Recycling Cart Inspections Coming Soon, Contaminated Carts Will Not Be Collected Until They Are Fixed


Streets Division crews will soon begin checking recycling carts at the curb for things that do not belong in them.

What exactly will the Streets Division be doing?

Staff will be working ahead of collection crews on the recycling collection week in random neighborhoods lifting the lids of carts and looking for items that do not belong in the recycling.

If contamination is found within the carts, a card explaining the problem will be left behind on the cart lid. 

Recycling carts that have been “carded” will not be emptied by the recycling collection crews until the problem is fixed.

What will you need to do if the wrong things are found in the recycling cart at your home?

If the recycling cart for your home is carded, you will need to remove the problem items from the recycling cart.

The card on the cart will show exactly what needs to be removed.

Next, contact the Streets Division so a recycling truck can be sent back as soon as possible to empty the corrected recycling cart.

What problem items are Streets Division crew members looking for in the recycling cart?

Crews looking into recycling carts will be checking for these five common recycling cart problems:

  • Bad Bags
    • Most recyclables you generate should not be bagged. The only exception is shredded paper.  If you must bag your recyclables, only clear plastic bags are acceptable.  Bags that cannot be seen through are discarded as trash at the recycling sorting facility.
  • Clothes & Other Textiles
    • Never put clothes, bedding, towels, or similar material in the recycling cart. Donate these items or place them into the tan trash cart.
  • Styrofoam
  • Tanglers
    • Never put plastic film, plastic bags, plastic wrap, hoses, ropes, and similar tangly things in the recycling cart. This material jams the recycling sorting equipment,
  • Wood/Lumber
    • Never put wood or lumber in the recycling cart. This can damage the sorting equipment. This belongs in the trash cart or at the drop-off site.

Crews will be on the look out for other obvious items that do not belong in the cart.  For example, yard waste and brush do not belong in the recycling carts (this material is also banned from trash carts, too).

Carts that have these “other” problem items will also be carded.

Why is the Streets Division doing this?

Putting the wrong things in the recycling cart has a cost, and it can be dangerous.

In 2023, it was found that 18.6% of what was placed into the recycling cart was material that did not belong.  This reduced the value of the City’s recyclables by roughly $297,000.

Also, putting the wrong things has harmful effects from jamming and damaging sorting equipment, and the wrong things can even cause catastrophic fires.

It is up to you to put the correct things in the recycling cart at your home.

Where can you get more information about recycling?

The Streets Division’s recycling website has plenty information about what can go into the recycling cart. The website is

The Streets Division provides other resources for free.  The lids of many recycling carts have guides printed on them as to what belongs inside.  Also, we can provide a free refrigerator magnet to help with the recycling at your home.

You can also use the Recyclopedia.  Paper versions of this guide to Streets Division services, which includes recycling information, are available at your local Madison Public Library location.  The Recyclopedia can also be mailed to you by request.

Additional Information

More details about Streets Division services can be found at

The recycling cart inspection card. It lists the five most common problems items we see in recycling carts: bad bags, clothes/textiles, styrofoam, tanglers, and wood/lumber.

Here is the card recycling carts will receive if there is a problem. This card will be stuck to the lid of the cart. 

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