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How to explain the recycling system to my guests

Hi everyone,

I am new here and with hosting. But so far I have had the most fantastic guests. I never dreamed they would leave it all so neat (always hoping the next guests will be as good…). But one thing my guests fail to do is recycling correctly. I have to admit, it’s a lot.

We have 5 fractions:

  • plastic metal and beverage cartons (PMC)
  • paper & cardboard
  • green waste (in a bin in the kitchen + container outside)
  • glass (clean and dry)
  • residual waste (kitchen + grey bin outside)

And that’s even simpler then how I have to submit it. So I’ll always need to sort some things out… Anyway, I have put a bin in the kitchen for each fraction with drawings and text AND a detailed description for each fraction in the guide to the house. But still things always end up in the wrong bins. For instance dirty packaging are thrown in the PMC (instead of residual waste), tissues and kitchen roll in the paper (instead of green waste), paper in the residual waste,… After each visit, I’ve had to sort out the trash. It’s ok if it’s been just a weekend. But after a longer stay the trash is smelly and I just hate sorting it. Do you have any tips to make the system clear for my guests? I’d love to hear them!!

Well, as a (to you) foreign guest who doesn’t speak Dutch, your bins are very confusing, even with pictures. Although as a recycler myself I would probably get closer than most.

Perhaps spelling it out as you did in the bullet-points of your post, and having that print out there where your bins are kept would help.


Tape an example of each type of recycling onto the box. A plastic bottle on one, a tin can on another, etc. This should help, hopefully a lot, but there will still be some guests who will ignore it.

Of course you can’t tape actual food to the compost container, but you could tape a magazine photo of food to the box.


First: thank you so much for your tips!!

How do you mean confusing? Because I could always clarify some more on the bins too. I’m really open to any suggestions…

About the language: most of my guests are Dutch and French speaking. This is French so they should be able to understand it. I’ve thougt about more translations on the bins, but that migtht by a bit much?

I have put the bullets with a detailed description of the allowed contents in the guide to the house. The guide is available in French, Dutch and English. And I send it to them prior to their arrival and leave a copy in the house. But maybe I could print the description and hang it above the containers?

Thanks! I’ll see how I can implement your tips! The issue is too that our PMC is different from the PMC (there PMD) in Flanders. People just get confused I guess…

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Looks like a communications issue. Label the bins with all applicable languages and better icons. Also use STANDARD COLOR CODES for each type.


Thanks! That’s a great tip. I’m going to create some labels myself because I can’t find the right labels for our region. But I liked these from Amazon with the allowed and not allowed list.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing standard in recycling here. Every country / region has different rules and colors which makes it superconfusing for guests… (Even I doubt sometimes). :frowning:

That example you posted is far too wordy for guests, regardless of the colors.

You have to deal with guests as if they were kindergarteners- keep it as super simple as possible.


I read a study over 10 years ago showing that having colored bins for each type of recycling was the single biggest factor in getting people to put the items in the correct bins. I’m not sure this will help much in a short-term rental, though, since it takes time for people to become accustomed to the colors.

My suggestion: If the majority of guests in your listing are from other countries, then have just 3 bins for guests: compostable, recyclable, and non-recyclable, and then you can separate the recyclables (glass, plastic, aluminum, paper, steel, etc) into the correct bins.


I agree with Brian. Trying to get guests to use a complex system is going to lead to trouble. Asking guests to separate three ways is much easier for them but you will still get a) guests who ignore the issue and b) incorrect items that you’ll have to sort out anyway.

Guests could leave less than great reviews for you because of your complicated expectations and you’ll leave poor reviews for guests who got muddled or who couldn’t be bothered. A lot of trouble all round.


Not in Europe, but have been faithfully recycling for 50 years.
Here, I try to make it simple for guests by stating,
Clean only, Paper, Metal and Glass.
The plastic recycling is a dicey item here, so just leave it out. And, yes, I have to separate, but people are usually here less than 4 days so mostly not a big deal.
All take out containers in the trash.
What’s left that’s compostable is not something I’m interested in. I’m not going to separate left over chicken take out to add to my compost bin.
As @muddy said, taping an example to the container would be a visual that’s not disputable.

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I agree with Brian- cut down on the number of containers. You’re going to have to paw through it anyway to separate what guests threw in the wrong bin, so it’s not going to result in much more work.

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Yup! This method would be ideal for an easy to follow protocol. Might mean a bit of work for you to sort, but especially if you have short stays it doesn’t seem like it would take very long.

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You might be able to use this for “color backgrounds”. https://www.veldhoven.nl/data/downloadables/2/8/7/waste-chart.pdf
Then write in 3 - 4 major languages on each only the simple definition “Glass and Plastic” etc. Hopefully with also a nice universal icon for each type.
If you look at google images it is easy enough to borrow what you want.

Yes I do similar to @Brian_R170.

The guests take the garbage and the compostables out to the bins in front of the house themselves, any time during the week.

Paper goes into the city’s yellow bag, and containers and other recyclables into the blue bin, which they put outside their door on pickup day and we sort it into our correct bins.

Some options:






I have 4 bins: Glass (MUST BE WASHED), #1 & #2 Plastic ONLY, Paper/cardboard (NO PIZZA BOXES OR GREASE) and Aluminum. We do this to lengthen the life of our landfill even though the only material that we recycle to the Lower 48 states that makes money is the aluminum. Cans and bottles have to be washed so that bears won’t smell the bins.

If I was cooking full breakfasts for guests I would be composting for a bigger vegetable garden. I dump my veggie waste in my neighbor’s bucket for the local composting company. Only about a quarter of my guests cook, and then usually just a quick breakfast, so composting their waste isn’t worth the hassle.

Thanks for all the tips! :smile:

I’m going to improve the labels and keep sorting the wrong items out myself. When I read your comments, my guests aren’t doing too bad. It’s just that I hate being covered with juice while fishing out some sort of packaging from someone’s garbage. But I suppose it comes with the territory.

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I can recycle glass, cardboard, a few types of plastic, any type of metal, and have a compost bin in my garden. But there’s no roadside pickup, so no special recycling bins. I just throw all the glass, cardboard and plastic in a box and take it to the depot when it gets full. But I really don’t buy overpackaged stuff if I can avoid it, so I don’t have to go very often.

Anything metal, even rusty nails, I throw in a feed sack and take to the metal recycling place every few months, where they weigh it out, and pay me for it. I usually walk away with 10 bucks or so.

My guests are good about the recycling and sometimes ask me where it goes before I’ve had a chance to tell them. But it all just goes together in a box in the broom closet, with the compost pail under the sink.

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I hate to tell you this, but we just sort it for them after they leave. It’s just easier. I have to get in there and check it anyway (we can get fines), so I might as well just sort it all. Overall, for us at least, it takes less of my time that way. Maybe have just 2 containers, one for trash and one for recycling? We do give two containers that are actually unmarked but people are good about separating trash from other stuff.

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