Sustainable Development

25 Surprising Things You Can’t Recycle

This post may contain references and links to products from our advertisers. We may receive commissions from certain links you click on our website. As an Amazon Associate Rhythm of the Home earns revenues from qualifying purchases.

Share this article:

We all mean well when we recycle different materials. Unfortunately, there are small details we often overlook, so it is a must to know what is actually going to be recycled and what will not be when you throw it in that single stream Waste Management or Republic bin. Otherwise, you will contaminate the recycling process or even add hazardous waste to your recycling bin. Let’s see what you cannot throw in the recycling bins or at least what surely won’t be recycled by your waste management provider.

1. Plastic Lids

In most cases, plastic lids and bottle caps cannot be recycled. This is because they are made of a different type of plastic compared to the bottle, so mixing them up contaminates the rest of the recycling batch. However, some lids or caps have the recycling symbol on them, which makes them suitable.

2. Paper Towels

Although we can recycle paper, paper towels are different. This is because when the paper is recycled, the quality lowers each time it goes through this process. When the lowest quality is reached, the final item it can be turned into is a paper towel. As a result, you cannot recycle paper towels, but you can add them to your compost heap in the garden.

3. Clothes Hangers

Any oddly shaped metal item, such as hangers, are not suitable for recycling because they can get caught in the equipment, turning into a serious safety hazard. Similarly, wooden hangers cannot be recycled because usually the wood they are made out of is treated. You can either get creative and repurpose your hanger or throw it away.

4. Pizza Boxes

Pizza boxes and other cardboard cannot be recycled if it is stained with grease or other food waste. Similarly, these organic remnants on the cardboard will contaminate the rest of the batch or even get stuck inside the recycling equipment. Make sure you do not recycle any soaked or dirty cardboard pieces.

5. Shredded Paper

Another type of paper that cannot be recycled is shredded or small pieces of paper. The main reason is that they are so lightweight that they will fly around the recycling plant. Some recycling centers offer a solution for this. But if your local recycling plant doesn’t offer any alternatives, you can simply add it to the compost heap and turn it into fertile soil for your plants.

6. Batteries

Depleted batteries are technically recyclable but less than 5% of batteries worldwide are actually recycled (and properly at that). That is mostly because the elements inside are very hard to take apart and they are generally hazardous waste, plus they have a corrosive nature that can put others at risk, including the risk of fire. In some cases, you might find special drop-off units for your used batteries at electronics stores like Best Buy but you have to realize that there is a high chance they will still end up in the landfill or simply not actually being recycled.

7. Plastic Bags and Plastic Wrap

Similar to shredded paper, plastic bags are too lightweight to be safe for recycling. In addition, they can twist and get caught in the recycling equipment, leading to dangerous situations. One solution is to check whether your local grocery stores have a collection bin for such bags or simply switch to eco-friendly, fabric bags that can be washed in your washing machine.

8. Meal Boxes

If you eat lots of frozen food, you must avoid throwing these boxes in the recycling bin. The main reason is the fact that the box is lined with a thin, basically invisible plastic coating that turns the box into a non-recyclable item. It is a shame that so many boxes that we use every day have these thin layers of plastic or metals but producers generally value the safety of the food more than the recycling difficulties that come up after you consume the food.

9. Broken Glass

Nearly all glass bottles and jars can be recycled, but you should not recycle any broken glass pieces. Some examples include mirrors, drinking glasses, plates, light tubes or light bulbs, broken windows, and many more.

10. Packing Peanuts

Everyone received at some point packing peanuts with their orders. They are made of non-recyclable polystyrene. If you have these in your home, you can reuse them whenever you want to send a package. At the same time, you can check with your local shipping service if they receive clean packing peanuts.

11. Laundry Detergent

It is best to eliminate waste and use up all of your detergents. However, if you notice you are allergic to it, or something else happens and cannot use it anymore, it is best to empty the bottle in the sink. If you throw away the washing liquid in the trash, it will contaminate the batch and might even end up inside the soil.

12. Plastic Straws and Utensils

Similar to the packing peanuts, plastic straws and utensils are made of polystyrene, so they cannot be recycled because it is a more resilient type of plastic that costs more to process. However, you can either throw them in the trash or use them in your next DIY project. Or even better, get metal utensils and metal straws.

13. Waxed Paper and Cartons

If you buy juice or milk in cartons, you might be tempted to recycle them. However, just as with the frozen meal boxes, the packaging contains a waxy coating that will not break down during the recycling process. Similar unrecyclable items include baking paper, waxed paper, and more. Some recycling centers do accept these cartons, but make sure you check with them first.

14. Receipts

As we’ve already mentioned above, small and lightweight pieces of paper or plastic should not be recycled. You can add your receipts to compost as long as they are not thermal. Thermal paper is a bit different compared to regular paper: it is shinier and glossy. If you want to reduce your waste, ask your local grocery store to email you the receipts instead.

15. Electronics

Any electronic devices, including mobile phones, TVs, and more, cannot be recycled. If the device is still functional, you can choose to donate it. Otherwise, look for a special recycling location that can process these elements and special materials.

16. Clamshell Containers

We all love berries, but these clamshell containers do not belong in the recycling bin. This is because they are made of low-grade plastic, and this is not commonly recycled in the US. Also, most containers and other clamshell containers are made of the same materials.

17. Plastic Shower Curtains

PVC is a material made of different chemicals, and it is a common plastic used for numerous household items, including shower curtains. Because of the substances used in the manufacturing process, PVC cannot be recycled. However, you can repurpose the shower curtains or linens into tablecloths and DIY projects.

18. Light Bulbs

Light bulbs are yet another common product that cannot be recycled. You can check with your local retailers if they collect these separately, but only for LED or CFL bulbs. Incandescent bulbs must be sent to a landfill.

19. Old and Unused Medicine

Needless to say, medicine is considered a biohazard, so we cannot recycle any needles, medicine containers and their contents, and other similar ones. Most local hospitals would be able to help you dispose of these safely.

20. Starbucks Hot Cups

Although coffee cups are made of cardboard, manufacturers also use a very thin layer of plastic to make sure that the cup doesn’t break in contact with the liquids. This layer is so thin that it is not possible to separate it from the cup, which means that these cups are not suitable for recycling.

21. Crushed Cans

If you want to save space and crush your cans, you should stop doing so – crushing them makes it difficult to be identified in the recycling center, so they will end up in a landfill. Fortunately, glass and aluminum are two materials that can be recycled endlessly, so you can protect the planet by recycling the undamaged cans.

22. Cleaning Products

It’s best to use the entire content of your cleaning products, but you should not recycle the remaining bottles. These could qualify as a biohazard, so they need to be disposed of appropriately. Check each label for further instructions on how to get rid of them.

23. Mattresses

If you have an old mattress, you should never leave these to decompose because they pollute the environment with greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, it’s best to check local donation services or a homeless center to see whether you can offer it to someone in need.

24. Treated Wood

Treated wood should not be recycled because of the chemicals in the finishing coat. Burning this wood is also forbidden, so it’s best to contact your local waste management company to ask for instructions, especially if you have a larger amount of treated wood.

25. Anything Smaller Than a Post-it Note

As a general rule, you cannot recycle anything smaller than a post-it note, regardless of the materials used. These can be chocolate or candy wrapper, pieces of aluminum foil, and everything in between. You can simply toss these ones as you do for the rest of the trash; otherwise, they can contaminate the recycling process.

By Stefan Bucur

Stefan is the founder and owner of Rhythm of the Home. He has 6 years of experience in home improvement, interior design, cleaning and organizing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *