Styrofoam, Plastic Bags, and Paper Towels Are Not Recyclable

Unacceptable recycling set outs will be rejected.

For Immediate Release: January 25th, 2021

In recent weeks, recycling collectors have noticed an uptick in curbside recycling contamination, with Styrofoam, plastic bags, and paper towels and tissues identified as the most common culprits. These items are NOT accepted in the curbside recycling stream and bins containing them will be rejected during collection.

Styrofoam (also known as expanded polystyrene) is not accepted in curbside recycling in Tompkins County, and should be disposed of as trash. Styrofoam is a difficult material to recycle as it is mostly comprised of air and few markets exist for it. The only plastics that are accepted in curbside recycling are containers marked with a #1, 2, or 5 recycling symbol. Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene are #6.

Plastic bags are not accepted in curbside recycling and are considered “tanglers” because they have been known to get caught in automated sorting equipment. This can damage equipment and increase the costs of recycling. Also, recyclables should never be bagged inside of plastic bags as this prevents the different materials from being separated.

Paper towels and tissues are not recyclable in part because their fiber content is not strong enough to be made into a new paper product. Food soiled paper napkins and towels can be composted, but otherwise these paper items should be disposed of as trash.

Thank you for taking note of these common forms of recycling contamination. For more information about how to recycle in Tompkins County, please visit or find a copy of the Curbside Recycling Guidelines brochure at grocery store customer service desks and municipal offices throughout Tompkins County.

For more information:

Tompkins County Recycling & Materials Management

(607) 273-6632