Recycling bins don’t have to be messy

Reader Jameselee drew our attention to the June article “How to Hide Recycling Bins in Your Kitchen” from Popular Mechanics magazine.

It makes sense to find convenient and attractive ways to cope with the typical household’s revolving collection of cans, glass bottles and newspapers, since recycling has become an everyday reality.

Whether you’re planning from scratch or improving an existing setup, the first decision is what room to use for storing the stuff. The kitchen is ideal, given that it’s where most glass and plastic containers get used, but kitchen space is often at a premium. Other options are the pantry, garage, laundry room or mudroom.

The article provides a number of ideas for visible and hidden storage, even though the word “hide” is in the title. I particularly enjoyed the following drawing from the article:

The company simplehuman has quite a few stylish trash/recycle bin combinations. Some can be hidden in a cupboard, others can be placed on the floor. A ClosetMaid four drawer basket kit could be hidden inside a closet.

Do you disguise or hide recycling in your home? What techniques do you use? How do you keep this area from looking cluttered and out of control?


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

35 Comments for “Recycling bins don’t have to be messy”

  1. posted by jane on

    I don’t keep a bin inside, but bring the items out to the recycling trash cans every morning.

  2. posted by sharon on

    We only use the blue bags and I have one just inside the garage door. It’s just feet from the kitchen so once the stuff is rinsed and dried, it’s easily tossed.

    And if you think recycling is messy, then you are rinsing like you should. 😉

  3. posted by Michele on

    Two things:

    First, I try to remember the “reduce” part of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The less trash and recycling waste I generate, the less I have to hide between trash days! I rinse the cans and bottles and it all goes out weekly, so there’s no time, really, for any residue to start smelling or looking offensive. If I curb my purchases of stuff in packaging in the first place — canned and pre-packaged food, bottles, newspapers — then it helps cut down the clutter, too.

    Second, I keep my recycling bin in a little alcove by the kitchen, between my clothes washer and dryer. I’ve hung two cheap, cotton curtain panels across the alcove so I don’t have to look at what’s there. Visually, it’s like a wall between the kitchen and the laundry. Also, the panels take up less space than folding doors would.

  4. posted by theclevermom on

    We have a step on garbage can that has a half bin for the garbage and a half bin for recycling (by Mistral but can’t find a product link anywhere). I love it! It keeps everything neat and out of sight. I wish I could find a low fly solution to our indoor green bin though.

  5. posted by Misty on

    Ugh, recycling organization issues are big with us right now. Our present method is to stack them on the fridge until we move them outside. NOT classy or uncluttered.

  6. posted by *pixie* on

    We keep our recycling bins in the garage. Our biggest issues is taking them out there as we generate them. By the end of the day we usually have the tiny counter area near the sink piled up with recyclables to be taken to the garage.

  7. posted by Trish on

    We have one of these
    and use one bin for trash and the other for garbage.

  8. posted by kat on

    We have a couple of those stacking mesh bins from the Container Store, that fit under the kitchen sink. One is for bottles/cans/etc, one is for paper and cardboard. When one gets full, it gets taken down and dumped into the bins on the street — probably once a week or so for the bottles and glass, and once every 3 weeks or monthly for the paper. As long as you rinse before putting anything in, it doesn’t get smelly or attract insects.

  9. posted by Lori on

    Our city collects glass, plastic, and metal all together, so we keep a big blue bag in the garage for those things just inside the door. We rinse them and put them in a small can under the sink until that gets full, then empty it into the bigger can in the garage. But, like Michele above, we try to cut down on what we bring in in the first place.

    The city doesn’t take paper, cardboard, or styrofoam; those have to be taken to different collection sites. For paper, we have a pretty basket in the office, since that’s where we deal with most of the paper. Cardboard and styrofoam are collected in the garage (cardboard compacted into the largest box and styrofoam in a blue bag hanging from one of the shelves. Whenever those get full, they go in the car and get dropped off next time I’m passing that collection site.

  10. posted by Courtney on

    Our recycling service doesn’t require us to sort our recyclable items, so we just have one bin under the sink on a pull-out tray (a garbage bin is on the other side, same set up). We’ve stopped drinking soda, so we don’t have the can problem that we used to! But we still love our beer–maybe we should just buy a keg a week. 😉

    If you’re game, I’d like to see a post on uncluttered composting.

  11. posted by Shay on

    We do exactly the same as Trish and we LOVE it. Most weeks we overflow the recycling side well before the trash side. It’s a point of pride for us to take an overflowing recycling bin to the curb and a half-empty, droopy bag of trash.
    We, like Lori, have bags in our office and basement for collecting paper for recycling. It’s not very uncluttered, though…

  12. posted by infmom on

    Our city takes glass, cans, paper, etc all mixed up together and provides us a wheeled bin to put it all in. (We separate out the aluminum cans and take them to a recycling center that pays for them.)

    For many years we just used one of those big hard plastic buckets to toss everything in, and take that out to the recycle bin when it was full. But the bucket sat on the floor in our laundry room and it was a traffic hazard, besides being unsightly in the extreme.

    When we put the Elfa shelving in (hooray for the Container Store!) it took care of almost all the longstanding clutter in the laundry room (which is actually just a large alcove by the back door) and I took the opportunity to get a new recycling bin from the Container Store as well. That sits up on a shelf, we drop stuff into it, and every so often the contents go out to the larger bin.

    Now, if I could just persuade my husband to deal with his beloved compost bin as often as he does the recycling. 🙂 What we do with compostable food scraps is another story altogether!

  13. posted by infmom on

    Oh, I forgot to add that the office and living room each have wastebaskets designated for recyclable paper as well as a separate wastebasket for nonrecyclable trash. Those get emptied into the recycle bin as they fill up.

  14. posted by Cynthia on

    Our city recently changed their recycling bins and now there is one big recycling can on wheels for glass, cans, cardboard, paper, etc. So we kept the old bins that we used to use in the garage and take them out as they fill up to the bigger recycling can outside. This keeps the area in our garage a little cleaner. But it still can get cluttered.

    We still have the problem about getting them into the garage to begin with. The recyclables usually end up next to the kitchen sink and I put them in the garage when I get tired of looking at them.

  15. posted by Mer on

    I have two bins right outside the kitchen door to the garage. One is for cans and bottles, the other for paper and magazines.

    Once a day I patrol the house for recyclables, and put them near the kitchen trash can, which is near that door. When I’m finished making my rounds, I rinse what’s necessary, open the kitchen door and toss them into the bins.

  16. posted by J Harrell on

    We have a small trash can that sits between our dryer and a kitchen cabinet that we built (yes, laundry room is part of the kitchen, not even an alcove type area, very annoying). When that trash can gets full, it gets dumped into the recycle bin that we keep in the garage. The trash can isn’t very visible due to the cabinet and its small enough to not interfere with taking items out of our front-loading dryer. Its also close enough to the sink that we actually use it rather than avoiding it.

  17. posted by jgh on

    We have a pullout drawer with two bins in our kitchen island, similar to the third drawing in your post. Like others have mentioned, I still have two storage problems in the kitchen though – where to put compost (right now I put it in my crockpot, which is kept on the counter, but becomes a problem when I want to use it. Also, it’s very heavy to carry up and down to my garden). Another problem is where to put used rags – usually they are wet, too. I’m trying to cut down on paper towel usage.

  18. posted by 1st timer on

    Compost was a problem for a for a long time until we finally came up with this system:
    We keep a plastic paint can with cover (from the hardware store) on the counter by the sink, then take it out every couple of days. The handle is convenient, and the white color is unobtrusive.
    An alternative would be to paint a pattern on the container or in some other way make it “pretty”.
    An old stainless steel bowl is for better stuff that goes to the chickens (at least daily).

  19. posted by Brenda on

    We have one large recycling container under a kitchen cabinet. Once it is full, I sort it, bag it, etc and move it out to a closet and bring a second empty bin in under the cabinet. With 5 kids, we may be getting a third one soon!

  20. posted by Tania on

    I have a similar method to what Trish posted, it’s a really good space saver for my small kitchen (but lovely!). I empty out into the bin regularly and then the city picks up the recycling bin weekly.

  21. posted by Cynthia on

    We have a hook in the pantry closet. I open a garbage bag, tie a knot along one edge, and poke it onto the wall hook. We throw all the recycles in there, and when it fills, we carry it out to the garage where the city bins are stored on a shelf, and sort them there. If the bag is clean, we reuse it. If it’s not, we toss it in the plastic-bag recycle spot. This method keeps it out of sight in the kitchen, and helps us not throw things away because there’s no floor space for a proper bin. Sometimes we leave the bags out there until pick-up day every two weeks and spend fifteen minutes doing it all then as we’re ready to take it all to the curb.

    Adam Carolla suggests a cool install called “The Recyclarolla” — he puts a PVC tube in the wall between the kitchen and garage, so you can angle a drop-slot into a bin. If my kitchen were close to the garage, I’d install something in the wall like that. My grandparent’s house had a chute in the bathroom for laundry to the basement, and a little two-way box by the side door they say used to be used for postal packages. Wouldn’t be hard to install a mini cabinet door with a sheet-metal slide out to a bin, I bet … maybe use a bit of duct from your local furnace people?

  22. posted by Our approach on

    Our approach is very similar to Lori’s, and other posters’.
    First, our family avoids buying disposable packaging whenever possible. One easy example: we’ve stopped buying packaged organic iced tea, and instead, pack our own sun-brewed (or refrigerator-brewed) iced tea in reusable bottles.
    Then, when purchasing packaged products is truly unavoidable, we sort and rinse recycleable materials – primarily glass and some plastics which our locality accepts – and store that limited amount before placing out for the recyclers.

  23. posted by Lisa on

    For now, we have a large plastic storage box where we put all recyclables (apart from paper and cardboard). Once a week the box gets carted outside and contents transferred to the outside recycle bin that is collected curbside. Now we just need to find a way to disguise the box! And the paper/cardboard is on display which isn’t great.

    I object to purchasing additional things to store recyclables but I may cave eventually!

  24. posted by DIYGuy on

    Three step process.

    1. All recyclables go in a plastic grocery bag (after rinsing) that hangs from the pantry door handle. When it gets full, it gets tossed into the garage atop the recycling containers.

    2. Everything gets separated into individual containers (see below).

    3. On the weekend, I toss them in the back of the Rodeo and take them to the recycling center.

    The containers:
    Rubbermaid Roughneck, 18 gal. They’re about 24 x 16 x 16 inches, have self-locking lids and easily stack. I use five; 1 paper, 1 cardboard, 1 plastic, 1 glass, and 1 for cans.

    Since the containers are plain gray, I labeled each with a piece of duct tape and black marker. One label on a facing end and one on the lid. That way, I always see which is which whether they are stacked or not.

    These things are easy to clean and cost about $5 each on sale.

  25. posted by Stina on

    Compost goes in my garden. Paper goes into the blue ton which is emptied every two weeks by the city. Glas goes into a container which I bring to the recycling station whenever it gets full. Plastic goes into the yellow bags which are picked up by the city every two weeks. The rest of the trash goes into the black ton which also gets picked up every two weeks. I’m a bit unsure about rinsing. It helps prevent smell, but it also wastes a lot of water.

  26. posted by Peter on

    Wow, I definitely have to get more organized with my recycling. I just keep seperate Wegman’s bags and load it into a trash bag on the proper day. Thanks for all the tips.

  27. posted by Battra92 on

    We just throw it all in the garbage. Screw recycling, it takes up too much space and work.

    (in all seriousness we have a trash can for glass and metal and a box for paper on our back porch but there are days I wish we could just throw it all away and let the dump sort it out.

  28. posted by OctDev on

    3 of those side by side. Trash, Cans/Bottles, Cardboard/Dry paper. They cost an arm and a leg but I doubt I’ll ever buy trashcans again, and they fit in with a nice kitchen.

  29. posted by kate on

    I needed something large to limit my number of trips to the recycling center. I love my large Crunch Can hampers (avail. at Container Store and others). They come in fun colors, as well as a plain linen. And they are canvas, with coating on the inside for easy cleaning, rather than bulky plastic.

  30. posted by Yu Morimoto on

    Hi guys, I use this stacked garbage bin for my apartment. This does not have the capacity of having multiple traditional bins, but it is ok because I’m single. The plus side is that it looks good enough for a bachelor pad, so I don’t have to hide it.

  31. posted by gypsypacker on

    Down in the drought zone, my conscience pains me about wasting water on rinsing recyclables–seems environmentally oxymoronic. I like the $4.99 18-gallon bins for newspapers, and recycled 5-gallon buckets. Both have tight lids to keep the bugs out. Years ago, I kept a worm box under the eaves, and used the compost on plants, but a household conflict precludes that now.

  32. posted by wikiBuddha on

    I’m building an island in my kitchen and with the space I’ll be losing, I’ll need a [new] way to store my recyclables. I want them to be stored somewhere on the island’s “shelving” (which I am currently designing).

    I’m not certain what I’ll do, but I got a lot of ideas from you all. I would really like to use a plastic (or even better steel or tin– trying to get away from plastic) on of these. They seem hard to find (esp. at the size I want them ~10″ wide), so I’m leaning toward a roll-out solution like one of the first commentors linked to at lowes.

    Since composting made a lot of (uncertain) comments, I’d like to share a couple things I’ve learned about composting. One person asked about paper towels. These, and even newspaper are recyclable.

    I recently found out that dryer lint is also compostable (and in fact birds may use the lint to form their nests). I usually just take my lint catcher out to my compost and shake it out there, but I’m thinking about getting a container for it during the winter months.

    For kitchen compostables, I use a small container I found with an attached lid to help keep out smells. It just sits on top of my counter next to the sink. In my new design, I would also like to store this on my island.

    I live alone, so my solution is sufficient. However, I’ve heard it recommended numerous times that if you want or need to store (more stuff) for longer periods of time, It’s a good idea to store your container in the fridge or freezer.

  33. posted by Kerry on

    Does anyone have a suggestion for outdoor storage? We live on a private road & don’t have garbage pickup. We go to the dump once a month with 2 cans of garbage and 4 recycle bins (cans, bottles, plastic & cardboard)In the meantime the bins & trash sit on our back deck & it’s really ugly. Any shed ideas would be great.

  34. posted by Charlotte on

    I envy anyone who lives in a location where the recyclables are picked up. Everything I recycle needs to be sorted, taken to a recycling center, and placed in separate bins. I bought various sizes of attractive plastic gift bags and keep them on the floor of the pantry. They are leak-proof and can be washed. I’ve been using the same ones for years. Because they have sturdy handles, they’re easy to carry to the car.

  35. posted by KPR on

    We wash our recycling out, and dump the water into the compost bowl which goes out once a day or so in the summer. Our bathroom is next to the kitchen, and since we rarely use the tub in that bathroom, the recycling goes in the tub. When company comes over we close the curtain on the tub, and the clutter disappears.

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