Single-Stream Recycling in Philly: Dos and Don’ts

We all want to play our part to keep the planet healthy and recycling is one way you can help. Since the first Earth Day 50 years ago, society has made big strides in education and awareness of the environmental issues we face, and we’ve learned a lot about how our lifestyle choices and methods as consumers have impacted the Earth. We’ve woken up to our bad eco-habits, and the majority of us are eager to change them.

But while we may have the best intentions at heart, our actions can often be misconstrued. We receive a lot of information from friends and family, brands, and the media — all of whom are constantly telling us what to do and how to do it when it comes to helping the planet. 

We should be cautious not to take all the information we receive at face value because often it isn’t accurate. This is especially true of recycling. 

In Philly, like in many other cities across the country, we use a “single-stream” recycling system, meaning all the recyclable materials we use get mixed into a single bin, collected together, and then sorted and separated later on at a special facility. It’s a system that’s designed with convenience in mind, but in order for it to remain effective, it’s integral for us to use it the right way. As the ones who are doing the recycling, we are the foundation of the system, and if we don’t use it properly, the whole thing becomes obsolete.

Follow these guidelines to ensure that you’re contributing your recycling to our city’s single-stream system accurately. 

Use the Right Type of Recycling Bin

There are many types of sanctioned bins you can use to recycle in Philadelphia. The idea is, you’ll want to have something that won’t contaminate your recyclables between collections. To help you better plan when to put your recycling out and reduce contamination you can also now check the city’s new PickupPHL app for the most up-to-date recycling collection updates. The city considers all of the following acceptable forms of recycling bins:

City-issued bins: There are six Sanitation Convenience Centers scattered throughout the city from which you can pick up a free city-issued recycling bin. If you plan on acquiring one, call your nearest location ahead of time for hours of operation, and to make sure they have a supply in stock. To avoid pick up delays, you can also drop off your recyclables directly at any of these Sanitation Convenience Centers.

Solo bins: As part of our ongoing effort to help Philly residents love where you live, we offer free Solo-branded bins, too. They are available to our clients, tenants, and neighbors, and if you’re interested in obtaining one, we encourage you to contact us directly to schedule a pickup at our office near Rittenhouse Square.

DIY bins: If you can’t easily obtain a city-issued or Solo Real Estate container, the city allows other containers to act as permanent recycling bins. As long as it’s plastic and 32 gallons or less, it should be good to use. The city advises that residents who choose this method either get a recycling sticker, or clearly write “recycling” on the outside of the container.

Temporary paper bags: If you’re between bins and need to put your recycling out before you get a new permanent one, you may use a paper bag or a cardboard box in the interim. However, there’s no guarantee that the city will pick these up, especially if they’ve been out in the rain or snow, where they can easily become contaminated. The recycling crews will use their discretion when determining whether or not to collect temporary paper or cardboard containers, so it’s best to get a permanent one as soon as possible.

Don’t use plastic bags: This includes clear and opaque plastic garbage or shopping bags. These are not recyclable, and the Streets Department will not collect them.

Philly Recycling Dos and Don’ts

Once you have the right bin, it’s important to only place sanctioned recyclables in it. Please read through the following dos and don’ts to make sure you’re using the recycling service effectively.


Do recycle: Plastic food and beverage containers (like milk jugs, water bottles, and plastic takeout containers), plastic single-use drink cups (like the ones you get from convenience store soda fountains and fast food restaurants), plastic household and bathroom item bottles (like detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, and cleaning spray bottles), similar plastic pails, buckets, and pots.

Do not recycle: Plastic bags of any kind, styrofoam of any kind (including styrofoam takeout containers and cups), or plastic straws of any kind. 

Pro tip: It’s true, plastic straws are not recyclable! We recommend using compostable paper straws, or reusable glass and metal straws whenever possible.


Do recycle: Newspapers, magazines, brochures, catalogues, paper-based mail and envelopes/junk mail, paperback books and phone books, greeting cards, and paper-based gift wrap.

Do not recycle: Wet or soiled paper of any kind, waxed paper plates and cups, tissues, napkins, toilet paper, or paper towels.

Pro tip: Keep your recyclables in a closed container until as close to collection as possible to prevent water and other contaminants that will deem these items non-recyclable.


Do recycle: shipping and storage boxes, cereal and dry food boxes, egg cartons, paper towel and toilet paper rolls, cardboard food and beverage cartons (like milk, wine, and soup cartons and boxes), and flatten out all of these containers before you place them in the bin.

Do not recycle: Dirty or greasy pizza boxes, or any other potentially contaminated cardboard items.

Pro tip: Pizza boxes are technically recyclable, but they must be clean and contain no grease, which is rarely the case. However, you can rip them up as compost! We recommend reading this article if you’re interested in learning more about how to reduce waste or start composting at your Philadelphia home.

Glass and Metal

Do recycle: All types of glass jars, tin, aluminum, and steel cans, empty and clean paint cans, disposable metal baking dishes and trays, empty aerosol cans, metal lids and bottle caps, crumpled and clean aluminum foil.

Do not recycle: light bulbs, broken glass of any kind, or porcelain.

Pro tip: Reusing can be more effective than recycling, and used glass and metal jars can serve a variety of purposes—like drinking cups, change jars, and planters. Use your imagination and save your jars! While regular light bulbs can’t be recycled, Green Philly has a list of places in Philadelphia that will recycle your CFL light bulbs. 

Other Non-Recyclables 

There are several other common household items that are commonly mistaken as recyclable. This includes any food waste, any electronics (like phones, tablets, and computers), garden hoses, and needles and syringes. Please leave all of these things out of the recycling bin.