Zero Waste Team: Start The New Year Recycling Right

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. This triangle is mandated to be on products but can confuse recyclers.

Remember, 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 materials.

The Recycle Coach app is an easy way for Los Alamos residents to find out if something is recyclable or not. Simply download the app to your phone and search for an item you are curious about.

The most important thing to remember when recycling is to make sure the item is: “Empty, Clean, and Dry.”


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 and can be recycled indefinitely without losing its integrity. The savings come from not extracting the metal from ore and not using energy to melt it down. Metal pots, pans, and objects can be recycled conveniently in the blue recycle cart. For all other metal, please be sure it’s safe; sharp pieces can injure workers. For larger metal items, take them to the Eco Station or Overlook Convenience Center to be recycled.


Recycling glass saves huge amounts of energy, resources, and space in the landfill. Glass bottles and jars should be brought to the Eco Station, Overlook Convenience Center, the Lemon Lot, or the Los Alamos Co-Op to the glass recycling bins. Remember that the glass bottle or jar should be clean and empty, and while labels can be left on, lids should be removed.


Somewhere between 70-80% of all paper in the US is recycled. Most clean paper can be put in your recycling bin.

  • If paper has large amounts 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 reused the longest.
  • Wrapping paper is recyclable if it does not have a metallic coating or glitter.
  • Tissue paper, paper towels, tissue, and toilet paper are not recyclable because of their short fiber length. In addition, they are often soiled. Soiled paper does not belong in the recycle bin.


Plastic is the hardest material to recycle because there are so many kinds of plastic which have various degrees of reuse. Melting down a plastic soda bottle does not simply create a new soda bottle like an aluminum can. 

Rinse your plastic. A plastic container with juice, milk or laundry soap still in it is dirty and attracts mice and other rodents. This can leak onto other clean items like paper and make the whole bin “trash” rather than good, clean recycling. 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.

  • All plastic containers should be empty, clean, and dry. Lids can stay on bottles, jugs, and tubs; letting them loose can jam the sorting machinery.
  • Avoid “nesting” containers in other containers.
  • Film plastics and soft film plastics cannot be recycled and cannot go in the blue cart. Film plastics are the thin wrapping on the exterior of most packaging. 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.
  • Recycle film plastics and soft film plastics at some local grocery stores. The bins to recycle them are typically near the front entrances.
  • The all-plastic bubble mailers cannot be recycled in the blue cart: however, these can also be recycled in special front-of-store grocery bins.
  • Hard film plastics (packaging wrapping) cannot go in these bins because they are a different class of materials.

What goes in the blue cart: empty, clean, dry metal, plastic, cardboard, and paper.

What NOT to put in the blue cart:

Bags or bagged recyclables (with the ONE exception of shredded paper),

Styrofoam, pizza boxes (they can go in yard waste for compost), trash, “tanglers,” or electronics.

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


* The Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) and Environmental Services Division (ESD) formed the Zero Waste Team to educate the community on: 

  1. reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and 
  2. conserving energy and water. 

Comprising community volunteers and Los Alamos County employees, the team achieves the ESB and ESD charge through printed and digital messaging that is shared through traditional media sites, social media, and brochures. Moreover, the Zero Waste team members work with individuals and organizations, such as restaurant owners, businesses, schools, and residents, to incorporate these best practices to reduce and conserve into daily routines. To join or contact the Zero Waste team, contact