September 28, 2023

The State of Recycling: What Can You Recycle?

Recycling is more than just tossing items into a blue bin.

What Can You Recycle

Virginia Beach residents have been recycling since 1988. As one of the first cities in the Commonwealth to offer curbside recycling services, residents have had the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the environment, while minimizing cost for waste disposal. While a lot has changed in 35 years, the biggest change can be seen with the confusion on what can be recycled.

Recycling is more than just tossing items into a blue bin. All recycling guidelines are local. Whether curbside or drop-off, only follow what is accepted in our city. It’s important for residents to know the rules and to stick to them to avoid contaminating the recycling waste stream. When the wrong items are placed in the blue cart, it becomes more costly to remove and dispose of those items. Furthermore, placing the wrong items in your cart can contaminate the entire shipment of baled recyclables.

Don’t be a “wishful” recycler. People with the greatest intentions are often the worst recyclers. For starters, ignore the recycle symbol. All plastics have a number stamped inside the recycling symbol, from 1 to 7. But not all the numbers can go in the recycling bins.

In fact, the list of what is not accepted is longer than the list of what is accepted. For an item to be accepted in the recycling program, it must first have a buyer. A buyer is someone who knows what to do with your plastic bottle and will ensure that it returns to a store shelf as a new product.

Four simple steps to recycling well:

  1. Focus on the basics: recycle all paper, cans, bottles, jars and cardboard
  2. Only recycle clean items (dump and rinse, or scrape with a spoon)
  3. Put recycling in your cart loose, don’t bag it
  4. When in doubt, throw it out

Only recycle these items:

  • Paper/Cardboard (Must be clean and dry. No shredded paper.)
  • Glass Bottles and Jars
  • Cans: Tin, Aluminum and Steel
  • Plastic Bottles & Jugs (i.e., water, soda, detergent, shampoo)
  • Cartons (i.e., milk, broth, juice)
Flyer illustrating what to recycle and what to put in trash

No need to overthink it! It’s better to recycle right than recycle more. Remember, the best way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place.

Now that you are informed about the recycling process and what you can recycle, learn about the future of the City’s recycling program. The City’s curbside recycling contract will expire in June 2024, and City leadership wants your help to shape the program. Learn more about the options and subscribe to be notified when the survey opens on Oct. 2 at

The City of Virginia Beach invites residents to participate in any of our active surveys at The feedback provided is given to elected City officials and leaders to include in their policy and decision-making process.

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