7 Surprising Things You Should Not Recycle

  • Published on November 2nd, 2012

According to an Ipsos poll, 87 percent of American adults recycle regularly and nearly 51 percent recycle every day. While more and more people are learning about the benefits of recycling and taking action, there are many common mistaken non-recyclables that get thrown in the green bin that shouldn’t be there. It’s just as important to know what to recycle as it is to know what not to recycle.

Recycle globe image via Shutterstock

When you don’t know whether an item is recyclable, consult websites like www.republicservices.com, or another similar resource. These sites usually have a guide on what can go in your bin and what can’t. According to Good.is, 50 percent of people simply throw away an item if they are questioning recyclability. Knowing some basic guidelines for figuring out what to keep out of your recycling can save you time and hassle and reduce waste.

Coated Materials

Also according to Good.is, 73 percent of people believe they can recycle juice boxes — you can’t. Things like juice boxes, chip bags, frozen food boxes, and other materials that have a plastic, glossy or shiny coating are not recyclable.

Food-Stained Materials

Materials like pizza boxes, used paper plates, napkins, paper towels, and jars with food residue should not be put in a recycling bin. While the materials themselves are recyclable, once they are contaminated with food they are useless. According to Earth 911, grease and other elements in food can harm the recycling process and can gum up recycling machines and cause issues a lot worse than a few pieces of trash.

Lids and Caps

One of the most common recycling mistakes to make is leaving the cap on your water bottle when throwing it in the recycling can. According to DIY Life, while the bottle itself can be recycled, the cap is made out of a different kind of plastic called polypropylene that has to be recycled separately. This goes for laundry-detergent caps and peanut-butter lids, too. Most plastics have numbers that determine where they should be recycled. No. 1 and No. 2 can usually be recycled with everything else. If it is No. 5 (polypropylene) or another number, it probably needs to be separated.

Paper

According to Earth 911, a sheet of paper can be recycled five or six times. However, shredding paper destroys the fibers and makes it difficult to recycle. Brightly colored paper can be a bigger problem and ruin a whole batch of recycling paper. Earth 911 quotes Dan Baril, recycling program manager at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who said: “It’s like the red sock in the white load sort-of-syndrome.”

Plastic Grocery Bags

Plastic bags from the grocery store can be detrimental to recycling equipment because they wrap around the machinery and can shut down operation. Earth 911 reports that most grocery stores in the U.S. offer special recycling programs for plastic bags and film.

Cosmetics

So many blended elements go in to cosmetics that they usually cannot be processed with the rest of your recyclables. Fortunately, according to DIY Life, cosmetic companies, such as Origins, offer recycling services for any type of makeup, regardless of the brand. Simply drop off tubs, jars, or cases at any local store.

Special Recyclables

According to Brandeis University, items like batteries, CFL bulbs, cell phones, and printer cartridges can all be recycled but need to be disposed of in a special way because of potential hazardous materials or chemicals. This usually involves wrapping the materials up and placing them in a special bin or facility. Contact your local-recycling service to find out where to take these.

Author Bio: Justin Greig is a self-proclaimed “21st century hippie,” Justin studied Journalism at Berkeley and freelances for many environmental publications. He has a special interest in conservation, and he and his wife recently added solar panels to their home.


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  • Ed Reid

    Many residential programs that collect food scraps and yard waste accept food-soiled materials since they can be composted. This can include milk cartons with plastic removed, napkins, paper towels, pizza boxes, and waxed cardboard.

    It’s best to check with your local provider to see what’s accepted.

  • Ed Reid

    Many residential programs that collect food scraps and yard waste accept food-soiled materials since they can be composted. This can include milk cartons with plastic removed, napkins, paper towels, pizza boxes, and waxed cardboard.

    It’s best to check with your local provider to see what’s accepted.