Denver Recycles, a division of Denver Public Works, has set a goal of raising the city’s recycling rate to match the national average of 34 percent of household waste being diverted from the landfill by 2020. But last year, about 80 percent of Denver’s household waste was trashed — suggesting a lot of people are not clear about what should or should not be going into their purple recycling bins. 

Should your Starbucks cup go into the recycling bin? What about that aluminum lid from your burrito bowl that’s splattered with guacamole? That pizza box is made of high-grade cardboard so that’s a no-brainer right? Not so fast. 

During a visit to Denver’s recycling facility, it quickly became clear that thousands of well-intentioned people are throwing items that are not recyclable into the city’s single-stream recycling program. Enrico Dominguez walked us through the Waste Management sorting facility on Franklin Street, which is contracted by the city of Denver to handle its recycling program. 

We took the tour with an eye toward identifying the most common mistakes people make. For starters, mattresses, computers, and electronics are not recyclable in Denver’s single-stream program, but there are several businesses around town that specialize in recycling all of them. 

A good percentage of the plastic, paper, cans and glass that are accepted in the program, ends up in the landfill because they get contaminated by food, liquid and other contaminants that disqualify them from going on to the secondary market. Little mistakes like leaving water in a plastic bottle can contaminate a load that would otherwise go on to have a new life.