Low Waste Tips

How clean should your recycling really be?

Dan Marek
September 27, 2023
3 minutes
Title image that reads: "how clean should your recycling be" with someone holding a sponge.

Have you ever stood over your recycling bin, pizza box in hand, wondering if it's too greasy to recycle? The simple answer is both yes and no. Confusing, right? But that's because some parts of the box might be okay, while others might not. But before we get into the details of how clean our recycling should be, let's talk about why it's worth spending a couple extra seconds to get it right.

Why Should You Clean Your Recycling?

Here's our top 3 reasons why you should clean your recycling.

  • Contamination: Dirty recyclables can contaminate an entire batch, increasing the chances that it might just end up in landfills and our efforts will be wasted. Imagine one rotten apple spoiling the bunch; that's what one dirty item can do in a batch of recyclables. Ever thought, “If I’m unsure, I’ll just recycle it and let the facility figure it out”? This mindset, known as "wish-cycling," can do more harm than good. It's when we hope an item is recyclable without being certain. This can lead to more contamination and inefficiencies in the recycling process. So if in doubt, trash it!
  • Cost: Landfill fees are expensive, and dirty recyclables can be expensive for recycling plants because they have to spend more time, energy, and resources to clean and sort. Cleaner recyclables mean reduced costs and more efficient processing at recycling facilities. Which means more money they can spend on other causes that beenfit your local community.
  • Pests: Clean recyclables mean fewer pests like foxes, rats and ants.

Use this link to download this helpful sign. Feel free to get in touch if you'd like us to create custom signage for you.

How Clean Should Your Recycling Be?

You're probably wondering, "do I need to wash my recyclables at all?" Well, for packaging which has come into contact with food or liquids AND the packaging is recyclable, a quick rinse usually does the trick. There’s no need to go overboard, expending an unsustainable excess of energy to make it so sparkling clean that someone would eat out of it. Just ensure there's no significant residue left to reduce the risk of contamination and pests.

How to rinse and recycle correctly

The first step is always to know your local rules. Just because an item can be recycled doesn't mean it's accepted where you live. Use the Scrapp App (download here) to scan the barcode and check the recyclability (UK or USA). Or, take the traditional route and check your local authority's website.

1. Separate

Non-recyclable parts go in the trash. For pizza boxes, tear off the greasy parts and recycle the clean bits. Most lids and labels are okay to leave on. Collect plastic films for soft plastic drop-off points.

2. Empty

Make sure to empty your containers. Pour water and other liquids (not oil), down the drain. Use up leftovers or shake, scoop or scrape any unwanted food or sauce into your food waste caddy or rubbish bin.

3. Rinse

Rinse empty containers under the tap. For stubborn leftovers such as sauces, spreads and oils in jars or containers, a quick rinse works wonders. Fill, shake, empty, and you're good to go!

4. Recycle

Once your recyclable items are clean and empty, put them in your recycling bin to be collected.

How to recycle takeaway food containers

The most common time you'll need to rinse packaging is when looking to recycle takeaway containers. So here's our quick guide on how to recycle takeaway food containers.


  • Plastic Tupperware (even black ones) can be rinsed and recycled.
  • Metal foil trays are good to go after a rinse. But their coated card lids? Not so much.


  • Plastic-coated boxes and cups are a no-go. But check if they're compostable.
  • Compostable items belong in industrial compost bins, not recycling ones.
  • Polystyrene items? Sadly, they're not recyclable.

How to make recycling easier in your Office

  • Set up a cleaning station: A rinse station near recycling bins can be a game-changer.
  • Educate: Ensure everyone's on the same page. Use signage or download this helpful sign.
  • Reduce first: Remember, the best waste is the one you never produce!

For more office tips, check out our full list in our previous article here.

Helpful office recycling resources

How can Scrapp help?

Are you embarking on your own recycling journey? Our sustainability experts are here to guide you. So, if you need further guidance, personalized strategies, or more details about our digital recycling tools, don't hesitate to reach out. We're committed to helping you achieve your sustainability goals.

You can book a free 15-minute chat with our team here.

Article by
Dan Marek