Recycling in Philadelphia: how to get a bin, materials accepted, schedule
Philadelphia has implemented a citywide municipal recycling program with curbside collection since 1989. This is a one-stream process (meaning you throw everything in a bin) and there is a scheduled pick-up each week.
Street department workers collected an average of 1,200 tonnes of recycling per week last year, which is less than in previous years. As of July, Philadelphia’s recycling rates are at an all-time low, accounting for just 9% of trash collected, down from 18% a few years ago.
Part of the decline is because advances in materials mean that many things that can be recycled simply weigh less, city officials say. Recycling has also become more expensive. Instead of being able to sell the materials — China was the main buyer — Philly now has to pay to have the recycling taken out of the city’s hands.
Then there’s the question of whether the city mixes recyclables with trash. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, collection teams were told they could combine waste and recycling as they faced understaffing issues. Later in 2020, the city bad weather blamed to contaminate recycled materials before collection, causing them to be thrown away with the garbage. Residents say they still sometimes see collection crews mixing trash and recycling, even though the city says the practice stopped months ago.
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Here’s everything you need to know about recycling in Philadelphia.
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The Philadelphia Department of Streets provides free recycling bins to all city residents. There is a limit of two per address per year.
If you need it, you can pick it up (one per trip) at one of these six sanitation centers:
- Port Richmond: 3901 Delaware Ave, 215-685-1358
- West Philadelphia: 5100 Grays Ave., 215-685-2600
- Strawberry Mansion: 2601 W. Glenwood Ave., 215-685-3955
- Southwest Philadelphia: 3303 S. 63rd St., 215-685-4290
- Northwest Philadelphia: Domino Lane and Umbria St., 215-685-2502
- Northeast Philadelphia: State Rd. & Ashburner St., 215-685-8072
The centers are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday, but the blue bins are in high demand. The city therefore recommends calling before leaving to ensure that there are bins available at this location.
You can also use any container under 32 gallons and under 40 pounds.
You will probably want to mark it to clearly indicate that it is for recycling, as waste and recycling are collected on the same day. Also a good practice when you get a new bin: write your address on the outside to claim it as your own, in case street workers drop it outside someone else’s house.
When to put it out
Recycling is supposed to be collected on the same day of the week your waste is collected. Find the day of your address here. (Note that if Monday is a holiday, the schedule for the entire week advances by one day.)
You must place recycling outside in a bin by 7 a.m. on collection day to ensure you don’t miss the trucks. The city also asks you to refrain from taking out garbage and recycling too early – before 7 p.m. the day before collection day from April through September, or 5 p.m. from October through March.
Take note of these deadlines, as you may get a quote to put your trash go out too early.
What to recycle
- Plastics (food containers, drink bottles, jars, pump bottles and spray bottles)
- Paper (newspapers, magazines, junk mail, books, paper bags)
- Metals (cans, aluminum baking dishes, spray cans)
- Cardboard (corrugated boxes, egg cartons, shipping cartons)
- Cartons (milk, juice, wine, soup)
No matter what it is, be sure to clean it first
Make sure recyclables are clean and dry
Items you recycle must not have food or liquids on or in them. If items cannot be fully cleaned, they cannot be recycled.
Including a greasy pizza box in the mix can ruin an entire recycling batch, the Streets Department noted in 2017.
Be sure to let containers dry before throwing them in the trash, so they don’t wet or soil your recyclables. Officials recommend get a lid for your recycling bin so paper and cardboard won’t get wet when you sit outside waiting for collection.
What not to put in your recycling bin
There are a whole list of things you might think they’re recyclable and shouldn’t go in your bin.
- Plastic bags (They can break recycling processing machines.)
- Needles and syringes (these are a danger for recyclers. Follow these tips to dispose of them safely.)
- Metal hangers
- Things that can get tangled, such as hoses, cords, ropes, and chains
- Flammable products, such as propane tanks, rechargeable batteries and fuel containers
- Disposable plates, cups and take-out containers
- Oily or food-soiled paper and cardboard
- Tissues, paper towels and napkins
- Tapes (VHS and audio)
- Pots and pans
Be sure to collapse all cardboard boxes and remove packing materials like Styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap.
If you’re not sure if an item is recyclable, simply put it in the trash to avoid contaminating the rest of your recyclables, advises the Department of Streets. They even provide a motto: “When in doubt, keep it away”.
Other ways to recycle some of these things
Some of these things can be recycled in other ways.
CEEC has a appliance recycling programand you can even get a discount if your old item qualifies.
Plastic bags can be dropped off at grocery stores that have specially marked bins for recycling bags. Check bagandfilmrecycling.org for a map of locations.
Some shipping and courier companies take packaging peanuts, and some private recycling companies take polystyrene items. Northeast Moss Recycling in Chalfont specifically takes Styrofoam #6, free of charge. Rabbit Recycling, a private recycling company with subscription and on-demand services, accepts polystyrene foam.
You can donate clothing and household items to various organizations for reuse. If it’s no longer wearable, you can donate it to a textile recycling program.
This interactive city tool can help you find textile recycling locations, donation drop-off locations and other options for responsibly disposing of items you no longer need. And here is a list of servicescreated by the city.
Companies that collect recycling for a fee
Here is some Philadelphia companies that offer recycling collection services to individuals and/or businesses. The items they accept differ, so be sure to check with them for requirements.