Newcomers guide: 5 things to know about recycling and composting in Boise.

If you’ve moved to Boise in the past five years, you know that recycling is one of the areas that get a bit complicated, even for those who have lived here their whole lives. Recycling took a turn in 2018 when China put strict limits on what it will and will not take. Boise’s Public Works Department found some clever ways to compensate, but they’re complicated.

Boise City Public Works Recycling Specialist Peter McCullough and Communications Coordinator Natalie Monro helped create this 5 X 5 Guide to recycling in the City of Trees.

Recycling carts 2.jpg
The city of Boise offers three layers of residential recycling: tradition blue cart for some plastics and paper, Hefty Orange Energy Bag for other plastics and community composting for green waste. Provided by City of Boise Department of Public Works

No. 1: The basics

  1. Boise offers four levels of waste removal: trash pickup, recycling, composting and the Hefty Orange Energy Bag program. Meridian, Eagle and Garden City also offer orange bag programs for residential.
  2. Republic Services is the company that picks up the tan trash bins and green-lidded compost bins weekly, and the blue recycling bins every two weeks. Western Recycling manages the recycling stream.
  3. Beware “compostable plastic.” The label says it can be composted in commercial facilities, but that’s a misnomer. “It takes too long to break down,” McCullough says. It can’t go into the orange bag because it’s not petrolatum plastic, so they go in the trash.

  4. If you have a question about whether or not something can be recycled, throw it in the trash. The most hurtful thing is “wishful recycling,” McCullough says. “We’re focused on quality not quantity of recycling.”

    The city’s new website will feature a sorting guide.
  5. The bottom line is it’s important to reduce your footprint. So, think before you toss. Think before you take. Learn more at and area nonprofit Zero Waste Boise Institute.

    Check out the city’s new website and collection guide.
recycle cans
Compressed aluminum cans at Western Recycling in Boise in 2016. Idaho Statesman file

No. 2: The blue cart

  1. Republic Services delivers it to Western Recycling every two weeks. To find out your schedule, look for the orange or purple decal under the blue cart lid. Then check the city’s recycling calendar to know your week.

  2. You no longer can put single use No. 1. crinkly plastic water bottles — like the ones you buy at Costco — in recycling. They must go in the trash. You can recycle more substantial plastics, a consistency of a soda bottle. All items must be loose, not bagged.
  3. Cardboard, of course, can go in but in blue cart. Break them down please. You also can recycle mixed paper because Western Recycling found a secondary market for it. That’s not the case in other cities.

  4. No hinged-lid plastic “clamshell” containers for to-go food, fruit and vegetables. No wax-coated containers like to-go coffee cups, frozen dinner trays, dairy and juice cartons, and no glass.

  5. You can recycle aluminum and steel cans, but size matters. Small things get stuck in the machinery and can contaminate the waste stream. So don’t recycle anything smaller than a cardboard toilet paper tube. You can recycle foil if it’s in a ball larger than 2 inches in circumference.

Hefty Energy Bag.jpg
Boise, Garden City and Meridian all offer residence the Hefty Orange Energy Bag program that repurposes certain plastics to remove them from the waste stream. Make sure to not over fill your bag. Provided by Boise Department of Public Works

No. 3: Orange Energy Bag

  1. You can buy the bags at Albertsons stores. The city will be sending a voucher for a free roll in June.
  2. Plastics must be free of food contamination. So, rinse out ridged plastic containers, cups, etc.
  3. Plastics labeled 4, 5, 6 and 7 only, and plastic bags and wrap can go in the orange bag. You also can include plastic straws, utensils, drinking cups, and chip and dog food bags, even though they look like they’re foil lined. They’re plastic.
  4. The good news is that No. 6 Styrofoam can go in, too. So foam to-go and meat containers can go in but they must be rinsed. You can put in molded Styrofoam packing material as long as you break it into small pieces. But no molded clear plastic packaging material.
  5. Tie the bag off and don’t over stuff it. It defeats the purpose if the bag breaks open before it reaches its destination and contaminates the stream, McCullough says.
compost 1.JPG
If you participate in the city’s composting program you can reap the benefits and take home some of the finished product. Darin Oswald

No. 4: Composting

  1. Why compost: Boise started its curbside residential compost program in the summer of 2017. Nearly 46 percent of waste collected from single-family homes in Boise is green matter. It costs the city millions to dump garbage at Ada County Landfill. Getting anything out of the waste stream saves money and helps the environment.
  2. Green waste — fruit and vegetable scraps, yard waste (yes, even weeds) — goes in the green-lidded bin. What else can go in? Egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags without the strings, tab and staple, and sticks and branches as long as they fit in the cart.
  3. The big NOs: No oil, meat, dairy, vegetables drenched in dressing, cheese or pet waste.
  4. If you have more yard waste in the spring and fall you can fill your cart and have up to 10 brown paper leaf bags per week.
  5. Sign up for the program and you can collect up to 2 cubic yards of the city-made compost per household. That’s about a truckload, McCullough says. You can pick up your compost at The Idaho Botanical Garden, 2355 N Old Penitentiary Road, Boise.
Boise doesn’t pick up glass. Glass dropped off at area collection sites gets recycled. Randall Benton

No. 5: Glass

  1. The city is proud of its glass recycling program because the secondary market for it is local. A company called Environmental Abrasive grinds it into a non-silica sandblasting material.
  2. Glass does not go in the blue cart.
  3. The city does not provide regular curbside glass pickup. You can request an additional cart for glass that costs an extra $6.06 a month. It gets picked up monthly.
  4. You can drop glass off at several Albertsons grocery store parking lots; Western Recycling, 990 S. Cole Road, across from the entrance to the Boise Costco; and Recycle Boise, 4725 N. Glenwood St., and others.
  5. Make sure to take the lids off screw-cap wine bottles, jars and containers. Those must go in the trash.
Read Next

Related stories from Idaho Statesman