Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules title=
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules
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Source: City of Santa Barbara

Learn the new plastic recycling rules for your curbside blue bin. Recycle plastic bottles that hold liquid, plastic toys, flower pots and trays, and certain rigid plastics. Avoid or put in trash: Styrofoam, plastic produce or food containers, straws, cups, plates and utensils, and "compostable" plastics.

In Santa Barbara, the blue bin is for recycling.

NEW RECYCLING STANDARDS: For a complete list of Acceptable and Unacceptable items, review the detailed table at the bottom of the page.

Blue Bin Rules-of-thumb:

1. All items should be empty/clean, dry, and loose (not bagged).

2. No styrofoam or film plastics like plastic bags, plastic wrap, or bubble wrap.

Plastic Bags are Trash Flyer (English)

Plastic Bags are Trash Flyer (Spanish)

3. If you're recycling correctly, with no food or liquid contamination, your bin will always be clean with no need for a liner or bag. (plastic bags are not allowed in the blue bin anyway)

Other Tips:

  • All recyclables can be mixed together in the container.
  • Please flatten cardboard boxes.
  • Empty your recyclables of all of their contents.
  • Emptying and rinsing containers is required because it keeps your recycling bin clean and makes the containers more likely to be recycled. Learn more: "How Clean Do My Recyclables Need to Be?" 
  • It is not necessary to remove labels, rings, staples, paperclips or other items.
  • We DO NOT accept plastic bags in the blue bin and prefer you return them to a drop-off location or don't take them at all. Learn more about plastic bag recycling.

What Happens to My Recycling?

Here in the City of Santa Barbara, our blue bin recyclables are collected and brought down to Gold Coast Recycling and Transfer Station in Ventura County where items are sorted into material types by machine and by hand on a sorting line. These materials are then purchased by buyers from companies that recycle them into other products. In the near future, the City's recyclables will head to a new processing facility currently under construction by the County of Santa Barbara called the ReSource Center. Read more about the upcoming facility here.

Recycling markets have changed drastically over the last year, so our Accepted Items list has also changed. If there aren't buyers for certain types of low quality plastics, then they cannot be recycled.


  • All Metal
    No liquids or food
    • Aluminum cans
    • Aluminum foil and trays
    • Caps and lids from bottles, jars and steel (tin) cans
    • Paint cans (must be empty or dry)
    • Spray cans (must be empty)
    • Steel (tin) cans, scrap metal, metal parts
  • Rigid Plastics greater than 6" and Plastic Bottles
    No Styrofoam, plastic wrap,  or plastic labeled "compostable" or "biodegradable"
    • Any Liquid Bottles: beverage, shampoo, detergent etc. (emptied and it's recommended to put the cap back on)
    • Buckets (metal handle okay)
    • Large plastic tubs
    • Laundry detergent bottles (emptied)
    • Plastic Flower Pots and Trays
    • Plastic Toys (without cords or batteries)     
  • Most Paper
    No paper food and beverage containers. No cartons. Items must be clean, dry, and unsoiled.
    • Paper Bags
    • Cardboard (non-waxed)
    • Cereal boxes and Paperboard (remove plastic liner)
    • Computer and office paper
    • Envelopes (windows okay)
    • Junk mail and magazines
    • Newspapers
    • Packing or Kraft paper
    • Phonebooks
    • Shredded paper, but not crosscut  
  • All Glass Containers
    Must be emptied of any food and liquid
    • Glass bottles and jars (metal caps and lids too)
    • NO tempered glass like windows or kitchen glassware as this has been treated for heat which makes them hard to recycle


  • Paper Food and Beverage Containers: paper cups, cartons, "tetrapack", aseptic containers
  • All Plastic Bags and Film Plastics: saran wrap, pallet wrap, peel-away seals on food containers, food bags and wrappers, or any other type of flexible plastic wrapping
  • Pizza Boxes (even if the lid is clean)
  • Plastic Food Containers: clear plastic produce containers, yogurt cups, frozen meal containers, salsa cups, peanut butter jar, etc.
  • Common Disposable Items: coffee cups, plastic utensils, plastic plates/cups, "styrofoam", etc.
  • Any food and liquid contaminated materials:grease stained, filled with a lot of liquid, impossible to clean all the food out of, etc.

Other Items:

  • Batteries are acceptable in a sealed plastic bag placed on top of the blue bin (not inside) or in orange buckets for large apartment buildings
  • Cartons (dairy, soup, juice, etc.) go in the trash
  • Ceramic dishware or glassware
  • Clothing, linens and rags
  • Electronics
  • CD's, DVD's, CDROM & Cases (remove paper insert ) 
  • Foil-backed or plastic-backed paper
  • Food (residents can do backyard composting and businesses can sign up for our Foodscraps Program)
  • Glass mirrors and windows
  • Large items (furniture, appliances, etc)
  • Light bulbs: Incandescent, Fluorescents, CFLs, LEDs and HIDs
    Incandescent light bulbs can go in the brown bin to the landfill. Fluorescents, CFLs, LEDs, and HID bulbs contain mercury and must be disposed of as hazardous waste.
  • Plastic labeled "Compostable" or "Biodegradable"
    If the plastic says 'compostable' on it and you are a participant of the foodscraps program please put this material in the yellow bin. 'Biodegradable' is not a certified standard for any method of disposal. Please reuse these materials or put them in the landfill.
  • Soiled paper (paper cups, plates, napkins, tissues, towels, take-out boxes and greasy pizza boxes)
    If you are part of the foodscraps program please put these materials in the yellow bin.
  • Styrofoam
    We are currently unable to recycle styrofoam. You might see a recycling symbol on it, but it is not marketable.
  • "Tetrapak" lined aseptic cartons - these are shelf-stable products like soy milk and soup cartons
  • Waxed cardboard and paper
    If you are part of the foodscraps program please put these materials in the yellow bin.
  • Waxy paper milk or juice cartons
  • Window glass
  • Wine Corks
  • Wood
  • Yogurt Containers 


Learn more here

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Show Comments
CityTrashandRec... Aug 22, 2019 05:28 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

This already exists for all of our businesses - it's the yellow bin foodscraps program. For households however, starting in 2021 organic waste will be sorted from the trash stream and turned into clean energy and compost. This will be done at a new facility called the ReSource Project currently under construction at the Tajiguas Landfill. Since household food waste (along with any other organic material like paper towels, napkins etc.) will be sorted from the trash bin, we will not have a separate food only bin for households. Adding another bin to the mix of trash/recycling/greenwaste ads more trucks, more pickups, and added costs to customers. Our greenwaste to mulch program is highly used and would be contaminated if we added food to it so we will continue to keep that stream of materials separate.

SBZZ Aug 22, 2019 01:11 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

The article does need a bit of a re-write to eliminate repetition and to be more clear - ambiguity - always an impediment to progress. Rinsing items at home makes sense, as it is easier for us to do when much of the materials in the containers are already wet - once it dries it is harder to clean. Also, cleaning means less junk fouling the other materials in the bin. One can use water collected in dishes in the sink (my messy sink anyway) to clean most items and save on tap water.

a-1566501904 Aug 22, 2019 12:25 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

So confusing.
The header is fine with what IS recyclable. But then the sub header lists what's NOT acceptable.
Then the bullet points refer illogically refer to the sub header of what's not acceptable. Just take the line about food particles and liquid and outline it separately. Speak to how to address and what is too much food or liquid residue. Is some peanut butter okay? If it's dry? Should I wash it?
So much to confuse here.

RHS Aug 23, 2019 10:12 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

City--not all peanut butter jars are plastic. Aren't glass jars recyclable without regard to content or is peanut butter so contaminating that it ruins glass? You need to get a better handle on the real world before you write stuff like this.

CityTrashandRec... Aug 22, 2019 04:29 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

As the list of Unacceptable items states, peanut butter jars and other plastic food containers should be placed in the trash and not the recycling (no matter how clean). There is no market for these types of plastics and they are usually food contaminated and contaminate the paper product. Liquid plastic bottles (beverage, detergent, soap, etc) should be empty but you should replace the cap to prevent any residual liquid from escaping while in your blue bin.

Factotum Aug 22, 2019 09:51 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

It is our personal responsibility to reduce use and amount of landfill trash; not the government's job. It is the government's job to give us a place to dump it. We alone choose how much we generate.

mm1970 Aug 23, 2019 10:19 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

One might argue that it's actually at least partially the responsibility of the companies that generate the packaging to reduce the packaging and handle the refuse. At least, I remember being tasked with being responsible for materials "from cradle to grave" in the military.

dpj Aug 22, 2019 09:25 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

There is no question these "new rules" will reduce the amount of recycling in the city and increase trash going to the landfill. Also, now I have to waste water to clean out the food containers. Other cities and other countries (look at Denmark and Sweden) have much better, more comprehensive recycling programs. Santa Barbara and California are just willing to accept this backwards slide? What a waste--pun intended.

Factotum Aug 22, 2019 10:20 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Easier to get Danish Lutherans to play by the rules than free-spirited Californians. A question of fundamental values. Danes have always been thrifty and conservationists. It is in their DNA. It is part of their Hygge, rustic plain living.

CityTrashandRec... Aug 22, 2019 10:15 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

The types of plastics that are no longer recyclable in our blue bin (plastic food containers) make up less than 1% of all the blue bin materials by weight. Yes there will be a tiny decrease but it will actually prevent most of our paper/cardboard from being contaminated by food+water so we will actually have more paper being recycled.

mm1970 Aug 22, 2019 10:14 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Denmark has a very thorough recycling program, requiring individually recycling each section. At least where we stayed (relative's house), there were separate bins for cardboard, plastic, metal, glass, and compostables. A fair bit of the recycling is actually incinerated in other countries, not necessarily recycled. The fact that you can no longer recycle produce boxes (like for berries) is a true bummer. I am not certain that most people care enough to have separate bins to do what they do in other countries. The reason why we are falling behind - first, China doesn't want it. Second, California doesn't have their major recycling centers either.

SantaBarbaraObserver Aug 22, 2019 09:06 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

The facts of the matter are that there is NO MARKET for the majority of our recycled goods. Items that used to flow to Asia are no longer being accepted and instead are going into the landfill. Reduce what you buy, reuse what you can and do as much as you as an individual can do to help stem the consumption of all packages. We are fortunate to have Marborg, who are by every measure the best in the business, but its still up to you as a person to control what you buy, use and destroy. "Leave no trace" is by far the best example of being a good citizen and human.

RHS Aug 22, 2019 08:57 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Too many contradictions in this list. Did anyone proof read it? What is the bottom line about pizza boxes, for example? And since this stuff is taken to Ventura to be hand sorted there isn't what is being done here by us just a preliminary screening? If so should we err on the side of inclusion in the recycling stream and let them sort it out?

Ahchooo Aug 23, 2019 05:31 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

The yellow bin is some sort of foodscrap composting thing, and many of us don't have that. Regarding "recyclability," there is the issue of technology, and the issue of buyers. Just because it is possible to recycle a substance doesn't mean it is cost effective. Marborg doesn't make this stuff up to annoy us, they just respond to the market.

RHS Aug 22, 2019 01:40 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

City--you ask about contradictions and present the proof in two posts. "All pizza boxes" should be placed in the trash? The release says that greasy pizza boxes can be put in the yellow bin. In the last post you say they should all be placed in the trash. Another place says that cardboard is recyclable in general. True or not? You now add that the issue is not the recyclability of the product but the buyers attitudes. Second there is confusion about why relatively unsophisticated users should decide what goes where in the trash. The idea that all trash is going to be hand sorted by trained people undercuts the issue and encourages removal from the recycle stream of items that are ambiguous in their nature. This is better left to smarter people. Similarly the onus to clean glass and steal is odd. Will these material not be smelted into sanitary conditions in the very process of recycling? Etc.

Factotum Aug 22, 2019 10:42 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Confusion at the start. Says "Acceptable" then says "no food or liquids" and then moves on as asubheading to the "no" prohibition, a list of specific items. Leaves on scratching their head - are the sub-heading items acceptable or not acceptable?

CityTrashandRec... Aug 22, 2019 10:17 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

You're correct. All pizza boxes should be placed in the trash. The recycling markets have gotten so tight that if representatives even see pizza boxes packed on the outside of a large bale of cardboard they will assume there are more food contaminated cardboard on the inside.

RHS Aug 22, 2019 10:17 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Achoo--exactly a point to be concerned about. Even when items are clean and recyclable the commercial recycling operations won't make the effort to get them out of the waste stream as it is not convenient for them. As a society we should fund this thing as a public utility. Maybe offer work to unemployed folks. If we lose a bit on the recycling we will gain in the health of the planet.

Ahchooo Aug 22, 2019 09:17 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

The bottom line on pizza boxes is that they go in the trash. The sorters aren't going to analyze each item for possible specks of grease; they toss the pizza boxes. Also, if a bin has a whole lot of questionable items in it, I bet they toss the whole thing. They move fast.

a-1566517950 Aug 22, 2019 04:52 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

If you have any yard space/patio at all, you should get one of those compost tumblers. When we shred/crosscut our papers we put the paper bits into our compost. If you have any resource for horse or chicken manure (or rabbit manure, too) you can toss some of that into your tumbler to help break everything down more rapidly. But there's enough nitrogen in kitchen waste, if not. Leaves, kitchen scraps, a bit of soil (for extra microbes), napkins, paper plates. My one housemate has greasy pizza boxes. We were cutting off the greasy bottoms and recycling in the blue bin. Now I will chop up the boxes and add them to our compost bin. You could always bury your shredded paper, too. Use it as mulch for plants, adding soil atop to keep paper from blowing away.

CityTrashandRec... Aug 22, 2019 10:20 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Every time a paper fiber is cut it is less and less recyclable. Also the smaller the piece of paper the harder it is to sort and will make it more likely to end up in the landfill. Unless documents have sensitive information on them we recommend placing whole pieces of paper in your blue bin.

a-1566485958 Aug 22, 2019 07:59 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Issue 42, Summer 2019 of "Edible Santa Barbara" magazine has a very good article, that could be kept around and used for reference, on "Wishful Recycling: And Why We All Need to Use Less Plastic." Parts: "Not all plastic is recyclable; but here's what you CAN put in your curbside recycling"; "What did Grandma Do?"; diagram on "Recycle Plastic Bags and Film Packaging"'; and "Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic: Take a Plastic Challenge." There's an Edible SB "Share your challenge and progress on social media" opportunity at the end of the article.

Shasta Guy Aug 22, 2019 07:42 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Perhaps the city can lower water rates to make it cost effective for folks to wash their recyclables to a sparkling clean status. My water bill is already sky high despite my best efforts to conserve. I’d like to know how much of our plastic waste ends up in landfills or incinerators in Asia anyway.

CityTrashandRec... Aug 22, 2019 10:23 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

This is a great point. A lot of our low quality plastic waste was getting "recycled" in foreign countries, only externalizing the environmental impacts of recycling or trashing those plastics. The markets have changed and we now have to focus on truly recognizing the impacts of our purchases and focus on waste reduction first and foremost. For all of the bottles, cans, and glass jars, a quick rinse and wipe will suffice. It's very important there is no food or water at all in the blue bin otherwise the paper gets contaminated.

a-1566484796 Aug 22, 2019 07:39 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

All the recycling is sent to Ventura, made into those cubes, sold to the highest bidder, placed into shipping containers and shipped off to Asia...

a-1566440911 Aug 21, 2019 07:28 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Under "Unacceptable" it shouldn't read "peanut butter jar." Peanut butter "plastic container" would be accurate. All glass jars are recyclable when washed. At our house we have a nice rectangular bucket in one side of our two-sided sink. All the rinse water (no soap) goes in there. When we wash glass jars (jam, peanut butter, mustard, etc) we use that water. Rinsing veggies, water goes in the bucket. Then the water gets dumped into the garden.

a-1566423744 Aug 21, 2019 02:42 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

tetra-paks and cartons were made recyclable in 2017 by Marborg and I am disappointed to see them off the list again... along with much of the smaller plastic items like yogurt containers and fruit clamshells. if only we could move away from our plastic addiction

a-1566421734 Aug 21, 2019 02:08 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Okay. Here's the info: Marborg says it's "a pilot program" for styrofoam right now. You may take your *clean* styrofoam to 132 Nopalitos St. (ABOP=Antifreeze batteries oil paint) facility and drop it off. The same location where alumninum cans, bottles, small electronics, newspaper, cardboard are all recycled. ------Clean those meat trays (I recommend baking soda), and take them and your styrofoam trays used to package veggies and your styrofoam used in packaging---recycle it there. We should all work to keep styrofoam out of landfills.>>> Unfortunately, this program does not include recycling of styrofoam cups or packaging peanuts/foam packaging pieces. <<<

CityTrashandRec... Aug 22, 2019 10:27 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Most importantly we should work to not use foam at all. Shipping and recycling what is mostly air uses a lot more resources. Avoid using it and when companies distribute it to you, reach out to them and let them know your concerns; there are more sustainable packaging methods.

kohn1 Aug 22, 2019 07:01 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

You mean to tell me you're supposed to wash off a little throw away meat tray AND deliver it to Marborg? That's nuts.

PitMix Aug 22, 2019 08:35 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

Why should they have to wash your recyclables? Can you imagine the cost of having to wash all of the dirty stuff coming into their facility, not to mention that waste of water. Much more efficient for you to do it. If you add to their cost, that just makes the economics of recycling worse. If more stuff goes to the landfill, wait until you see your trash bill once Tajiguas finally closes. Skyhigh comes to mind.

a-1566420654 Aug 21, 2019 01:50 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

I'd give anything to have the spare time in my life to concern myself over what recyclables go in what bins. If it's yard waste - green bin, trash - brown bin, bottles/cans/cardboard - blue bin. Easy.

Bug Girl Aug 21, 2019 01:23 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

plastic food containers, yogurt containers, etc. all say they're recyclable (even number 1 and 2) and when cleaned, I don't understand how they wouldn't be able to be put in recycling? This is stupid.

CityTrashandRec... Aug 22, 2019 10:30 AM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

A recycling symbol unfortunately doesn't mean anything other than saying what type of plastic it is and that it "could" be recycled. Whether or not those plastics are recyclable locally is determined by your local collection system, as well as whether a market exists to purchase and recycle those plastics. For things like yogurt cups, which are generally food contaminated, there aren't companies purchasing those types of low-quality plastics so therefore they cannot be recycled.

All Sides Aug 21, 2019 02:57 PM
Learn the New Plastic Recycling Rules

BG- I understand and feel your frustration. I try to get home every day before my wife to do the dishes. Bonuses include clean hands and a smile from her. I WAS washing plastic recyclable food containers before I emptied the sink. I guess we just have to think of it as rinse water conservation.


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