How-To: Recycling in Philly

One aspect of sustainable urban living that we try to highlight is recycling. Did you know that in Philadelphia, not only is recycling a fairly simple process, not much different than throwing out your garbage, it can also hold rewards for both the environment and yourself?


The city has supplied recycling bins to residents since 1993. While the program has grown immensely in the past two decades, the supply of bins does not always meet resident demands. To help you navigate the world of recycling in Philadelphia, we’ve assembled a how-to guide for getting your bin, what you can and can’t recycle, and how you can make the endeavor even more worth your while with the Philadelphia Recyclebank Rewards program.


Getting A Recycling Bin


  1. City-Issued Recycling Bins

    The first avenue to explore when trying to procure a recycling bin is your nearest sanitation center. There you can get your bin which comes free with proof of Philadelphia city residency. There is a great article over on Billy Penn with tips on getting your recycling bin this way, a list of the Sanitation Centers so you can find the one closest to you, and accompanying phone numbers.

    It is recommended that you call the Sanitation Center before making the trek over there because, while 40,0000-60,000 bins are given out by the city each year, it is still difficult to keep up with demand, and many centers run out frequently.

  2. DIY Recycling Bins

    For this route to recycling it is recommended that you label “Recycling” clearly on the bin or that you grab a city-issued recycling sticker for the container.If you aren’t able to procure an official bin, either because they’ve run out or you’re unable to get to one of the Sanitation Centers, you will be glad to find out that any bin up to 32 gallons is permissible for use as a recycling bin.

  3. Temporary Recycling Bins

    A good holdover until you’re able to either get an official city issued recycling bin or establish your own container is putting your recycling out in paper bags. In some neighborhoods this is an acceptable method, although there is no guarantee that your recycling will always be picked up this way. This method should only be used as a temporary option, however, because it does come with a whole host of problems. These issues are particularly apparent in the winter or other bad weather conditions where bags are compromised and recycling is scattered through the streets.

  4. Alternative Recycling Bin Distributors

    Many offshoot organizations also distribute recycling bins locally. A few of these sorts of groups are RecycleNow of the Recycling Alliance of Philadelphia, some community development corporations, and a handful of neighborhood associations.

    If you’re having trouble getting your hands on a bin, we recommend checking in with   your local neighborhood association or CDC to see if they can help you out.

  5. Solo Real Estate Bins

    We at Solo Realty are always looking for new ways that we can help create a more sustainable Philadelphia. With all of our projects and endeavors we strive to hold ourselves to the highest standard of sustainable practices. In light of our eco-friendly goals, we have our own program for doling out recycling bins. We provide these bins for our clients, tenants, and neighbors. To get a bin for your household you can check out our stock at Greensgrow in Fishtown, the Kensington Food Co-Op, neighborhood associations throughout the city, or even stop by our office at 2017 Chancellor Street near Rittenhouse Square to pick one up.


Philadelphia Recycling Do’s & Don’ts

The good news is, now that you’ve got your very own recycling bin, the hard part is behind you because in Philadelphia recycling is about as easy as disposing of your usual garbage –  something that we all have to do.


Philadelphia has a single-stream recycling system which is great because it means the days of sorting different materials and numbers of plastics are in the past. There are, however, still some do’s and don’ts of single-stream recycling.


Some major items found in most households that fall under the don’t recycle category include light bulbs, paper products like tissue, paper towels, napkins, and anything wax-coated. Another big one that people often overlook are food-soiled goods such as cardboard boxes and aluminum foil. Sorry folks, but those greasy pizza boxes are destined for the trash can. Some common plastics found in the home that are not recyclable are plastic bags, packing peanuts, and Styrofoam.


Green Philly has a great guide of the do’s and don’ts of recycling on their blog.


Philadelphia RecycleBank Rewards Program

Now that you know the channels through which to get yourself set up with a recycling bin and the ins and outs of what you can put in that bin, we can move on to the fun stuff. A partnership between the city of Philadelphia and RecycleBank established the Philadelphia RecycleBank Rewards Program. It’s really simple to sign up online or by phone (888-769-7960), and once you’ve signed up you can start earning points based on how much you and your neighbors are recycling. Those points can then be traded in for rewards and discounts at a bunch of participating businesses.

How it works is, after signing up you receive a Philadelphia Recycling Rewards Home Recycling sticker in the mail to place on your bin. Then, each time your recycling is picked up, the recycling truck will scan the bar-code on your sticker and points will automatically be added to your account. The points accrue not just based on how much your household is recycling, but also on your neighbors’ recycling.


Different rewards are available based on the number of points you have accrued. Once you have saved up some points, you can go onto your online account to shop for rewards which you will be able to print at home, receive via email, or mail. If you are not online, reward information is also available at the phone number above.


While figuring out how to get started on recycling in the city can seem daunting at first, we hope with these quick tips and how-to’s the process might seem a little more manageable. Not only is recycling important for protecting the environment, it can hold rewards for you and your neighbors as well!


Featured photograph courtesy of Linh Do via Flickr.