As Charles Senft of Penn Waste Inc., adds a trash can to the lift, Jonathan Cortes grabs styrofoam from a recycling bin along the 500 block of Woodward Street in Lancaster city on Thursday, February 5, 2020

After concerted efforts to emphasize that only “the Big Four” should go in household bins, Lancaster County residents are recycling a little better, officials say.

But there is still — literally — tons of room for improvement, both because of wide-scale recycling changes that went into effect more than a year ago, and longstanding realities of recycling and trash collecting that many don’t understand or haven’t acted on.

“We have moved the needle, as a community, ever so slightly,” said Katie Sandoe of the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority. Although aware to some extent that recycling has changed, many people are still engaging in what she called “wishful recycling”: putting in things in the bin that they hope can be recycled but actually shouldn’t be there.

Here’s a quick overview of what people should do, from Sandoe and Mike Devaney of Lancaster city’s bureau of solid waste and recycling.


What should go in bins

Only the Big 4 should go in household recycling bins:

  •  corrugated cardboard
  •  plastic bottles and jugs with a neck
  •  metal food and beverage cans
  •  glass bottles and jars

They need to be clean, and the lids should be thrown away.

Nothing else belongs in the bin, even if it has a recycling symbol on it.

Authority staff and volunteers spent five weeks doing a test program in one neighborhood, inspecting bins and tagging them “Yay” for correct recycling or “Oops” if they contained items that didn’t belong.

It took a lot of resources but was pretty successful: the percentage of households recycling correctly rose from 53% to 87%.

“We’re hoping to scale that pilot and do it in more areas sometime this summer,” Sandoe said.


What should go to household hazardous waste

The authority has a household hazardous waste facility at 1299 Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster, where Lancaster County residents can drop off qualifying items for free during operating hours.

A full list is at and includes everything from batteries, fluorescent bulbs and paint to pesticides and household cleaners.

Devaney said one category of things that belongs there but people often incorrectly put out with the trash is electronics — old TVs, computers and cell phones.


What should go to recycling drop-off

Lancaster city has a recycling drop-off center at 850 New Holland Avenue that is open to anyone from Lancaster County and takes things like magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes and books.

A list is at, which links to a brochure with full details.

Devaney said the center opened in 2013 and last year’s total — almost 959 tons — was up about 400 tons over the previous year.

“It’s great to see,” he said.


How to put out trash

Devaney had one more general request on trash: That people keep it protected from water and animals, and put it on the curb in garbage cans, not just trash bags.

“We have a lot of little critters in the city that will eat in these bags,” he said, noting that results in loose trash that adds to litter problems.