“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

– Robert Swan, Author

Recycling is the holy grail in our efforts to do good and save the planet. The low hanging act also works well on our consciousness and conscience. In our efforts for a clean environment, we pursue recycling as a matter of public health. But, while recycling is the right thing to do, what does it take to go one step further to actually send out clean recyclables from what we consume,  or use?  After all, access to clean recyclables are also a matter of public health and safety to the waste collectors, sorters and recyclers. 

Having volunteered at a dry waste collection center for two years in 2011 and 2012 and from then tracking the operations at dry waste collection centers, and informal recycling markets, the question that continues to haunt me is how difficult is it to follow recycling etiquette? Not just to be kind enough to waste handlers, but to also ensure that the material we put out is recyclable? By this, I mean, free of contamination or remnants of what we consume

We go about our lives,

Understanding nothing about their work…


Working with and in waste


Working with wrecked, bent, beaten, damaged stuff


Working with dirty, dried, smelly containers,


Working with  expired products and leftover rotting food, swarming with worms


Working half filled bottles of water, ,


Working with crumpled  and soiled paper, pizza cardboards and cake boxes,


Working with greasy, slimy packaging,


Working with broken glasses and porcelain, and shattered mirrors, and sharp edges,


Working with tied, knotted, bound assortments,


Working with twisted and stuffed  beverages cans , bottles and more…

  • Pinky Chandran, June 2017

A case in point is made by Mansoor, Dry Waste Collection Operator in Bengaluru on his instagram page

Take away disposables

Worms in the container

Yes,  we all have clear  predispositions and stand on what is clean and what is dirty. 

After all, as Neil LaBute rightly states, “We live in a disposable society. It’s easier to throw things out than to fix them. We even give it a name- we call it recycling”. 

Here’s a quick recycling  etiquette guide 

  1. All items in the recycling must be empty
  • Ensure that there are no remnants of food, as food is the biggest containment in recycling
  1. All items in the recycling must be cleaned and rinsed properly
  • Empty out water bottles, rinse out all beverage cans, bottles, juice cartons, milk, batter, liquid coffee, sauce sachets packaging
  • All greasy items must be cleaned thoroughly. This includes pizza boxes, takeaway containers, aluminum foil, cake boxes, ice cream packaging,  oil packets, ghee bottles and packets, pickle bottles, butter paper wrapping.
  • To clean greasy bottles and packets, use white vinegar and salt or baking soda. Alternatively you could also use any cooking flour to clean the grease. Use hot water to wash it off. 
  • To clean paper packaging of food, wipe with a clean kitchen cloth, quickly rinse it out in the sink
  • Rinse out all beverage containers/ bottles 
  1. All items in the recycling must be dry
  • After washing dry waste, ensure that it is left to dry, before bagging it
  1. Flatten out cardboard boxes and tetrapak
  • Open the flaps on all sides. Turn the box upside down, cut the center bottom seam, remove all packaging tapes if any. Once all the flaps are straight up, push it gently to flatten the box
  1. Wherever possible remove labels from jars and bottles
  2. Remove rubber bands, strings, paper clips, staples, packaging tapes, ribbons, from all packaging
  3. Make sure all styrofoam packaging is clear of all tapes, labels and can kind of films, or contaminants before it is put into the dry waste collection bag. 
  4. The plastic ring around the neck of the bottle can be left on or removed
  5. Broken glasses needs to wrapped in a cloth and then bagged, or placed in a box, with clear markings ‘ Broken Glass’
  6. Wrap your ceramics in either newspaper or foam wrap before placing it in the dry waste bag and label them clearly

After all as Annie Leonard, the American propenet of sustainability says, ‘There is no such thing as away, when we throw anything away it must go somewhere’.