‘What’s in? What’s out?’ campaign establishes recycling rules

What should be recycled, and what goes in the trash?

Connecticut has a “universal list” to guide residents on recycling decisions — called “What’s in? What’s out?” — that people can follow to ensure that their household recycling really does end up being reused.

“People do a lot of wishful recycling,” said Jen Heaton-Jones of the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority (HRRA). “They wish that ice cream container is recyclable, so they wishfully put it into the bin. But that’s not how it works.”

Successful recycling of materials depends on there being markets for their reuse.

Something can’t be recycled “if it doesn’t have value and it can’t be made into something else,” Heaton-Jones said.

“Everything has its own category and goes into the different markets. A plastic manufacturer would purchase the plastics, and an aluminum manufacturer would purchase the aluminum,” she said.

“The important aspect of the “What’s in? What’s out?” campaign is making sure good-quality, clean material is going to these recycling facilities, so good, clean bales of material are being sold and they are in fact being made into a new product,” Heaton-Jones said.

People can go to www.HRRA.org, type in the name of whatever they want to dispose of, and get a response telling them if it can be recycled or should go in the trash.

Library program

The Ridgefield Library will host a program with Heaton-Jones discussing recycling on May 6, a Sunday, from 3:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon (doors open at 3).

The library’s Lesley Lambton describes this as “a fun family-friendly event” that will cover a range of topics — the importance of recycling, the “What’s in? What’s out?” campaign, and the recycling of difficult materials such as paint, mattresses, thermostats, and electronic waste.

The selectmen approved leases of the town’s transfer station and recycling center facilities to the regional Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority at the end of January. The HRRA contracts with Winters Brothers, the waste and recycling firm, which has a regional recycling facility in Danbury, to run the two facilities in Ridgefield. Winters Brothers runs many of the recycling and trash operations in the region, and also does pickup and hauling of trash.

There are also other firms that do trash pickup at private houses.

“That doesn’t mean residents of the town can’t have different haulers,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the seletmen.

Connecticut’s list

Following the rules on recycling is important because “clean” loads of recyclables — without mismatched items mixed in — are worth more on the aftermarket.

Here’s the universal list for Connecticut’s “What in? What’s out?” campaign, broken down by categories (paper, glass, metal, plastics).

The state advises: “All items being recycled should be empty, rinsed, clean and open. Do not shred, box, bag or bundle. To learn more, go to RecycleCT.com.”


In — Cardboard and boxboard, food and beverage cartons, junk mail, magazines and newspaper inserts, newsprint, office paper, pizza boxes.

Out — Gift wrap and gift bags, ice cream containers, paper cups (hot and cold), shredded paper, take-out food containers, tissue paper.


In — Beverage bottles and jars, food bottles and jars.

Out — Ceramic mugs and plates, drinking glasses.


In — Aerosol containers (food grade only), aluminum foil, cans and bottles, foil containers, metal lids from cans and bottles.

Out — Aerosol containers (deodorizers, cleaners, pesticides, etc.), foil tops from yogurt containers, paint cans, pots and pans, small pieces of scrap metal, spiral wound containers.


In — Plastic bottles (with or without caps attached), plastic containers, tubs and lids, plastic one-use cups (no lids, no straws).

Out — Loose bottle caps, plastic bags and wrap, plastic plates, bowls and utensils, prescription bottles, single-use coffee containers, Styrofoam cups, containers and packaging peanuts, water filters.

The “What’s in? What’s out?” list was developed by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in collaboration with materials recovery facility (MRF) operators, who sell the materials — usually to international markets.

“Most of the recycling does go to China,” Heaton-Jones said. “China has stepped up their quality control for materials being shipped there. If there’s a high contamination rate, they will return that to the U.S., costing the brokers — the sellers — a tremendous amount of money.

“It all starts at the curb,” she said.