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A guide to recycling in NYC: NYCurious

Ever wondered if you can recycle bubble wrap? Or where to recycle batteries?

Recycling in New York City can be complicated.

Recycling in New York City can be complicated. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

This is part of our series, NYCurious, where we answer your questions about the city. Tweet or Facebook Message your queries to us at @amNewYork, with #NYCurious.

Ever wondered if you can recycle bubble wrap? Or where to recycle batteries? 

New York City has a lot of rules when it comes to recycling, and it can be hard to keep up. Here's a guide to the Department of Sanitation's rules on what and how to recycle. 

Of course the ultimate way to recycle items is to see if someone else can use them. Donate furniture, appliances and more via You can even arrange to have some things picked up.

What to recycle and how to separate it

New Yorkers must separate recyclables into mixed paper or cardboard; and metal, glass, plastic or cartons. Once separated, they need to be placed in clear plastic bags or recycling bins.

Here’s a more detailed list of the two categories:

Mixed paper and cardboard:

-newspapers, magazines, catalogs


-wrapping paper

-envelopes, including window envelopes

-softcover books (no hardcover books)

-cardboard boxes, including pizza boxes (first throw away the liner)

-egg cartons

-paper towel rolls

-paper cups

-Do not include: food-contaminated paper, hardcover books, bubble wrap, photographs, tissues, napkins, paper towels, waxed or plastic-coated paper

Metal, glass, plastic and cartons:

-soda cans, food cans, spray paint bottles

-plastic bottles and plastic food containers

-plastic silverware

-plastic toys

-glass bottles and jars

-milk, juice, other liquid cartons

-aluminum foil

-pots and pans

-wire or plastic hangers

-plastic hampers


-metal furniture (chairs, filing cabinets)

-Do not include: batteries, plastic bags, squeeze tubes and pouches (for example, Capri Sun juice pouches) or plastic foam

Do I need to rinse out containers?

Yes, you must empty and rinse out any plastic food containers before recycling them.

Do I need to remove the caps off bottles before recycling?

No, you can leave caps and lids on, but you should rinse the bottles out before recycling them.

What is the organics collection program?

For those participating in the organics collection program, food, food-soiled paper and leaves and yard waste can be separated out. 

How to recycle batteries

Household alkaline batteries can be thrown away in the regular trash. Rechargeable batteries must be brought back to the retailers or brought to a SAFE Disposal Event. No batteries should ever go in recycling bins or bags. 

What to do with small appliances

Small appliances, such as a toaster oven or hairdryer, can be recycled with plastics and metals. You must first remove all batteries.

What about larger appliances?

Before you get rid of larger appliances, including refrigerators and air conditioners, you must set up an appointment with the Department of Sanitation so that the CFC, or Freon, gas can be removed. You can do this online at or by calling 311. You will then be able to recycle the appliance with other plastics. For refrigerators and freezers, the locking device or hinges must be removed before placing it outside to be picked up.

What to do with electronics

Electronics, such as computers, televisions, cellphones, power tools, electric razors and cameras, cannot be thrown away or recycled. They should be taken back to the retailers, which are required to accept them. They can also be taken to a SAFE Disposal Event or Household Special Waste Drop-Off Site.

What to do with harmful household items

Harmful products, including pesticides, strong cleaners, paints, automotive fluids and medications, should be brought to a SAFE Disposal Events or Household Special Waste Drop-Off Site.

What to do with light bulbs

Compact fluorescent light bulbs should be returned to the retailer or taken to a SAFE Disposal Event or Household Special Waste Drop-Off Site. Other light bulbs can be thrown in the garbage. The Department of Sanitation recommends double bagging them before throwing them away.

Did you know ...

... smoke detectors are considered harmful products?

Smoke detectors contain small amounts of radioactive material. They should not be thrown in the trash and should be returned to the manufacturer or brought to the Department of Sanitation “Safe Disposal Events.”

... some cosmetics companies will reward you for returning containers?

Some companies including MAC and Kiehl’s will give you free products for returning a certain number of empty containers. All empty metal, glass, or rigid plastic cosmetic containers should be recycled.

... plastic bags should be returned to retailers?

The retailers that give plastic shopping bags are required to accept them back. Plastic bags cannot be recycled. 


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