Drought earth cracked

The state of California has been dealing with one of the most severe droughts on record, before and after shots from all over the state show just how serious the water shortage is. Water conservation has been at the forefront of many people minds which has left Californians with an unusual conundrum – wasting precious water to clean recyclables or saving water and sending the recyclables to a landfill.

It’s a very rare case in which conservation and sustainability are at odds.

California Drought

There are ways to conserve water and make sure recyclables are clean enough to get a passing grade during the sorting process, preventing them from being sent to the landfill.

First of all, check the regulations at your local waste management facility – some places are pretty forgiving when it comes to unclean recyclables. Knowing this will also allow you to conserve water after the drought ends…which is hopefully soon.

In the meantime….

Any bottles containing liquids can simply be emptied out but be sure they’re dry before placing them in your recycling bin (preventing paper/cardboard from turning to mush and keeping your bin from getting too dirty).

Jars and tubs that house stickier contents (mustard, ketchup, and mayo – aka the condiment family) or greasy substances (butter and margarine) are a completely different beast – these should be completely wiped clean before you think of recycling them.


Save any leftover water from washing dishes, pour them into those containers and shake them up to loosen the more stubborn substances.

Reuse paper towels or used napkins to wipe out larger bottles (you can then compost the paper towel or napkin!). Using a tiny spatula, knife or spoon to clean out those trickier small neck bottles does the trick too.

Luckily conservation efforts have been improving – a recent report from the State Water Board has shown a seven and half percent statewide drop in urban water usage from a year ago – that’s about 17 billion gallons of water, or the equivalent of 25,755 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

When in drought, you can still clean it out – you don’t have to sacrifice your recyclables to the dump to conserve water!