What Can You Not Recycle {Explained!}

By Rebekah Pierce

There are many items you can recycle, and then there are the items that you can’t. It’s important to know which items fall into which category so you can properly recycle them. Here is a list of some common items that you cannot recycle.

23 Things That Can’t Be Recycled

Here are a few things you should toss in the trash instead of the recycling bin (or find another environmentally-friendly way to dispose of them).

Check out some general tips for recycling in the video below:

1. Food Waste Or Food Tainted Items

Food waste makes up a significant portion of the average person’s trash, and it is estimated that as much as 40 percent of the food produced in the United States ends up going to waste. 

Food-tainted items are also common culprits in the recycling bin. Unfortunately, these items can’t be recycled because they are contaminated with food particles or grease. As a result, they must be disposed of in landfills or incinerators. 

2. Windows And Mirrors

While it’s possible to recycle the glass from windows and mirrors, the process is significantly more complicated than recycling other types of glass. As a result, most recycling facilities don’t accept these materials.

3. Plastic Wrap, Packing Peanuts, And Bubble Wrap

While it may seem like common sense to recycle plastic wrap, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap, the reality is that these items are not recyclable. 

The main reason for this is that they are made of multiple types of plastic, which makes them difficult to sort and recycle. In addition, plastic wrap is often contaminated with food waste, which can make it even more difficult to recycle. 

And finally, packing peanuts and bubble wrap are often too small to be sorted by recycling facilities. 

4. Wax Boxes

You recycle your water bottles and soda cans, but what about those take-out boxes covered in wax? While it may seem like they can be recycled, most recycling plants cannot process them. 

The wax coating makes the paper too oily to be repulped, and the box is too light to be sent through the de-inking process. As a result, these boxes typically end up in landfills. However, there are some companies that are working on ways to recycle wax-coated containers.

5. Photographs

Photographs are made of a type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is not currently recyclable. PET is also used to make soda bottles and food containers, so it’s not surprising that people assume it can be recycled like other types of plastic. However, the recycling process for PET is different from other plastics, and it’s not yet possible to recycle photographs.

6. Medical Waste

Medical waste is a type of waste that includes anything that comes into contact with blood or other bodily fluids. 

This can include bandages, gloves, needles, and even used syringes. While most medical waste can be recycled, there are some exceptions. For example, used syringes cannot be recycled due to the risk of infection. 

Similarly, any items that have come into contact with radiation must be disposed of as hazardous waste. Medical waste also cannot be thrown away in regular trash cans. Instead, it must be placed in special containers and disposed of through a medical waste disposal service. 

7. Hazardous Chemicals And Their Containers

Chemicals are not designed to be recycled. They are made from a variety of different materials, including metals, plastics, and glass. These materials cannot be melted down and reformed into new containers. 

8. Foam Egg Cartons

Egg cartons are made of Styrofoam, a type of plastic that is not recyclable. Foam is difficult to recycle because it is light and bulky, making it hard to compress. 

9. Plastic Toys Or Sporting Equipment

In particular, plastic toys and sporting equipment are two items that are often not accepted by recycling programs. There are a few reasons for this. First, many plastic toys and sports equipment are made from multiple types of plastic, which makes them difficult to recycle. 

Second, these items often contain other materials, such as metal or glass, which also complicate the recycling process. Finally, toys and sports equipment often have complex shapes that make them difficult to break down into recyclable materials.

10. Wood

Wood is a natural material that decomposes over time, making it unsuitable for recycling. When wood is placed in a recycling bin, it takes up valuable space that could be used for other recyclable materials. In addition, the process of breaking down wood produces methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. As a result, recycling wood is generally not considered to be an environmentally-friendly option.

11. Yard Waste

Yard waste, such as leaves and grass clippings, is considered to be “green waste” because it is biodegradable. This means that it will break down over time, making it difficult to recycle. 

12. Light Bulbs

Light bulbs contain a variety of materials, including glass, metal, and mercury, which makes them difficult to recycle.

13. Ceramics/Kitchenware 

 Ceramics and kitchenware are generally not accepted by recycling programs. This is because they are made from a variety of different materials, which makes them difficult to sort and recycle.

14. Bagged Recyclables 

Bagged recyclables are also generally not accepted, as the bags can get caught in the sorting machines. In addition, many people put non-recyclable items in their recycling bags, which contaminates the rest of the recyclables.

15. Anything That Can Tangle 

Some examples of items that should not be recycled include: hair ties, twist ties, hangers, cords, and electrical wires. While it may be tempting to toss these items into the bin, it’s important to remember that they can do more harm than good. 

16. Batteries

Batteries contain heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, which can leach into the ground and contaminate drinking water. 

17. Diapers

Diapers contain cellulose, a biodegradable compound that breaks down into methane gas when it decomposes. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

18. Electronics

Electronics often contain toxic materials, such as lead and mercury, which can be released into the environment if the item is not properly disposed of. 

19. Propane Cylinders

Propane cylinders are made of steel, which is difficult to recycle. It is also hard to remove the contaminants from the propane.

20. Multi-Layer Bags And Wrappers Or Bulky Plastic Items

Multi-layer bags and wrappers, as well as bulky plastic items, cannot be recycled because they are made from a mix of different types of plastics. This makes it difficult to separate the different types of plastics so that they can be properly recycled. As a result, these items often end up in landfills.

21. Textiles And Clothing

There are a number of reasons why textiles and clothing cannot be recycled. For one, these materials are made from a variety of different fibers, which makes them difficult to separate and recycle. In addition, textile and clothing waste is often contaminated with food, grease, or other substances, which can make recycling impractical or impossible.

22. Lids

It may seem harmless enough, but those lids can actually wreak havoc on the recycling process.

The problem is that lids are often made of different materials than their corresponding containers. For example, a water bottle might be made of PET plastic, while its lid could be made of HDPE. 

This can create problems for recycling facilities, which use a process called “materials recovery” to sort and process recyclables. When kids are mixed in with other materials, they can contaminate the batch and make it more difficult (and expensive) to recycle.

23. Styrofoam

Styrofoam is also difficult to recycle because it is light and bulky, making it hard to transport. In addition, most recycling facilities do not have the equipment needed to recycle styrofoam. As a result, styrofoam often ends up in landfills, where it takes hundreds of years to break down.

Be Conscientious About What Goes In The Recycling Bin

So, what can you not recycle? 

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of recycling and what can be recycled, it’s important to know some of the items that are commonly put in the recycling bin but cannot actually be recycled. This will ensure that your recyclables don’t end up in a landfill and help keep our environment clean. 

If you have any questions about recycling or want more information on how to recycle specific materials, please contact your local waste management authority. And remember, always check with your municipality before trying to recycle anything.

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