Can I Recycle This?

4208 provides a wealth of information and resources on recycling, composting and other waste disposal programs in the District. Photo: C. Plume

Can I recycle this?

How many times have you asked yourself – or your favorite recycling guru – that question?

Thanks to efforts by the DC Department of Public Works (DPW) and ZeroWaste DC, the answer just got a lot easier. In early April, just in time for Earth Day, the DC government launched “What Goes Where?,” a web-based app that tells residents how to dispose of any particular item.

You’ll find the “What Goes Where?” platform on the homepage of DC’s Zero Waste website, Type in “coffee grounds” and you’ll find that these can be disposed of at one of the District’s food waste dropoff sites. You’ll even be given a link that, when clicked, provides the operating days and times for each site. Typing in “plastic bags” reveals that these are not acceptable in DC recycling, but you’re given a list of grocery stores around town (with addresses) that will take them.

Similar information is provided for a wealth of common and not so common goods. Incandescent lightbulbs can be wrapped in paper and placed in the trash bin, while LED lights should be disposed of at the Fort Totten Transfer Station as hazardous waste. You’ll even get a link that specifies the facility’s operating hours for hazardous waste, PaintCare DC, and e-cycling disposal and document-shredding services.

According to Annie White, manager of DPW’s Office of Waste Diversion, “This tool provides DC residents and workers with an easy online guide on what can and can’t be recycled. And for those items that can’t be recycled, the tool will tell you the best and most environmentally friendly way to dispose of them.”

DC, and DPW in particular, is committed to making recycling and other waste disposal options as easy and transparent as possible. If the “What Goes Where?” tool doesn’t provide information on the item you’re trying to dispose of, send an email to or tweet @dczerowaste with questions. You can expect a response usually within 24 hours, if not sooner.

Residents can also suggest that items be added to the tool. If you don’t find an item in the database, you’ll be provided with an option to suggest that it be added. Though the “What Goes Where?” tool only rolled out in early April, new items have already been added based on suggestions from residents.

While you’re visiting, take a few minutes to check out the other resources on the site. Planning a block party or community gathering? On the Tools & Resources page, you’ll find downloadable signage for recycling and composting in seven(!) languages that will help you green your event by ensuring people know what can be placed in the recycling bin. Signage helps reduce contamination of the recycling bin and ensures that recyclable products actually get recycled.

There’s also a comprehensive green events calendar. You can even get your own event promoted on this calendar by emailing with event information, flyers and images. wants to become a hub for all things recycling and composting in the District. It is the fruit of DC’s Interagency Waste Reduction Working Group, a coalition of agency stakeholders from DPW, Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE), Department of General Services (DGS) and Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) that is charged with creating a path to zero waste for the District. The group is implementing waste programs, providing feedback and support for waste diversion operations, designing waste diversion education and outreach materials and supporting the continued evolution of waste diversion policies.

Stay tuned for more good to come from DPW, which is creating a comprehensive app and alert system. Residents will be able to customize the type and frequency of the information they want to receive. DPW is even considering incorporating the “What Goes Where?” web app into the larger app to ensure consistency and avoid overlapping functions.

DPW Director Chris Shorter is pleased with the department’s progress. “This new web app, along with the Mayor’s List of Recyclables that expanded and standardized recyclable materials for District residents, businesses, and government buildings, is part of our effort to make recycling simpler; thereby reducing confusion about what can be recycled and increasing the city’s waste diversion rate.”

So, the next time someone asks, “Can this be recycled?,” you’ll know where to go. Spread the word!


Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer and a blogger for the DC Recycler:; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member and the conservation chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, though the perspectives expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.