Water & Drought

Should recyclables be washed first?

Q: In trying to conserve my kitchen water and continue to recycle cans and jars, is it preferable to wash peanut butter and oily jars and like items, put them in the recycle dirty, or put them in the trash? – Nancy Vizzard, Sacramento

A: Generally speaking, there is no need to wash containers before recycling them, according to CalRecycle, the state agency that oversees product recycling in California. Most recycling centers are equipped to deal with dirty containers.

Some local agencies may have slightly different guidelines. The city of Sacramento, for instance, advises on its website that containers should be rinsed before recycling. But that is considered a “best practice,” said spokeswoman Jessica Hess.

“The city will not reject most recyclables that haven’t been washed,” she said via email. “The only exception is styrofoam take-out containers, as they get especially contaminated by food.”

Instead of rinsing, she suggests wiping recyclables with a paper towel, if possible.

“As an added bonus, this method also helps to limit fats, oils and grease from the food that was in the container from going down the drain and clogging up sewer pipes,” she said.

Another approach is to scrape out containers with a spatula or other tool. It’s important to get containers clean enough so oily, goopy remnants don’t contaminate other recyclables such as paper and cardboard, which may reduce their recycling value.

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