County Environmental Services: Recycle Right

Zero Waste Tip: Download the cycle Coach app to learn easy tips on how to recycle right! However, if you are not sure if an item can be recycled or not, throw it away. When in doubt, throw it out.


There are many dedicated recyclers in our community. Recycling is important but recycling correctly is not always easy. The little “recycle triangle” with the number in the middle does not mean the product is recyclable, rather, it indicates what kind of plastic the object is made of. The recycle triangle is mandated to be on products but can be very confusing for consumers and eager recyclers.

The Recycle Coach app is a free and easy way for Los Alamos residents to find out if something is recyclable or not. Simply download the app to your smart phone and type in the item you are curious about. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out! If you are not sure if an item can be recycled, it is better to throw it away. “Wishcycling” contributes to a lot of contamination in recycling streams and can ruin a batch of otherwise recyclable material

The most important thing to remember when recycling is to make sure the item is:  Empty, clean, and dry. A plastic container with juice, milk, or laundry soap in it is dirty and can leak onto other clean items like paper and can contaminate the whole bin making it trash. A quick “rinse and shake” should be enough for most things; you do not need to use a lot of water to get things clean.


Pretty much all metal is recyclable and should be recycled! Recycling an aluminum can, for example, is 95% more efficient than making an aluminum can out of virgin metal. The savings comes from not having to extract the metal from ore and not requiring energy to melt it down. Another great quality of aluminum is that it can be recycled FOREVER, without losing its integrity, which means it can be recycled indefinitely into a high-quality product.


Glass is not quite as efficient to recycle as metal, but it is the second “best” thing to recycle. The shortage of sand for glass production makes it even more important to recycle this material. Recycling glass saves huge amounts of energy, resources, and space in the landfill. Glass should be brought to the Eco Station, Overlook Collection Center, the Lemon Lot, or the Los Alamos Co-Op and placed in the glass recycling bins.


Approximately 70-80% of all paper in the U.S. is recycled. Most clean paper can be put in your recycling bin. If it has large quantities of paint or any glitter/craft supplies, it’s best to throw it away. Paper’s market recycling value is based on fiber length. Corrugated cardboard, for example, has the highest value on the recycling market because it can be re-used the longest. Tissue paper, paper towels, tissue and toilet paper are not recyclable because of their very short fiber length (but often they are soiled and that is just gross!). Wrapping paper is recyclable if it does not have metallic coating or glitter.


Plastic is the hardest material to recycle because there are so many different types of plastic which have various degrees of reuse. Melting down a plastic soda bottle does not simply create a new soda bottle as would be the case with an aluminum can. Film plastics (the thin wrapping on the exterior of most packaging) cannot be recycled and cannot go in the blue recycle cart. Soft film plastics are those you can poke your finger through like a grocery bag or other plastic bags that produce, bread, or tortillas come in. Those plastics can be recycled at Smith’s and Walmart. The bins to recycle them are typically near the front entrances. All-plastic bubble mailers can also be recycled in special front-of-store grocery bins but not in the blue recycle cart. All plastic containers should be empty, clean, and dry. Lids can attach to bottles, jugs, and tubs, but tossing them into your cart separately can jam the sorting machinery. Avoid “nesting” containers inside other containers.


Cardboard is equally as important to recycle as metal and glass, it is a very valuable commodity. Clean, non-greasy cardboard can be recycled in the blue recycle roll cart. However, since e-commerce is the new way of shopping and cardboard is abundant, Los Alamos County has several cardboard recycle dumpsters conveniently located throughout the community.

A final reminder to sum up a few Do’s and Don’ts:

DO recycle: empty, clean, and dry metal, plastic, and paper.

DON’T recycle: glass, bags, or bagged recyclables (with the ONE exception of shredded paper), Styrofoam, pizza boxes, trash, and tanglers (garden hoses, extension cords).

For more information check out the Los Alamos County Environmental Service’s webpage at For those with questions or concerns please contact Environmental Services at 505-662-8163 or