Recycling 101 - How "clean" should a shampoo bottle be before going in the recycle bin?
January 31, 2011 10:13 AM   Subscribe

My local recycling information page says I should rinse out plastic bottles, but shampoo (as an example) does not seem to rinse out very easily and I don't want to waste a lot of water, either. How do other people handle this?

I have a crate and a half full of mostly empty shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc plastic bottles sitting in my bathroom. I have been more or less "saving" them for the purpose of recycling, but I don't know if they have too much gunk in them to recycle. And I don't want to waste a lot of water rinsing them when that doesn't seem to do a very good job anyway. And particularly after reading some of this thread and this one which suggest a lot of recycling is a waste of time anyway. But this collection is going on two years old and I am ready to be rid of it.

If it helps (and people are bored enough to want to look!), here is a link to the information page for my city's recycling.

I would also like to report (before I get scolded), that I have decided I would switch back to bar soap because I need to buy fewer things that come in plastic bottles. So please feel free to suggest alternatives to plastic shampoo/conditioner bottles as well, although I'm not sure I want to use bar soap for that purpose though I know some people do it.
posted by Glinn to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not "green", but I am cheap as a mofo. When I shower, I always fill my body wash/shampoo bottles half-full with water, recap, and shake vigorously (and then use) to make sure I get the last bits of product out of the bottle. This results in a clean bottle. And no wasted shampoo.
posted by phunniemee at 10:17 AM on January 31, 2011 [11 favorites]

I personally fill them with water while in the shower, shake them, and then splash said water onto my body rather than using soap. It gets them pretty clean. You probably don't want to do that at this point, and the soap may be a little crusted over, so I would put some hot water in the and pout them over something you need to wash anyway- flower pots? shelving units? legos?- in the driveway or bathtub. Dump them in the recycling and feel better about yourself.
posted by jenlovesponies at 10:20 AM on January 31, 2011

For the current batch, I'd say to suck it up and use your water rinsing them. You can put a little water in, put the lid back on, and shake vigorously to dislodge a lot of soap residue. Hot water works best.

In the future, I'd recommend doing what phunniemee recommends or just rinse them out as you finish using them.
posted by mikeh at 10:21 AM on January 31, 2011

What phunniemee says, plus a chopstick + damp paper towel to get any leftovers out.

Lush have shampoo and conditioner bars that are generally well-regarded if you want to move away from bottled hair products. I actually travel with it rather than deal with the hassles of putting tiny bottles into ziploc bags at airports.
posted by evoque at 10:21 AM on January 31, 2011

On etsy I bought shampoo and conditioner in bar form. I love it. Only need a small lather, lasts a long time and no packaging.
posted by kanata at 10:24 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Lush sells bar shampoo too. I love it. It lasts a long time and there's no plastic to throw away. That might be a future consideration. Soap and shampoo bottles always leave me so eco-guilty :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 10:27 AM on January 31, 2011

OP here. Thanks all! I feel very foolish not thinking of the whole little-bit-of-water-and-shake-vigorously solution. And I will check out the bar shampoo, too.
posted by Glinn at 10:31 AM on January 31, 2011

I toss the bottles in the recycling without rinsing them! The recycling police have yet to come to my house! Don't tell them!

Part of the recycling process after shredding is to rinse the to-be-recycled plastic to remove contaminants. I personally wouldn't feel too bad about not rinsing.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:32 AM on January 31, 2011 [12 favorites]

If you're concerned about things like recycling and water waste it would seem to me you wouldn't want to waste the product itself, either. For that reason I also use, and recommend, the watering-down-the-dregs method of getting the last out of the bottle, and no rinsing needed.
posted by Miko at 10:56 AM on January 31, 2011

I generally feel that this advice about rinsing is more relevant to bottles containing food products, so that you don't end up with boxes/bags/recycling centres smeared with gone-off milk and sticky dribbles of soda, smelling bad and attracting vermin. This way I don't feel bad about putting things like moisturiser bottles in the bin without rinsing them perfectly.
posted by Lebannen at 10:58 AM on January 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

Since you asked for alternatives to conventional bottled shampoo, I'll tell you about how I recently started using baking soda as shampoo and apple cider vinegar as "conditioner" to rinse it off. I believe it's called "no-poo" on the internets. There is a slightly greasy adjustment period, for sure, but I really like how soft my hair is turning out.
posted by fancyoats at 11:11 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Recycling people don't want containers cleaned because they need them clean for their process. They want them cleaned so that the food in them doesn't rot and attract vermin.

Since shampoo doesn't rot it doesn't matter if you rinse it out.

Yes, I've been stung by a wasp thats been eating rotting food out of peoples unwashed containers.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:18 AM on January 31, 2011

it struck me that the "why rinse?" question is one of those questions that has a definitive, empirical answer. Looks like most local collectors (towns) require rinsing to keep the bugs and vermin down, as noted, and that the packager at the other end is going to do some process to make the materials purer anyway, so they don't require the recycling to be perfectly clean when they accept it.

Still, if one recycles to reduce the impact of one's waste, it doesn't make sense to waste perfectly good product just because it's down to the last drops.
posted by Miko at 11:29 AM on January 31, 2011

modern recycling plants retired their oompa-loompas years ago. here's how they work now: the trucks pull up to a gaping maw of death and razor blades. EVERYTHING gets shredded into chips...

It's worth pointing out that this kind of setup is only found in certain towns and cities that have gone to single-stream recycling. Other places still have to sort, and other places might be selling to buyers who do want materials treated a certain way (tin cans, flattened or not flattened, for instance). Because municipalities handle materials recovery differently, the best place to ask about how you need to sort your recycling is your town's waste management department.
posted by Miko at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2011

Be frugal; it's good for the environment. Use less shampoo, deterg, etc. Your clothing will get clean with much less laundry detergent. Your dishwasher will need fewer repairs if you use less detergent. Your hair will do fine with a small amount of shampoo. At the end of the container, add a little water, shake, use the remaining stuff. Do this until it's just water. There's at least enough extra laundry detergent for 1 load at the end of the jug, if not 2.

Bar soap works well, is cheaper, and doesn't need much packaging. Unwrap it and let it dry out; it'll last longer.

Use dishtowels instead of paper towels. They can go in your laundry at no added cost. They take seconds to fold. Cotton napkins, too. (They sell polyester napkins that don't work as well; avoid them.)

Wear clothes a little longer before washing, use towels more than once; thye last longer and you use fewer resources. In the towel Thread, here on AskMe, my fave comment was "After a shower, I'm the cleanest thing in the house" so it's not like it's a dirty habit.
posted by theora55 at 12:12 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seeing as I have a bathtub, I just dunk it in the bathwater when I'm done. If you do your dishes in the sink, you could rinse it there before you drain the water unless it's super manky. The dishwater idea works for cans as well. In both cases (for me), no extra water is wasted. Yay!
posted by Heretical at 12:18 PM on January 31, 2011

[Comment removed, please make a basic effort not to be a jerk.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:29 PM on January 31, 2011

We have our daughter clean them out with repeated fillings and emptyings while she's having a bath. YATABTLSYOMV.

If I had a significant volume and I'd let them soak in a sink of water over night (post dishwashing sounds like a good idea) then 3/4ers fill, shake, drain and call it done. Do not attempt to wash them in the dishwasher or in your clothes washer unless you want to experience suds-mageddon.
posted by Mitheral at 4:16 PM on January 31, 2011

When I have a problem getting something with a narrow opening clean, I use the kitchen sink sprayer.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:16 PM on January 31, 2011

Seconding fancyoats' suggestion of baking soda and apple cider vinegar. It's cheap, better for the environment, and better for your hair. Many co-ops and natural food stores sell baking soda in bulk, or you can just buy a big box of it. It may take a little while for you to get used to if you've been using shampoo your whole life. Baking soda doesn't strip away the natural oils from your hair in the way that most shampoos do, so the first week or two your hair might feel oilier than normal.
posted by bokinney at 8:54 AM on February 2, 2011

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