How to get rid of bugs in recycle containers,

How to Get Rid of Bugs in Recycling Containers (Keep Them Out!)

So, you have a swarm of bugs in your recycle bins. And you need to get rid of them. Fast!

Are they eating the leftover sugar from your soda or juice bottles?

Or are they living inside the alcohol glass bottles?

Are you grossed out from roaches, ants, or fleas popping out of your recycling container?

Don’t worry. Let’s get rid of them.

In this guide, we’ll talk about:

  • Common pests that thrive in recyclables
  • How to get rid of bugs in your recycle containers naturally
  • How to keep them away for good
  • And more

Sound good? Let’s have a pest-free, neat and tidy recycle bin.

What bugs hang around recycling containers?

Recyclables with bugs all over them.
The sugar residues left behind are a prime attractant for bugs!

All sorts of bugs tend to live and thrive in recycling bins.

They live off of the sugar residues which provides them with a source of food and they live in the cans and bottles.

Here are some of the most common pests you’ll come across hiding in your recyclables:

What are they eating from my recycling bin?

The bugs in your recycling container are eating the leftover sugar from your soda cans, juice bottles, and more.

The carbohydrates are a necessary nutrient for pests to thrive, so it’s not surprising that they’re attracted to it.

Also, sugar will grow fungus and mold over time, which can bring fleas, moths, and beetles to consume it. Then there are pests like cockroaches that’ll just eat about anything.

And don’t overlook ants. They’ll bite you when you try to handle the recyclables for recycling day. And they’re not pleasant to deal with.

So let’s talk about how you can protect your recyclables free from pests.

How to keep pests away from your recyclables

Bugs eating sugar on soda bottles.
With recyclables looking like this, why wouldn’t they infest the container?

Here are some methods to keep bugs away from your recycling bin.

Depending on the types of pests you have in your recyclables, this can be very easy or very difficult to do.

Some species are resilient and hard to eradicate, while others are easier to manage and control.


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Regardless, assess the pests that are crawling around your recycling containers and apply these remedies to keep them out.

See what works best for your situation.

Use bug-proof recycling containers

The easiest and most straightforward way?

Use bug-proof recycling containers for your home. There are plenty of different designs on the market and you can get the right size for your property or apartment.

Here are some of the most effective designs:

  • A recycling bin with a secure, locked lid
  • A plastic storage crate with fold-out locking mechanism
  • A step to open recycling container

These are basic designs, but they work.

If you’ve already tried one and bugs still got in, try a different one. Read some reviews. Do some research. Putting an hour or so devoted to research will save you hours of headache later.

Don’t use plastic bags

A lot of people store their cans, bottles, and other recyclable plastics in large trash bags.

You know, those black or clear bags with the paper-thin material. This does absolutely nothing to protect your recyclables from bugs.

Roaches, silverfish, and even ants can all eat through plastic recycling bags and so can moths and their larvae.

If you ever find a bunch of small flies that scatter when you check your aluminum cans or bottles, these may be because fly larvae ate through the bag and infested the bottles.

They may also have snuck their way into the container when you were depositing your cans, and then they thrive off the sugar, water, and carbs left behind on your drinks.

An easy way to test this is to empty out an infested bag and fill it up with water. If it leaks, then bugs have chewed through it and this is why they’re in there.

Don’t use cardboard or paper

Booklice will eat books that have molded.
Books are the prime target for psocids.

Similar to using plastic bags, avoid cardboard.

Pests can chew through the paper, and cardboard also attracts ants, booklice, and termites.

Plus, cardboard that’s been soaked with water also breaks down and critters will eat it to consume the cellulose fibers as food. Avoid cardboard or paper-based storage containers for your cans and bottles.

Don’t let bugs get into the container

Even with the most bug-proof bins, pests can still find their way into it and infest it when it’s sealed up.

They can sneak inside and start breeding and feeding off of the residues left on your recyclables. Bugs can get inside your recycle bin when you first set it up or every time you open it to drop off some cans or bottles.

You’ll want to make it fast because all it takes is a few insects to get in and start a colony of bugs that’ll greet you the next time you open up your container.

If you suspect that there’s a nest underway, empty it out and clean it with a mixture of dish soap and water or diluted vinegar.

Clean your recyclables before depositing them

As you know, the only reason insects are drawn to your used cans and bottles are because of the leftover carbs and sugar deposits on the edges of them.

Get into the habit of giving them a quick rinse with hot water to remove some of those sticky substances that they eat.

Do this right after you’re done drinking from the container because they quickly become sticky after a few hours. You’ll want to rinse it when it’s still fresh so it comes off easily.

Bugs like ants will quickly scout out the leftover sugar and form a trail right into your container to feed off of it. Wasps and flies will also quickly swarm over the leftover residue from your soda, juice, or alcohol.

Some pests will also drink the water you used to rinse the cans, so let it evaporate before tossing it in your recycling bin.

You can also dump the water for your plants to upcycle it- as long as it’s not overly sweet.

Use a plastic liner on the inside to catch spills

Place a plastic liner, such as a small tarp or vinyl panel on at the bottom of your bin, container, crate, or barrel.

This will catch any spillage from the soda or juice and make it easier to clean. If you don’t line your recyclables container, it’ll build up with sticky residue over time and become very difficult to clean.

Bugs will be drawn to the carbs as bait and eat it, which just continues the bug problem on your property.

All you need to do is some kind of waterproof material.

Vinyl can be cut into the perfect size to fit your recycle bin and you can tape it to the sides of the container about 2” up from the bottom.

You can also line the entire container if you wish to make it super simple to clean. Any residues that don’t come off the liner don’t matter because you can replace the entire thing as needed.

Buy a larger piece in bulk and cut it to size. Then save the remaining piece for the future to prevent further pest infestations in your bin.

Place pest-repelling plants near your recyclable materials

Mint repels plaster bagmoths.
Mint can be a powerful repellent to plaster bagworms.

There are plenty of plants that can help keep insects away from your recyclables.

Some plants are geared towards flying pests like wasps and bees. Others are more suited for crawling ones like slugs and snails. Do some research on the plants that grow in your hardiness zone and find out which ones you can easily grow.

Popular choices include basil, rosemary, catnip, petunia, onion, borage, lavender, marigold, and garlic.

Check out this resource for a complete list.

Use smaller recycle bins

Avoid using huge storage containers because this makes you wait for a long time before taking your recyclables to the recycling center.

There could be bugs eating up the bottom layer of your cans and bottles without you even knowing.

Over time, their population will grow exponentially, so you’ll be dealing with a huge pest problem later on. Recycling often will help prevent this because you’ll notice the infestation and also eliminate the nest before it’s out of control.

This can be done by using multiple, smaller recycle bins rather than a giant trash can or container.

Move your recyclables to a secure location

Sometimes it’s much easier to just relocate your container to somewhere else that’s less prone to bug infestations. If you leave it outdoors in your yard, it’s a prime target.

But if you move it somewhere with cover and protection, such as a garage or basement, it makes it a lot more difficult for pests to get to it.

Keep in mind though, that if it already has a definite pest problem, moving it into your home can release those bugs into a new place.

So you only want to this with a container that’s 100% free of pests before you relocate. Or you can buy a new storage container and start an entirely new recycling system.

Stop using the bin in your garden and start using the new on in the garage. This will prevent bugs from getting to the new container altogether and makes it easy.

Sprinkle diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth DIY pest repellent.
Diatomaceous earth is an awesome pest killer and repellent.

Diatomaceous earth is an effective, natural bug killer and repellent you can use to treat a variety of pests.

Buy food grade, pure diatomaceous earth only. You can get it online or from some department stores.

Put on your long sleeves, gloves, goggles, and other protective equipment and grab the bag of DE. Sprinkle it outside around your recycle bin.

Make a barrier of powder that pests have to walk over to get to your bottles. You can even put some inside your container to kill them there. Any crawling insect that walks over the powder will get a bunch of tiny cuts in their external body, which will then dehydrate them over time.

You don’t need to use a lot- just a fine powder to the point where it’s barely visible is enough.

Diatomaceous earth can kill ants, roaches, silverfish, earwigs, fleas, houseflies, spiders, and more. It’s also regarded as safe for pets and people , but you should still keep your pets away and have others avoid contact just to be safe.

DE lasts and remains effective as long as it’s dry. If it rains or there are heavy winds, you’ll need to reapply it.

Place sticky traps

You can buy sticky tape or sticky traps from any hardware store or online and use them to catch both flying and crawling insects.

They’re affordable and a completely passive way to catch any potential pests that could infest your containers.

Depending on the type of pest that’s in your recycling bin, you can adjust the application as needed:

  • Line the perimeter of the container with sticky tape at the bottom and top to catch crawling insects that climb up your bin
  • Line the inside of your recycle bin with sticky tape- you can tape around the edges horizontally or vertically
  • Hang sticky traps around your recyclables
  • Place sticky tape as a barrier to keep bugs out anywhere you suspect pest activity
  • Continually monitor the sticky tape and traps to see if they’re working. You may also see pests you never knew you had and can treat them accordingly.

Keep your recycling bins off the ground

Elevate your recycle containers and keep them off the floor to prevent bugs from getting inside.

This works well against smaller crawling insects like silverfish, cockroaches, and earwigs.

You can use anything from an old wooden pallet to cinder blocks. The best part is that you can use natural repellents on the stand as another barrier to keep bugs out of your recyclables.

You can sprinkle diatomaceous earth, spray essential oils, use sticky tape, or even line it with commercial pesticides.

Cinder blocks have a lot of pores that can house liquids like essential oils, vinegar, and other repellents for an extended period of time. This makes it so you don’t have to constantly re-apply bug deterrents over and over.

How to keep bugs away from your recyclables for good

A messy pile of recyclables attracts bugs.
Keep it clean. Keep it organized.

You can use a combination of the techniques outlined in this guide to help control and manage pests that live in your recyclables.

Use a combination of DIY remedies like diatomaceous earth, sticky traps, essential oils, switching containers or moving them, and keeping them off the ground entirely.

This will help keep bugs away permanently so you never have to deal with a torrid of ants eating up your soda sugar residues the next time you need to go recycling again.

Further reading

Here are some resources you may find useful:

Did you get rid of the bugs in your recyclables?

Pest-proof recycle container.
A pest-free recycle bin means less headaches (and bites) in the future.

You should have everything you need to know to keep bugs out of your recyclables.

The nice part about finding bugs drinking up your bits of leftover soda and juice is that they’re all disposable. The containers can be thrown out and replaced with new ones so you can get rid of the current infestations and start all over.

With the home remedies outlined in this guide, you’ll be able to get rid of current pests and keep future bugs away from your recycle bins.

If you have any questions, leave a comment for me below. Or if you have any tips to share with other readers, post them as well!

Thanks for reading. Please consider telling a friend about this guide if you found it (somewhat) useful!

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