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Vendors generally charge less for recycling collection than for trash disposal, which makes it cost effective to have recyclables collected separately.   If the total volume of waste stays the same and a portion of the waste is being collected as recycling, there is less waste for the trash dumpster.  The frequency of pickups or size of the collection bin can be decreased for trash when recyclables are collected separately.  Discuss the options with your vendor. 

Tips for Starting a Recycling Program

Collecting recyclables and getting them into the recycling dumpster is key to making a recycling system work.  Below are some tips for developing an effective system.   

Co-locate bins! 

  • It’s important to have a garbage can next to every recycling bin.  This will limit the amount of non-recyclables that end up in the recycling stream and recyclables than end up in the trash.

Use Clear Signage 

  • Make the signage consistent throughout the facility.
  • Label each bin and use different color bins if possible.    


  • Provide training to staff.  This could be as simple as a conversation or a poster, but frequent reminders are helpful.  

Ensure staff knows what material is recyclable.

  • Ensure that staff knows what materials are accepted by the recycling vendor and where each material is collected.

Communicate with Customers

  • Let customers know that you have started recycling and what items are recyclable.

Recycle Right

When items that cannot be recycled end up in the recycling bin, the whole bin may be destined for the landfill.  These non-recyclable items are called contaminants. Contamination can either be incorrect materials in the recycling bin or when correct items are prepared the wrong way (i.e., food residue in containers, recycling in plastic bags, etc.).

When foods and liquids are in a recycling container they can saturate tons of otherwise good paper and cardboard that they come into contact with making the paper and cardboard unable to be recycled. Why? When paper is recycled it is mixed with water to form a slurry. Oil and fat from food residue do not mix with water; they float on top of the slurry and mingle with the paper pulp. Oily pulp makes poor quality paper and is unusable. Paper products with grease or food residue, such as pizza boxes, should not be put in the recycling bin. When contamination in a load of recycling becomes too great the items will be sent to the landfill, even if some of them are viable for recycling.

Everyone has a role to play in recycling the right items in the right way. Here are a few simple rules:
  • Keep food and liquids out - empty and rise out containers before recycling them.
  • Plastic film is the worst contaminant. Plastic bags wrap around the gears of a sorting machine causing the plant to shut down in order to remove them.
  • Never put hoses, wire, electronics, needles or other dangerous items in your recycling bin.

Order with disposal in mind 

  • When choosing products, look for products that are recyclable.  It’s easier for staff and members to recycle when they understand what can be recycled and the simplest system is when all disposable food service items can be recycled.
  • Chose bulk items over single use when possible, like water dispensers in place of single-use bottles and bottles of condiments in place of single servings.
  • Did you know that many recycling vendors collect a wide array of plastics and waxy cartons?  This includes spray bottles, clamshells/take-out containers, yogurt & sour cream tubs, plastic drinking cups, juice boxes, and milk cartons. Expanded polystyrene, commonly called styrofoam, is not accepted in most areas.  Check with your vendor to confirm what materials are recyclable.  

Other Items to Recycle 

  • Food Waste & Compostables: For more information on composting visit EPA's Sustainable Management of Food site.
  • Oyster Shells:  If oysters are served, the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program collects shells which are used to replenish oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay. 
  • Electronics: Your event could include an electronics waste collection for attendees. For more information on electronics recycling, visit DEQ's Computer and Electronics Recycling page
  • Clothing: Many running/athletic events generate hundreds of pounds of waste clothing that can be collected and donated to local social service operations.
  • Plastic Bags / Wraps: Dry plastic wrap from set-up and other bags are readily recyclable through many retail and grocery stores. You can find drop off locations in your area on Please note that, typically, waste bags from ice are not recyclable because of moisture content.  Plastic bags should not be co-mingled in recycling containers.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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