How To Clean Recyclables

Empty Peanut Butter Jar

I often get asked during PBA trainings, “How clean do my recyclables really need to be?” So, I put together this instructional post based on cleaning a peanut butter jar. There are a few different ways you can do this, but this is the one I use. It balances getting the peanut butter jar clean without using too much water, and without it having to soak on the counter for long periods of time.

First, I want to emphasize that you should get as much peanut butter out of the jar as you can. Don’t let that tasty peanut butter go to waste! A lot of work and energy went into producing, packaging, and transporting that peanut butter, so definitely go ahead and scrape the sides. If you have a soft piece of bread you can even use that to wipe the sides of the jar down for one last treat.

Then what I do is, I put a tiny drop of soap into the container, fill it about a quarter to half way full with water, twist the cap back on tightly, and give the jar a good shake. I shake the jar for about 30 seconds to a minute to loosen up the food particles this is a good opportunity to give my forearm muscles a little workout! This gets the jar clean enough for recycling. It might not be perfectly clean, but it’ll be good enough. If you’re dealing with a particularly stubborn mess, and want to get it a little cleaner, you can use a paper towel (compostable!) to wipe down the sides.

The plastic cap is typically made out of a different kind of plastic than the rest of the bottle, and it’s usually flat, so instead of putting it in my usual recycle bin, I recycle it through the U-M Office of Campus Sustainability’s Cap-Ture program. To learn more about the Cap-Ture program, click here and then select “bottle caps.”

Lastly, before putting the peanut butter jar into my recycling bin, I let it air dry a bit. This prevents the paper in my recycling can from getting wet and ruined. If you separate your paper recyclables from your plastic and metal you don’t have to do this, but in most cases, recyclables get mixed together in what is called “single-stream recycling,” so this becomes important.

How do you clean your recyclables? Are there items you struggle with or are there strategies you have found that work really well? Let your fellow Planet Blue Ambassadors know in the comments below.