Recycling Kitchen Trash

You can recycle most of the waste left over from cooking.

You can recycle most of the waste left over from cooking.

Preparing the average meal generates waste in many forms. Whether it's steel cans from soup or beans, glass jars from sauces, paper packaging from pasta or rice, and even trimmings from fresh veggies, the eco-conscious cook recycles most of the trash she produces while working in the kitchen. Recycling does more than conserve natural resources like forests and mineral deposits; according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it also saves energy, reduces pollution and generates fewer greenhouse gases than other disposal methods (see References 1).

Contact your trash collector, whether it's a public agency or private company, and ask what materials it collects for recycling, including types of plastics; find out if you need to sort or otherwise prepare materials before collection. Other ways to recycle are drop-off, buy-back and redemption programs (see References 1). has a directory of recycling programs, searchable by zip code and type of item.

Set up a recycling can or bin in your kitchen, in an out-of-the-way location. If your trash collector takes recyclables mixed together, you only need one receptacle. If you need to sort items, try multiple small bins, or a single large can with several interior collection bags, cloth or plastic, attached with clothespins or binder clips. A cardboard box or paper grocery sack is good for collecting paper and cardboard.

Identify which plastic containers you can recycle by looking for the resin identification code on the bottom of a container, a number inside of a triangle; this indicates the type of plastic used to make the package. Recycling programs often collect only certain types of plastics. (See References 3)

Rinse plastic, metal or glass containers before placing them in your collection bin. In addition to preventing odors, recycling processors often work only with clean materials. For example, creating new aluminum cans from recycled cans requires high-quality aluminum scrap that is free of dirt or other debris (see References 2).

Set up a compost bin or pile to recycle food scraps and other items you can't include with glass, metals or plastics. Composting breaks down organic materials into a soil amendment you can add to your garden or houseplants. In addition to food scraps, paper towels, old cotton or wool rags and paper packaging can be composted instead of trashed. (See References 4)

Items you will need

  • Trash can or small bins
  • Cloth or plastic bags
  • Clothespins or binder clips
  • Cardboard box or paper sack
  • Compost bin or pile


  • If you can't recycle or compost something, find a new use for it to keep it out of the waste stream. For example, wash out margarine tubs and repurpose them to store herbs, spices, dried staples like beans and rice, and baking supplies.

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