Frequently Asked Questions

The Top 10 Things You Should Know About Recycling in Cuyahoga County

Q1. Why is recycling important?

When you recycle, your used items get a new life. Some materials can travel through the recycling process and be back on store shelves in as little as 30 days! Your aluminum cans, cartons, paper, plastic water bottles and cereal boxes can become many different things.

Additionally, recycling conserves land and natural resources. When you recycle, you keep materials out of landfills where they do not decompose. Instead, you are sending them to a recycling facility to be turned into something useful. Products made with recyclable material use fewer natural resources and energy, making recycling a sustainable activity that also supports local jobs. Recycling is good for the earth and the people who live here now and in the future!

Everything cannot be recycled, so you should always consider reducing and reusing first. If you don't generate the waste to begin with, you don't have to decide how to dispose of it.

Q2: Why do recycling rules change?

Recycling is an industry fueled by environmental responsibility but driven by economics. Recycling rules change over time because recyclables are commodities that are sold and traded throughout the world and subject to market fluctuations.

The economics of recycling are rarely discussed but are at the center of the issue of recyclability. Currently supply exceeds demand mainly because of recent restrictions China has placed on the materials they will import. China is tired of being the world’s dumping ground and now demands cleaner, sorted recyclables which they use to produce the goods we buy here at home. Learn more.


Q3. Is that why the rules for recycling in Cuyahoga County were updated?

People are often confused about what can and cannot be recycled. Recycling guidelines have been updated to make them easier to understand. Simply put, there are five core items that you should recycle curbside. No matter where you live in Cuyahoga County, you can include cans, cartons, glass, paper and boxes along with plastic bottles and jugs. These items should be emptied and rinsed with the caps put back on and then placed loose, not bagged, into your recycling container.

Not all plastics are recyclable, so part of the campaign helps residents understand which plastics should be included. We no longer refer to the number on the container, because not all numbered items can be recycled. Now we talk about the shape of the container. If it's shaped like a bottle or jug and has a neck, or a cap, it can be recycled curbside. Some local communities, depending on your hauler, are able to recycle plastic tubs.

Other plastics like Styrofoam™, plastic cups and utensils, takeout containers and clamshells for lettuce and berries cannot be recycled curbside. Please see Q9 below for more information about plastics.

[videos] See more about
how to recycle in Cuyahoga County or our wishcycling video series.

Q4. What happens to my recyclables once they are picked up?

Whether your recycling is picked up by your city or a private company, recyclables from Cuyahoga County go to one of three Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) in the area. Each MRF is owned and operated by a private company (Kimble Co. in Twinsburg, Republic Services in Oberlin and Waste Management in Akron). Each MRF accepts, sorts and processes tons of recyclables every day. All of these facilities accept metal cans, cartons, glass bottles and jars, mixed paper and cardboard along with plastic bottles and jugs.

A MRF is a large sorting facility with many conveyor belts and machinery. Here, recycling trucks are weighed before tipping their loads on the building floor. Mixed recyclables are then scooped up by a front-end loader and placed on the sorting line. Large objects and contamination are removed first. The recyclables then travel through an automated sorting system which uses a disk screen, magnets, optical sorters and workers on the line to separate the materials.

The sorted materials are baled and sold to manufacturers who make them into a variety of new products. For instance, your cereal boxes may become a game board or paper towels. Your aluminum cans may become new soda cans or airplane parts. Glass bottles may become kitchen tiles and your soup cans may become new bikes or even a bridge. The cycle is endless.

Q5. What if residents put the wrong things in their recycling? What happens then?

If you put items in your recycling that are not accepted for recycling at the MRF, these items could jam or slow the sorting process and may even endanger workers. Some examples include clothing, plastic film, hoses and cords that tangle in the equipment, large metal objects that damage equipment, and syringes that can harm workers. Other items have little or no value, are too dirty to process, or cannot be manufactured into something new.

Contaminants are costly to the MRF. Eventually, this cost could be passed on to your community because the contaminants must be sorted out and landfilled. That is why it is important to recycle properly. Many items that cannot be recycled at the MRF may be recyclable elsewhere.

Learn more about contamination and wishcycling.

Q6. If a resident moves to a different city outside of Cuyahoga County, will the rules for recycling change again?

The District has developed a common list of recyclables that apply to every community in Cuyahoga County.  While collection methods may look a little different from community to community, the materials that should be recycled are the same and include cans, cartons, glass, paper and cardboard along with plastic bottles and jugs.

The 59 communities in Cuyahoga County collect trash and recycling from residents with city trucks or hire a private company to provide the service. The communities also make their own rules when it comes to the type or color of recycling bin or cart that is used and how items should be set-out.

Learn more about your community.

But, the materials that should be included in curbside recycling are the same across Cuyahoga County and also apply to many of our neighboring counties. That is because we all use the same three Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) to process our collected recyclables.

Q7. What about recycling for other things that don’t fall under the categories of cans, cartons, glass, paper and cardboard along with plastic bottles and jugs?

The District sponsors many special collections for what we call “Other Recycling,” including holiday lights, clothing, computers and electronics. Collections take place at the District headquarters as well as in most communities either year-round or on designated dates. Additionally, many charitable organizations accept donations of clothing and furniture.

Search your items in the green "What Do I Do With?" prompt at the top of every page of our website to learn best practices.

Clothing, Furniture and Household Goods
DO NOT place in your curbside recycling. Donate usable items instead. Contact the District for recommendations or search your item in “What Do I Do With?”​

Computers and Electronics
Recycle through your community’s computer recycling event or through a local electronics recycler and at some retail locations. Find details for your community.

Construction Materials, Wood and Concrete
Waste from remodeling projects can be taken to a construction debris landfill or a recycler. Learn more.

Plastic Bags and Film
Recycle at a grocery or retail store that offers a plastic bag collection bin. DO NOT put plastic bags and film in your curbside recycling. The bags tangle up in the recycling equipment at the Material Recovery Facility. Learn more.

Scrap Metal
Do not place in curbside recycling. Appliances and other metal objects can be recycled through your community’s bulky waste collection or local scrap metal recycler. Learn more.

Shredded Paper
Do not place in your curbside recycling but recycle in a Paper Retriever® or River Valley Paper drop-off bin. The green and yellow bins are located in the parking lots of some schools, churches and retail stores. Learn more.

When you buy new tires, recycle your old ones at the time of purchase and pay the small fee. Businesses with tires to dispose should contact the District for State rules on tire transportation and disposal. Learn more.

Q8. What about things that can’t be recycled curbside or elsewhere? 

Many items simply need proper disposal. Here are some of the top items.

Household Hazardous Waste
Recycle through your community’s household hazardous waste program. Items collected include oil-based paints, lawn and garden chemicals and automotive fluids. Find details for your community.

[video] Learn more about proper disposal of household hazardous waste.

Latex Paint
Latex paint is not hazardous but should be dried out before disposing in your trash. Use cat litter, Oil-Dri or other absorbent product to harden the paint. Replace the lid and place in a trash bag before disposing.

[video] Learn more about proper disposal of latex paint.

Do not flush or put down a drain. Unused or expired prescription medications can be safely disposed at police stations or pharmacies that offer a Rx drop-box. Learn more.

Needles and Sharps
Never place in your curbside recycling. Needles and sharps from home injections should be placed in a rigid plastic container such as a laundry detergent bottle then sealed securely and disposed with your trash. Learn more.

Styrofoam™ cups and containers are not recyclable. Dispose in your trash. Foam peanuts and packing material can be reused at limited locations. Learn more.


Q9. Why do plastics have numbers inside recycling symbols if they’re not recyclable?

The numbers on plastic containers are resin codes used by the plastics industry to identify the type of plastic chemicals used to make the container. It does not indicate whether that chemical compound can be manufactured into something new. So, not all plastics with the 1-7 symbol are recyclable.

Learn more about plastic bottles and plastic tubs.

Q10. Where should I direct our residents to learn more about recycling in our community?

We provide recycling information for each of the 59 communities in Cuyahoga County. Learn about curbside recycling, special collections and other recycling programs for your community.

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