New Jersey residents often express frustration because they are told to recycle differently from their neighbors right down the street over the town line! They ask, isn’t the same stuff recyclable everywhere? Yes, the materials are recyclable, but it’s not always practical to collect them. Each town in New Jersey is free to decide how to handle recycling, as long as residents and institutions and businesses can obtain collection of the materials that are mandatory for recycling: cans and bottles, cardboard and paper. service. The same is true for school districts. For a complete list of mandatory recyclables by county, see Every school  can decide to add optional recyclables as well.

Some towns collect trash and recyclables at the schools, and some counties collect at all the schools, but most leave the schools to hire a private company. Different companies collect and sell the materials in different ways. That’s why schools can’t all recycle the same things and even within one town, the schools may recycle a little differently than the residents at home.

Some collectors bring their materials to recycling facilities that can separate paper from cans and bottles – this is called single stream recycling, and many schools collect this way now. Other collectors are too far from these facilities, and need the paper and cardboard kept separate from the cans and bottles. Some collectors can sell empty milk cartons, but most can’t. There are collectors that specialize in transporting food waste to compost facilities. Some schools can obtain this service at a good price, but some can’t. Schools may take part in special recycling events like sneaker collections or pull-tab recycling, but it’s not required.

Whatever system a school adopts, remember that it’s important to keep trash out of the recyclables. Those materials must be sorted by both people and machines before they head back to industry to be made into new products, and unwanted items really slow down the process. So be sure to know what your collector wants, and keep the rest out of the bin!