Plastic recycling

Learn more about the plastic recycling process and why some items can't go in your recycling cart.

Plastic recycling process

For a plastic item to be recyclable in your cart it must be a container from your kitchen, bathroom or laundry room. 
  • # 1, #2, #5 plastic
  • Not black in color
  • Larger than 3 inches in size
  • Smaller than a 3 gallon pail

Items that are not the right types (plastic number), color or size are not able to be sorted correctly at the recycling facility or have weak markets meaning no one wants to buy them to make them into something new. 

Plastics are sorted into 4 different categories at the recycling facility.

  • # 1 PET plastic (water and soda bottles, to-go containers)
  • # 2 HDPE natural plastic (milk jugs, water jugs)
  • # 2 HDPE color plastic (laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner bottles)
  • # 5 PP plastic (yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream containers)

After sorting, plastics are formed into bales to be shipped to processors and recyclers. 

The first step in the recycling process is to grind plastics into 'flake'. The flake is washed and then molded into pellets. Pellets are shipped to various companies across the country to be made into the thousands of plastic items we see and use daily. 

Watch a video of the recycling sorting process or sign up to tour the recycling facility

Plastic items that can't go in your recycling cart

Plastic bags

Plastic bags and plastic films are not recyclable through curbside collection programs. Plastic bags get wrapped around the equipment at the recycling sorting facility. Staff spend up to two hours every day removing plastic bags and films from the sorting equipment. To do this they have to climb into the equipment and use box cutters. This is not safe and is unnecessary.
Plastic bags and plastic films can be recycled by bringing them to a drop-off location. Many grocery stores, food co-ops, and large retail stores have plastic bag recycling bins. Keep in mind that bags need to be clean and dry.

Learn what plastic films can be recycled through store drop-offs

Recycling in bags

Recycling in plastic bags will end up in the garbage. Ripping bags open could result in more contamination (garbage) entering the recycling stream. Ripping bags open over and over can also injure staff at the sorting facility.
If you collect recycling in a plastic bag at your home, please dump recycling from the bag so it's loose in your cart. The same is true if you collect recycling in paper bags. Recyclables can get smooshed inside of a paper bag to a point where it is not easy to sort them out by type. It's best for recyclables to be loose in your cart.

Black plastics

There are several challenges with black plastics. 

  1. They come in all types (plastic number).
    • There are black yogurt containers, hair and body products. If they were all the same type of plastic, a different sorting method could be used. Since they're multiple types, sorting them is too difficult.
  2. They are not easy to sort.
    • An optical sorter is used to sort plastics by type (plastic number). The optical sorter shoots a laser beam on the item. The color black absorbs that laser beam instead of sending a signal back to the system.
  3. There are weak markets for them.
    • Since they can't be turned into another color, there are weak markets for black plastics. If no one wants to buy them, it doesn't make financial sense for recyclers to figure out effective ways to sort them out. 


Utensils and straws

Utensils and straws are too small to be sorted correctly. Their non-standard shape means they'll fall through the sorting equipment and end up in the crushed glass. They will eventually be removed and thrown away. 

Large plastic items

Large plastic items should go in your garbage. Please try to donate usable items before throwing them away. Examples include:

  • Laundry baskets
  • Storage tubs and lids
  • 5 gallon pails
  • Kids toys
  • Milk crates
At this time, there are no local drop-off options for large plastic items to be recycled.

Contact us

Solid Waste & Recycling

Public Works





Eastside Maintenance Facility

2635 University Ave NE

Minneapolis, MN 55418

Office hours

9 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Monday – Friday

This building is closed to the public.