsible end markets.

For more information, email [email protected]