The Do's and Don'ts of Recycling in Philadelphia

By Kamilah C. RSS Fri, November 15, 2019

I pride myself on being someone who recycles. My grandmother took trash and recycle day in her neighborhood VERY seriously. She would make sure that any jar that had sauce/jam/cream/oil in it was properly rinsed out and magazines and papers filled with old news were stacked and twined neatly. I am sure the men that emptied out her bin every week loved her, as we saw how some of the neighbors haphazardly threw out their recyclables. And yes, we judged them through the curtains of her kitchen window.

Ever since I began living on my own, I found myself doing the same. I even took advantage of Philly’s Recycle Bank program. In case you don’t remember, this was a program that passed on Philadelphia’s revenues from recycling back to its citizens. You had to sign up and get a barcode label to put on your blue recycling bin. Every week that you recycled, you would receive points in your "bank" that could be used towards buying gift cards, magazine subscriptions, coupons to local businesses, and more. It was pretty rad. When I was living in Mt. Airy/Germantown, some jerk stole our bin. The joke was on them though, because I still racked up points whenever they recycled due to my barcode still being affixed to the bin!

Over the course of this program, I racked up thousands of points that I took advantage of as a Philadelphian.

Imagine my surprise when I came to discover a few months ago that all of my remaining points had disappeared!

Instead of continuing to receive the almost $5 million dollars of revenue to recycle, Philly was losing up to $1.5 million per year. It no longer made fiscal sense for the City to continue the program. On top of that, half of the recyclables weren’t being recycled at all. Instead they were being sent to an incinerator, which I can only imagine does more damage to the environment than good.

Not all hope is lost! The City announced that a new deal has been cut with Waste Management that will ensure ALL of Philly’s recyclables are in fact recycled. This helps Mayor Kenney’s initiative for Philly to be a "zero-waste" city by 2035.

So, how can you help? Start small with these three simples steps:

  • Stop using plastic bags and start shopping with reusable totes. Remember to bring them with you on your grocery trips! The Free library just so happens to have a nice one to add to your collection.
  • Brush up on the Do's and Don'ts of Recycling, direct from the Streets Department.
  • This one may be the most important of them all: try to get children involved in recycling. After all, they are our future leaders and it will help everyone if they learn about how to care for their planet sooner than later. You can introduce recycling to them and begin the discussion with these three recommended titles from our catalog.


What a Waste by Jess French
Everything you need to know about what we're doing to our environment, good and bad, from pollution and litter to renewable energy and plastic recycling. This environmental book will teach keen young ecologists about our actions affect planet Earth.






One Plastic Bag  Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia written by Miranda Paul and illustrated Elizabeth Zunon
Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use, but what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? This inspirational true story shows how one person's actions really can make a difference in our world, as Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community.


10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh
A beautifully simple book for small children where transforming pages reveal ten things that everyone can do to help conserve their world. Many of them, such as turning off the television, and turning off lights when leaving a room are about conserving energy. Others will encourage an understanding of nature and conservation.


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I once had neighbors who would put all their recycling into a plastic bag and it drove me crazy!
Friday, November 15, 2019

trash pickup onto pavment...
Gillian Byrd Jr. - 5431 Fairhill st. 19120
Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I take out lots of time to make sure my recycling is proper, and I have neighbors every week who put the adds that come on the doorstep in my can with the plastic bag included. I wrote a note and asked them to not put plastic in my recycle, they still do it a couple weeks later. Annoying. Oh they never put a recycle can out, just trash. Annoying
Phil - South Phila
Wednesday, November 20, 2019

There seems to be some confusion about pizza boxes. It is included in the "never" graphic above, but on the tip sheet from the Streets Dept. says it is okay to recycle clean pizza boxes.
Maria Franco - Philadelphia
Thursday, November 21, 2019

Green Philly has a FREE downloadable recycling guide that you can print on one page:
Julie - Philadelphia
Saturday, November 23, 2019

Great Article! Thank you !!! Also you can recycle your clean plastic bags by bringing them to your local branch or placing them in the drop box, we use them to keep books dry.
elle boogie - IND
Wednesday, December 4, 2019