14 items you shouldn’t toss in the recycling bin

Recycling one ton of paper saves enough energy to power the average home for six months, saves 7,000 gallons of water and massively reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to power a television for two hours, a computer for three hours or a 14-watt CFL light bulb for 20 hours. Recycling is obviously important, and is something everyone can do without much effort. But there are some things that simply cannot be recycled, and tossing them into the recycling bin can create unnecessary work for the good folks at your local waste management center.

Learn about some of the most common culprits that mistakenly end up in the recycling bin so that you can reduce, reuse and recycle responsibly.

1. Plastic Bags

Actually, plastic bags can be recycled; they just require a different process from other plastic recyclables. Rather than tossing plastic bags, wraps, films or bubble wrap into your home recycling bin, find a local drop-off location here. Many grocery and retail stores have boxes near the front of the store where you can stuff those bags and keep them out of landfills. Better yet, switch to reusable bags and nix the plastic ones altogether!


2. Clothes Hangers

Whether they’re made of wire or plastic, many recycling centers will not accept clothes hangers because they can jam the machinery. If you have too many hangers, most dry cleaners will gladly accept the wire version. Check with your favorite thrift store to see if they will accept your plastic hangers.

wire clothes hangers photo
Flickr | EvelynGiggles

3. Styrofoam

Technically known as expanded polystyrene (EPS), this is another iffy material. You can check with your local waste management office to see if they accept EPS, as some do. If not, try to find a way to reuse it, or look for a recycling center near you that will accept it.


4. Mixed-Grade Paper

Paper has only so many “lives” before it is too degraded to be recycled. Shredding paper uses up one of those lives and makes it more difficult to recycle along with high-grade paper. Similarly, items made of recycled paper may not be recyclable. Check with your local recycling center to find out whether they can accept these items.

shredded paper photo
Flickr | Joe Shlabotnik

5. Paper Towels

There are multiple reasons why you should not toss paper towels, napkins, tissues and similar items into your recycle bin. First, these paper products are typically created from paper that has been through the recycling process several times and is no longer usable. In addition, they often contain substances that could ruin other recyclables, such as grease and food.

paper towel roll photo
Flickr | thousandshipz

6. Takeout Containers

While they may be comprised of sturdy, reusable cardboard or plastic No. 1 (the same as soda bottles), pizza boxes, Chinese food containers and other hot food packages cannot be recycled. This is because of the food and grease that remain, breeding bacteria and contaminating other recyclables.

pizza box photo
Flickr | Marc Wathieu

7. Milk Cartons And Juice Boxes

Aseptic cartons, such as those used to contain milk, juice, coconut water and wine, among other liquids, are made using a combination of paper, polyethylene and aluminum foil. Because of this, many recycling centers are unable to recycle them.

milk carton photo
Getty Images | Mario Tama

8. Plastic Toys

Many children’s playthings are primarily plastic, but also contain other elements — such as metal or plastic resin — which makes them nearly impossible to recycle. Even those that are 100 percent plastic can have parts and shapes that might jam machinery. Consider donating unbroken toys or those that can be repaired to your favorite thrift store instead.

plastic toy photo
Flickr | woodleywonderworks

9. Gift Wrap

Bows are made of  a plastic-paper composite that cannot be recycled. Keep and reuse them or give them up altogether. Wrapping paper can be recycled, but only if it does not have any glitter, flocking or other embellishments on it.

wrapping paper photo
Flickr | torbakhopper

10. Glass Bakeware

Heat-resistant glass bakeware cannot be recycled because of the process used to create it. Since the glass has been heat-treated to make it oven-, microwave- and dishwasher-safe, it will not melt with ordinary glass during recycling.

pyrex photo
Flickr | Robert Couse-Baker

11. Foil Chip Bags

Most packages for potato chips, some snack cakes and other munchies are made from aluminum laminated with polypropylene, which makes them difficult to recycle. However, you can mail certain snack bags to Terracycle, which will recycle them and give you rewards.

chip bags photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

12. To-Go Cups

It’s just a little paper cup; there should be no problem with tossing it in the recycling bin, right? Unfortunately, no. Because they’re often laminated with plastic or polyethylene to make them waterproof, most recycling centers are unable to process coffee and other to-go cups. Britain may even place an added fee on the cups to encourage patrons to tote reusable cups instead.

paper coffee cup photo
Flickr | Dhinal Chheda

13. Plastic Utensils

The rigid plastic used to make disposable forks, knives, spoons and sporks is not recyclable. Manufacturers use a variety of materials and do not label individual utensils. Their shapes make them difficult to bale, as well.

plastic fork spoon photo
Flickr | Steve Snodgrass

14. Diapers

Although it seems this should go without saying, disposable diapers (soiled or clean) should not be dropped in the recycling bin. Unfortunately, they arrive at local recycling centers in mass amounts on a daily basis. Dump them in the trash or switch to cloth.

diapers photo
Flickr | IngaMun

[h/t: The New York Times]