Here’s how to recycle the right way in Miami

We’ve all been there, nervously standing above a garbage can with an empty water bottle, wondering which bin to drop it in.

Cue the internal monologue: “Should I put it in recycling? But what if it’s not recyclable and I ruin everything?! Trash? But what if it is and I messed up my one chance today to make a real difference in the world?”

It’s complicated. And who the hell remembers all those rules you learn in elementary school.

Plus, every city in Miami-Dade has some of its own regulations. We’re breaking it down for you so you can do right by the planet.

For starters, there’s a countywide ordinance that mandates that the whole county recycle. If your building isn’t recycling, they’re violating that law.

Mine doesn’t. Who do I talk to about that?

If you’re in a condo building, contact your condo association and then follow these instructions.

The county handles recycling for all parts of unincorporated Miami-Dade and 19 municipalities: Aventura, Cutler Bay, Doral, El Portal, Florida City, Medley, Miami Beach*, Miami Gardens, Miami Lakes, Miami Springs, North Bay Village, Opa-locka, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami, Sunny Isles Beach, Surfside, Virginia Gardens and West Miami.

If you live in any of those areas, you can get more info about your recycling service here.

If you live in Miami, go here or call the city’s solid waste management office here: 305-960-2801

*Miami Beach also has its own city laws that are stricter than the county’s, so if you live in Miami Beach, go here or call the city’s solid waste management office here: 305-673-7080

If you live somewhere not included above, call 311 and they can get you sorted out.

How it works:

Most cities in the county use something called “single-stream” recycling. That means you can put ALL of your recyclables into one bin and it will get sorted over at a waste management facility by conveyor belts and massive machines. (Fun fact: A single batch takes about 30 minutes to sort.)

That means no need to separate the aluminum, cardboard, paper, and plastics like you probably did as a kid.

That does not mean that you can put your trash and recycling in the same bin and they’ll be separated and sent to the right place.

There’s one important detail: you can’t put your recycling in a plastic garbage bag because that messes up the sorting machine. Instead, just toss it in, unbagged.

(On that note: You can’t put plastic bags in your recycling, either. If you’d like to get more use out of those, just save them in your house and reuse them, or drop them off at your local retailer where they have plastic bag reuse bins.)

What happens to my recyclables?

Plastic water bottles and aluminum cans are particularly high-value recyclables because they’re really easy to re-use.

Plastic bottles can become new fiber for t-shirts, carpeting, or even the fiberfill for ski jackets and sleeping bags. Aluminum cans are back on store shelves within 60 days as a new can! And they can be used endlessly — so there’s pretty much never any reason that an aluminum can should end up in a landfill.

How to not mess everything up

If you put something with food waste in the bin, it contaminates the whole batch. So that greasy pizza box you tossed in the recycling bin? It messes up all of the other recyclables and they become trash.

One problem in Miami-Dade County is that there’s a lot of contamination of non-recyclables in the stream, explained Dawn McCormick, the director of communications and community relations of Waste Management Inc. of Florida. So, they’re spending money and energy to transport stuff and that just gets trashed anyway.

“That lowers the value of the good materials and creates … a negative environmental and economic impact, so it’s important to recycle right,” she says.

Things that should never be put in the recycling bin:

  • Anything with food waste, for example, an oily pizza box.
  • Paper napkins: These have already been recycled down as much as possible and can’t be turned into anything else. Plus, if they’re soiled they can’t be reused anyway.
  • Plastic bags
  • Styrofoam
  • Light bulbs

Things you should put in recycling:

  • Paper products like newspapers and printer paper
  • Aluminum cans
  • Glass bottles
  • Plastic containers with narrow necks like water bottles, milk, and shampoo containers.