Sustainable Gifting Made Easy!

Surprising Items That AREN'T Recyclable

Recycling is something we all *hopefully* do on a daily basis and to be frank, it makes us feel a bit better. We’re being mindful and helping keep items out of landfills. Recycling is important because it allows us to produce products without having to mine, refine, and process new raw materials. Recycling saves energy and reduces greenhouse gasses. By recycling we are promoting a more conscious recycling consumer economy versus linear. We all agree, recycling is good and we must do it. (next steps will be diving into a true circular economy, but let’s just master a true recycling economy first)

But, recycling improperly can cause a massive headache at your local recycling plant. Here are 15 of the most surprising items that CANNOT be recycled!


15 Surprising Items That Can't Be Recycled: 

    1. Waxed Paper Boxes (like juice boxes and broth) - There are many items that we conveniently purchase in waxed cartons like broth, juice, and milk. Unfortunately this convenient packaging should not be recycled, because the wax fibers on the coating won’t break down properly. Other products with wax coatings, such as waxed paper, silicone baking paper, waxed baking cups, and most frozen food boxes, should also be tossed in the trash.
    2. Paper Towels or Used Napkins - these items, if clean can be recycled, but the moment you use a paper towel to wipe up a mess it looses it's recyclability. This is because the thing paper fibers in paper towels and napkins absord the foreign materials which, are not recyclable. The better solution is to compost your used napkins and paper towels (as long as they aren't greasy)
    3. Pizza Boxes - This one always comes as a huge surprise to people! Pizza boxes are made from corrugated cardboard, which is recyclable—but the grease that fills and now coats the box causes a problem. Once the box gets soaked with pizza grease and cheese, it cannot be recycled because it contaminates the recycling process when the cardboard is turned into pulp. 
    4. Wet or Shredded Paper -Standard paper is very recyclable, but wet or shredded paper can get tangled and caught up in the machinery at the recycling plant
    5. Plastic Lids - Frustrating! Most screw-off plastic lids from water bottles/beverages are not recyclable. The reason for this is because the small plastic lids tend not to be made with the same plastic as the bottle. To be sure, several kinds of plastic lids are okay to throw in the recycle bin, but those caps will usually marked with the recycling symbol. Most lids and caps on water, soda, and detergent bottles are made from polypropylene, also known as plastic #5, which can't be recycled. No matter what, recycle your bottles and their caps separately (do not put the cap back on the bottle and then put it in the recycling bin). Mixing them (IE: having the cap still on the bottle) will contaminate the recycling process.
    6. Plastic Utensils - Plastic utensils and some disposable straws contain plastic #6 (polystyrene). Because this material costs big bucks to recycle, most municipalities will not accept your plastic serving items. It's simply too cost-heavy for them to process #6.  
    7. Plastic shopping bags and plastic wrap. Plastic grocery bags should never be put in your curbside recycling bin. They get tangled up in the equipment at recycling facilities and can actually shut down the entire plant. Recycle your grocery bags by taking them to a store drop-off location. Grocery stores and other retailers collect bags in large bins usually located at the front of the store. From there, the bags are sent to be recycled into plastic lumber for decking or park benches.
    8. Plastic Shower Curtains and Liners - Most plastic shower curtains and liners are constructed with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Because of the chemicals used in the manufacturing of PVC, these items can’t be broken down and recycled. They are, however, ripe for reuse: Try giving curtains a new life as outdoor tablecloths, drop cloths, drawer liners, or craft supplies.
    9. Coated Materials like chip bags, frozen food bags, etc - these items have mixed plastics that assist them in being the durable food containers that they are. They are structured to withstand high heat and freezing temperatures, which inhibits them from being able break down during the recycling process.
    10. Dyed Paper - Because the recycling process uses heat, the dye will come off of the paper and will stick on to other goods.
    11. Ceramic - ceramic and oven-safe dishes, bakeware, cookware, and serving pieces are designed to withstand high heat, so they have a higher melting point than conventional glass. For this reason, most recycling centers will turn away these handy kitchen necessities
    12. Styrofoam - Styrofoam and polystyrene containers (egg cartons, fast food take-out boxes, coffee cups, and the like) aren’t recyclable—and even worse, they don't biodegrade in landfills. Many restaurant chains have shifted away from styrofoam and polystyrene packaging, and homeowners should consider doing the same.
    13. Bubble Wrap- Like plastic bags, bubble wrap can’t be placed in curbside recycling. However, grocery stores often have special recycling bins for bags and plastic wrap, including bubble wrap. You can also search Earth 911’s extensive database of recycling solutions.
    14. Clothing Hangars - Metal hangers have an odd shape, which can get caught on recycling equipment. Meanwhile plastic hangers are often made of mixed materials, so they can’t be placed in single stream recycling bins. And wood hangers are treated, so they can’t be recycled at all. Many dry cleaners and thrift stores will accept donated hangers. Hangers that are broken or beyond use should be thrown away or repurposed.
    15. Wrapping Paper - The next time you reach for a new roll of wrapping paper, think about this—approximately 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper is produced in the U.S. each year, and about 2.3 million pounds ends up in landfills. That shiny, glittery wrapping paper is laminated with plastic, foil or other non-paper materials; making it non-recyclable. The exceptions are 100% paper wrapping paper and pre-recycled wrapping paper.


Recycling can vary based off of where you live and local waste management abilities, and can even differ where you work, live, and play in your community. Some locations may accept more recyclable materials while others may accept different recyclables. So it’s always good to educate yourself on what your local guidelines are!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published