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State of New Jersey-Department of Environmental Protection-Recycling Information
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Frequently Asked Questions 

  1. Is recycling important?
  2. Are New Jersey businesses and schools required to recycle?
  3. Why do county and municipal recycling collection programs vary throughout New Jersey?
  4. What is meant by dual stream and single stream recycling?
  5. What actually happens to all the recyclable materials that I put into my recycling bucket?
  6. What do those numbers (surrounded by arrows) on the bottom of plastic products mean?
  7. Is Styrofoam recyclable?
  8. Can pizza boxes be recycled?
  9. Should plastic bottle caps be left on or removed from plastic bottles prior to placing them in the recycling bucket?
  10. Should I put shredded paper in my recycling bucket?
  11. Should I put plastic shopping bags in my recycling bucket?
  12. When I am not sure about whether something is recyclable, I throw it in my recycling bucket anyway.  Is this the right thing to do?

1. Is recycling important?
Answer:  Yes!  Recycling is a key aspect of our state’s solid waste management strategy and is both an environmental and economic success story.  Recycling, the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products, benefits the environment in many ways.  Recycling is not only significant because it keeps millions of tons of materials out of landfills and other disposal facilities, but also because it conserves natural resources, saves energy, and reduces emissions of water and air pollutants, including greenhouse gas emissions.  Recycling is also an easy and important way for people to express their commitment to the environment.  In addition, recycling plays an important role in our state and national economy.  Recycling not only creates jobs, but also generates billions of dollars annually in economic activity.  For more information on the environmental and economic benefits of recycling, visit the NJDEP’s recycling website at www.nj.gov/dep/dshw/recycling/env_benefits.htm and www.nj.gov/dep/dshw/recycling/economic.htm.

2. Are New Jersey businesses and schools required to recycle?
Answer:  Yes.  New Jersey’s mandatory recycling law (the New Jersey Statewide Mandatory Source Separation and Recycling Act), which was enacted in 1987, requires recycling in the residential, commercial (business) and institutional sectors (schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.).

3. Why do county and municipal recycling collection programs vary throughout New Jersey?
Answer:  While New Jersey residents, businesses and institutions are all generally recycling similar materials, there are minor differences in recycling collection program requirements throughout the state.  This variability is due to the approach that was set forth in New Jersey’s mandatory recycling law, which was enacted in 1987.

The New Jersey Statewide Mandatory Source Separation and Recycling Act required New Jersey’s twenty-one counties to develop recycling plans that mandated the recycling of at least three designated recyclable materials, in addition to leaves.  Over the years, additional materials have been mandated for recycling by the counties.  While most county recycling plans require similar materials to be recycled, there are differences from county to county based upon various factors, such as proximity to recycling end markets. 

County recycling plans were also required to designate the strategy to be utilized for the collection, marketing and disposition of designated recyclable materials.  As such, there are differences in the collection approaches taken throughout the state.  For example, some county plans called for county-wide collection programs, while some called for municipally-run collection programs.  Other program variations that evolved over the years include whether to collect materials using a dual stream collection system or a single stream collection system.  

Once the county recycling plans were in place, municipalities were then required to adopt an ordinance based upon their county’s recycling plan.  Over the years, some municipalities have gone beyond the county recycling requirements and have designated additional materials for recycling through municipal recycling ordinances.  This too has resulted in recycling collection program variability throughout the state.  For specific information about your local program requirements, visit:

../recycling/design_recy_county.pdf – list of designated mandatory recyclable materials by county;
../recycling/county_websites.htm – list of county recycling websites;
recycoor.htm - lists of county and municipal recycling coordinators.

4. What is meant by dual stream and single stream recycling?
Answer: Dual stream recycling and single stream recycling are both recyclable materials collection systems, but with one important difference.  In dual stream programs, bottles, cans and other containers are collected separately in one recycling bucket, while paper grades are collected separately in another recycling bucket.  In single stream programs, bottles, cans, and other containers, as well as paper grades are all collected together in one recycling bucket.  Both systems are utilized in New Jersey, but single stream systems are more prevalent because they are typically found to be more convenient and thus tend to result higher participation rates. 

5. What actually happens to all the recyclable materials that I put into my recycling bucket?
Answer:  Once the commingled recyclable materials are collected, they are then sent to a recycling center that uses both mechanization and hand-sorting to separate the different recyclable materials into their constituent parts.  Non-recyclable material is also pulled out of the mix to the greatest extent possible during this process.  The separated recyclable materials are then further processed to make them more market-ready.  For example, paper and corrugated cardboard will be baled, as will aluminum cans while glass will be crushed.  To get a closer look at one of these recycling centers, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1qpG3mFEBI for a tour of the Robert C. Shinn, Jr. Recycling Center in Burlington County.   

The recyclable materials are then ready to be returned to the economic mainstream as raw materials where they will be used to make new (recycled content) products.  For example, recyclable paper will be sent to paper mills where it will be made into new paper products, recyclable glass will be sent to manufacturing plants where it will be made into new glass containers or fiberglass, recyclable aluminum cans will be sent to production facilities where they will be made into new aluminum cans and other aluminum products and recyclable plastic bottles will be sent to manufacturing plants where they will be made into carpeting, clothing and more.

6. What do those numbers (surrounded by arrows) on the bottom of plastic products mean?
Answer:  The numbers found on the bottom of plastic products are resin identification codes that were established by the plastics industry to help consumers identify the plastic type of various containers and products.  It was hoped that this code would make it easier for consumers to identify whether and how to recycle various plastic products and packaging. 
The resin identification code is as follows:

01 PET - Polyethylene terephthalate (examples: soda and water bottles)
02 HDPE - High-density polyethylene (examples: milk bottles and detergent bottles)
03 PVC - Polyvinyl chloride (examples: juice bottles, cling films, and piping)
04 LDPE - Low-density polyethylene (examples: squeezable bottles and frozen food bags)
05 PP – Polypropylene (examples: yogurt containers, margarine tubs, disposable cups and plates)
06 PS – Polystyrene (examples: egg cartons, packing peanuts, disposable cups and plates)
07 O (Other) – Often Polycarbonate or Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) (examples: baby milk bottles and electronic casing)

It is important to know which specific types of plastics are collected in your local recycling program so that you do not unknowingly “contaminate” your load of recyclable materials with unacceptable materials.  For information on the plastic materials that are to be recycled in your local program visit:

../recycling/design_recy_county.pdf – list of designated mandatory recyclable materials by county;
../recycling/county_websites.htm – list of county recycling websites;
recycoor.htm - lists of county and municipal recycling coordinators.

7. Is Styrofoam recyclable?
Answer:  Since “Styrofoam™” is actually a trademarked brand of polystyrene foam, the question at hand is whether polystyrene foam is recyclable, and the answer is yes.  This material can also be reused in some applications.  In regard to recycling, there are unique challenges associated with collecting polystyrene for recycling.  More specifically, since the material is so lightweight, the volume to weight ratio of the material is generally unfavorable for economic transportation after use.  In addition, there are few recycling centers in the region that recycle this material.  Thus, polystyrene recycling is not widespread.  New Jersey is home to one polystyrene recycler, however, and does have numerous mailing operations that accept polystyrene packing materials for reuse – see polysty_list.htm for details.

8. Can pizza boxes be recycled? 
Answer:  It depends. Some local programs may accept pizza boxes, while others will not.   While pizza boxes are typically made of recyclable corrugated cardboard, the problem with recycling these boxes is the food and grease residue that soils and remains in the box.  The grease and oil is particularly problematic in the paper recycling process.  Those programs that do accept pizza boxes usually instruct residents to tear off and dispose those portions of the box that are stained with grease and food and to recycle the remaining clean portions of the box.  It is important, however, to first check with your local recycling program prior to adding these boxes into your recycling container so that you do not unknowingly “contaminate” your load of recyclable materials with unacceptable materials.  For information on your local recycling program requirements visit:

../recycling/county_websites.htm – list of county recycling websites;
recycoor.htm - lists of county and municipal recycling coordinators.

9. Should plastic bottle caps be left on or removed from plastic bottles prior to placing them in the recycling bucket?
Answer:  It depends.  Some local programs may accept plastic containers with caps on them, while others will not.  In the past the plastics recycling industry was not able to effectively recycle bottles with caps on, so the message to remove the cap was created.  This is no longer the position of the plastics industry.  The Association of Plastics Recyclers now promotes the “caps on” approach due to improvements in recycling collection and processing technology and growing demand for the high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) plastic caps.  
It is important, however, to first check with your local recycling program prior to recycling plastic bottle caps so that you do not unknowingly “contaminate” your load of recyclable materials with unacceptable materials.  For information on your local recycling program requirements visit:

../recycling/county_websites.htm – list of county recycling websites;
recycoor.htm - lists of county and municipal recycling coordinators.

10. Should I put shredded paper in my recycling bucket?
Answer:  No.  Shredded office paper cannot be effectively sorted by recyclable materials processing facilities, and therefore needs to be recycled separately in order to produce a marketable commodity. Separate collection also helps to avoid issues with paper contaminating the other materials being processed at the facility, which can lower overall quality and make recycling these materials more difficult.  Some local recycling programs do collect shredded paper in bags, but there will be special requirements associated with the recycling of this material.   It is important to first check with your local recycling program about shredded paper recycling so that you do not unknowingly “contaminate” your load of recyclable materials with unacceptable materials.  For information on your local recycling program requirements visit:

../recycling/county_websites.htm – list of county recycling websites;
recycoor.htm - lists of county and municipal recycling coordinators.

In addition, there are many municipal and county paper shredding events throughout the year that accept shredded paper, as well as shred confidential papers.  Please check with your municipal or county recycling office about upcoming paper shredding days.

11. Should I put plastic shopping bags in my recycling bucket?
Answer:  No.  While plastic shopping bags are recyclable, they should not be put into your recycling bucket.  These bags jam up the processing equipment at recycling centers just like hair jams up the rollers on vacuum cleaners.  Plastic bags should instead be recycled separately through programs established in supermarkets.   

12. When I am not sure about whether something is recyclable, I throw it in my recycling bucket anyway.  Is this the right thing to do?
Answer:  No.  When you are not sure about whether a material should be put into your recycling bucket, it is recommended that you check with your local recycling program about your town or county’s recycling program requirements so that you do not unknowingly “contaminate” your load of recyclable materials with unacceptable materials.  Such contamination creates serious quality control issues and negatively affects the economics of recycling.  It is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges facing recycling today.

For information on your local recycling program requirements visit:

../recycling/county_websites.htm – list of county recycling websites;
recycoor.htm - lists of county and municipal recycling coordinators.

Contact:  Steven Rinaldi, NJDEP, Bureau of Energy and Sustainability, 609-633-0538, Steven.Rinaldi@dep.nj.gov