What We Thought Could Be Recycled…and What Actually Can’t

At some point, we’ve all thrown something in the recycling bin that shouldn’t go there, thinking that we’re helping out Planet Earth, but being ignorant in the ways of recycling.

In different areas, different items are simply not recyclable: varieties of glass, plastic, and paper to name a few. Make sure to check with your town’s service provider to know your area’s specific non-recyclables, but we’ve compiled a general list of items that are non-recyclables for you.

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Aerosol Cans

Yes, technically, these cans are metal. However, they contain chemicals and propellants, verifying them as a hazardous material. They are very flammable, so before recycling, make sure you’ve used up its contents before disposing of it in accordance with your town’s municipal systems.

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Firstly, stop buying single-use batteries, buy rechargeable ones that last longer, and are more effective. A side bonus is helping out the environment, which isn’t a bad deal. Batteries should be recycled separately from your general recycling, most often your town should have an electronic and battery dispose of for your convenience.

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Brightly Dyed Paper

You would think that any type of paper is recyclable, right? WRONG. These heavily-dyed papers are made with heat-treatment, which contaminates the paper immediately. This makes it non-recyclable, so opt for the environmentally friendly paper at the store.

Pottery or Ceramics

When you recycle ceramics and pottery into the generic curbside recyclables, it weakens the recycled product, thus not helping the environment at all. However, when properly recycled according to your town’s rules, crushed ceramics and pottery are often used to help in weakened drainage systems and as rock bases for most driveways.

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The paper and plastic in diapers are non-biodegradable, which means they won’t decompose. Instead of single-use diapers, opt for cloth ones that can be reused multiple times.

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Hazardous Waste

This list includes household chemicals, motor oil, antifreeze, and other liquid coolants. They are not commonly recycled items, meaning that your town individually should tell you how to recycle them.

Juice Boxes Yogurt Cups, and Other Coated Cardboard Drink Containers

Paperboard boxes are not like juice boxes or cardboard drink containers. These are treated with kaolin clay which the manufacturers use to improve the printing surface of the box. This has to be removed during the recycling process or else it contaminates the rest of the recycled products. Some manufacturers have started producing recyclable containers that are specifically marked – otherwise your local recycling program will tell you how to recycle these items. Many centers don’t recycle plastics with the numbers three through seven. These items are typically food containers such as yogurt cups, butter tubs, and oil bottles.

Recycling Works: Are Napkins and Paper Towels Recyclable?
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Napkins, Wet Paper Shredded Paper, and Paper Towels

These are generally not recyclable because of the contents they might have absorbed, contaminating the recycled products. Instead, try and get reusable cloths in the house, or compostable items that help out the Earth even more. In general, most recycling companies don’t take paper items that are wet, since there is a risk of contamination as well as the fibers could be damaged. Shredded paper can be hard to recycle due to most of it not being plain paper. However, plain paper that has been shredded is also great for your compost or mulch.

Pizza Box (Recycling) Paradox | Framingham, MA Patch
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Pizza Boxes

These cardboard boxes may seem recyclable, but they have too much grease. Instead, opt for eating in, although, in the current pandemic, that might not be an option. Try cutting down your waste instead, then.

Amazon.com: R Noble Thank You Reusable Grocery Plastic Bags 300 Count:  Kitchen & Dining
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Plastic Bags, Wraps, Plastic-Coated Boxes, Plastic Food Boxes, Screw-On Tops, and Plastic Without Recycling Marks

These are the biggest problem in today’s world. Literally no explanation necessary. Whenever possible, don’t take them – opt for paper or reusable. Luckily most are realizing the impact of these items. If you do need them, try to clean and reuse them – and some grocers take them back! Dispose of them safely and according to your town rules. Screw on tops should be disposed of separately from recyclable plastic bottles due to their plastic makeup.

Foam food container - Wikipedia
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Styrofoam and Takeout Containers

Usually not compatible with recycling companies, but most towns have a special facility for these items. Take-out containers that are most often plastic have to be rinsed out thoroughly, otherwise, they could contaminate the recycling plant and are not accepted.

Amazon.com: Wire Hangers in Bulk - 100 White Metal Hangers - 18 Inch Thin  Standard Dry Cleaner Coated Steel: Kitchen & Dining
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Wire Hangers

These aren’t usually recyclable as most centers can’t physically recycle wires. However, they can be reused at most dry cleaners – they want them!!

All in all, your town’s recycling system has the final word as to what actually goes in your recycling bin. Some areas are more or less restrictive on the items we’ve compiled for your knowledge. Others have different programs for recycling. A great website for learning what recyclable centers are available is Earth911.com.

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