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Recycling Breakdown for Nashville and Beyond

I recently had the opportunity to tour Waste Management's recycling sorting facility. There was little that surprised me but I would be lying if I said it wasn't slightly depressing. The most recent recycling rates for curbside pickup are only about 50% of what comes through the facility due to contamination.

I'll start by saying this: the most important thing we know about waste is to reduce it first. Recycling is extremely resource-intensive and at the rate at which we are disposing of plastics, it’s sort of a fanciful scheme. Small plastics fall through the cracks in our sorting machines and recycling codes on plastics don't mean that something is actually a valuable enough material to re-sell. Only a tiny percentage of plastics actually get recycled once they reach their final destination, most likely under 9%.

Since plastic is unavoidable in many situations, recycling can still help curb the manufacturing of virgin resources when done well. So, below are the materials you should look for when shopping.



Below are the items accepted for mixed recycling in curbside bins. If it does not look like any item below, it cannot be recycled through city pickup or mixed recycling drop-off. Do not place recycling in plastic bags as it clogs and damages their sorting machine.
  • Aluminum cans (no aluminum foil or aluminum trays)


  • Food and beverage cartons (keep the caps on)


  • Clean, non-greasy paper, cardboard, mail, broken down boxes (no books, no photo paper or sticker backing)


  • Plastic jugs and bottles No tubs, clamshell packaging, to-go containers, tubs, trays, or to-go cups. If it doesn't look like a bottle, jug or jar container, it goes straight to the landfill.


Again, if it doesn't look like these, it is not accepted in your curbside recycling. To list items not accepted would take way too long.



If you are dropping off at one of Nashville's recycling drop-off sites, these same rules apply for plastics, paper and aluminum (mixed recycling). However, you can also drop off these things below to be recycled:
  • Glass bottles or jars - glass bottles and jars can be taken to one of the recycling drop-off locations or Nashville's convenience centers operated by Metro Public Works. You can also separately pay for curbside glass collections. Place aluminum lids inside another metal container with mixed recycling; these cannot be recycled with glass. 
  • Compost- You can drop your compost off at these residential convenience drop-off locations. For a list of accepted materials, click here. You can also sign-up for a residential pick-up service through Compost Nashville.

For more information on Nashville Recycling, please visit: and download the recycling app to your phone!  




Recycling streams can quickly become contaminated when consumers do not know how to recycle well. Nashville alone throws away 30-50% of what makes it to the recycling sorting facility. Contamination costs time, money, and resources. Here's what you should never recycle in Nashville curbside bins.

  • Bags, Soft plastics- (Some cities accept these, not Nashville!) - Most cities cannot recycle bags or soft, flexible plastics. These often contaminate recycling batches or can ruin sorting machines. visit and (check out Terra Cycle's free mail-in recycling programs. We use the Kroger packaging and Late July chip bags program)
  • Styrofoam (Search for drop-off sites near you. EFP, in Lavergne, accepts packing styrofoam. Publix accepts styrofoam food containers in Nashville)
  • Compostable Plastics or Food. (Drop-off at Nashville's convenience centers, pay for pickup services like Compost Nashville or Regener8, or learn to compost at home) 
  • Dirty and soiled containers- Heavily soiled containers, bottles, or paper can contaminate an entire stream of recycling which can force hundreds of pounds of recyclables back to a landfill.
  • Food-soiled papers like pizza boxes or paper to-go containers-  Compost these instead.
  • Receipts- Thermal paper is most often coated with BPA (a plastic chemical). My family avoids accepting them all-together. WHO organization recommends that you don't let children handle receipts because of the BPA exposure.
  • Waxed Paper is not recyclable. Some can be composted in composting facilities if they tear easily like paper, check with your local compost facility. Nashville accepts this in compost pickup and drop-off. 
  • Tissue paper, toilet paper, napkins and paper towels are not recyclable, Throw these in your compost and switch to reusable rags or recycled paper.
  • To-go containers- Odds are you'll have to throw a paper cup away due to its plastic lining. Compost these if they are marked compostable at compost facilities. Plastic to-go cups and clamshell containers are made with a different type of plastic #1 than bottles, making them a less valuable material at recycling facilities. We try to avoid these by keeping an extra jar or Stasher bag handy for random coffee shop trips or leftovers.
  • Silicone - Silicone is not plastic. Stasher bags and silicone kitchen or personal care items can be recycled with us at our stores.


What we've listed below is simply a guide to what is easiest to recycle with most facilities. This doesn't mean your city will offer pickup for all of these materials. However, you can usually find a private hauler or a drop-off location near you. 

Clean, Non-Greasy Paper 

Recycling one ton of paper can save 7,000 gallons of water. Recycle cardboard, papers, magazine, etc. Check with your local recycling center to find out what they accept. Just remember, no receipts, waxed paper, or tissue paper. (shredded paper is usually not recycled either)

Clean Aluminum Cans

One of the best materials to recycle is Aluminum. We can save 90-95% of the energy necessary to make aluminum from scratch by recycling this material over and over and it never loses its quality! 

Clean Glass 

Glass is infinitely recyclable. (Not accepted in Nashville curbside bins but accepted at recycling drop-off sites, or you can find a private pickup service. We use Just Glass.)

Plastic Food and Beverage Cartons and Bottles 1 & 2

There are 7 different types of plastics. You can usually find the code on the bottom of any container. Plastics 1 & 2 are the easiest to recycle in most cities. However, these are usually ONLY sturdier containers such as food and, drink bottles, cosmetic (lotion, shampoo, conditioner) bottles, cleaning chemical bottles, etc. Recycling codes do not matter as much as we previously thought. Take plastic #1 or PET for example. Plastic #1 bottles and plastic #1 clamshell containers are made through a different manufacturing process and require different recycling technology. Clamshell containers are lower quality plastic than bottles and so they complicate bottle recycling. Nashville currently only accepts #1 and #2 plastic bottles, jars and jugs. 


Other Recycling Resources:

Terra Cycle offers mail-in programs for almost any type of household waste item you can think of. They have some free programs like Late July (our favorite chip brand!), Toms, Tide, Kroger and many others. You simply sign up for an account and choose what programs you'd like to be a part of. They will mail you an envelope or shipping label so you can recycle your wrappers and packaging through the mail. Beyond these free programs, you can purchase boxes in various sizes that allow you to recycle almost anything through their recycling partners. The catch is that you have to pay. This is how we recycle difficult-to-recycle items at our brick-and-mortar store.

Rubicon - At home, we purchase Rubicon's plastic film recycling box for bags and plastic film. The box is cheaper than TerraCycle and lasts us about 6 months!

Our Stores - Our brick-and-mortar stores accept all empty small cosmetic plastic packaging for recycling through Terra Cycle as well as alkaline batteries, Brita filters, kitchen utensils and much more.



We hope this helps you save resources for what you cannot reduce and to helps you avoid contamination during the recycling process.

Recycling can be complicated and overwhelming but if you spend a little time making sure it's done correctly you can prevent a lot of valuable resources from entering landfills where they'll stay forever. If you have other questions or suggestions, let us know!


Such a helpful resource, I didn’t realize Kroger had a Terracycle account!

Btw, do you know of any resources that recycle old sneakers or kid’s clothing besides Teva and Carters? I have heard Goodwill will recycle sneakers but my hunch is that my local branch is just tossing them. And while I mend, we buy second hand and we try to cut up old kids leggings for rags, etc, I am still left wondering if sustainable clothing recycling is at all possible?


Good afternoon,
I’d like to ask whether you have a list of items that can be dropped off at your store that you will then recycle.
A list would be so helpful for myself but also our three rental spaces.
Thank you for your help.

Marie-Louise Burgard-Menefee

I recently heard via neighborhood email that Nashville is no long accepting dairy tubs (particularly #5). This article states they are good? Can you clarify? Thanks,

Beth Cosgrove

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