What Items Can't Be Recycled?

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While most people are aware of the importance of recycling and the benefits it can provide to the environment, not everyone understands that there is a distinction between what can and cannot be recycled. If you're interested in going and green and stepping up your recycling efforts, you may be surprised at what types of things you can't send to the recycling bin.

Take-Out Food Containers

While your late-night pizza or Chinese takeout may come in cardboard containers, these types of boxes cannot be recycled. Any grease or food particles that may be present can potentially damage and/or contaminate the other materials that are to be recycled (See References 4).

Plastic Grocery Bags

Many people think that if something is made out of plastic, it can be recycled but this does not apply to plastic bags, since they have a tendency to get caught in recycling machinery and potentially damage the equipment (See References 1) . If you're interested in recycling plastic bags, check to see if your local grocery store will accept your old plastic bags for reuse.

Plastic Bottle Caps

If you recycle plastic bottles, such as water or soda bottles, detergent bottles or other containers with a hard plastic twist-off or flip-top cap, be sure to remove them before tossing them in the recycling bin. These types of caps are typically made from polypropylene, or plastic #5, and can't be recycled (See References 4).


Styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene, of any kind cannot be recycled. This includes packing peanuts used in moving boxes, styrofoam coffee cups or food containers, coolers, etc. Styrofoam can neither be recycled nor does it biodegrade and you should be careful to limit your use of these types of products (See References 2).

Certain Paper Products

There are certain types of paper products that can't be recycled, either because of issues related to contamination or issues related to their composition. Napkins, paper towels and tissue are generally considered too contaminated to recycle (See References 4) . Paper that is laminated or has a plastic coating, such as a frozen food box, cannot be recycled because the coatiing prevents the fibers from being broken down properly during the recycling process (See References 1).

Certain Types of Glass

Glassware and ceramics are designed with a higher melting point than other types of glass and cannot be recycled (See References 1). Pyrex baking dishes, lightbulbs, fluorescent lighting, window glass, mirrors, plate glass, eyeglasses and glass art should also be left out of the recycling bin (See References 2).

Shredded Paper

Shredded paper represents a problem for recycling plants because of the difficulty involved in sorting the recyclable paper from the nonrecyclable material. Shredded paper can also potentially clog up the machinery and can be difficult to handle. Consider sending your shredded paper to the compost pile instead (See References 1).