11 Things You Think Are Recyclable But They’re Not

Updated: Mar. 05, 2024

Hold up—don't toss those empty containers in the recycling bin just yet! While it's great to recycle as much as possible, there are some items that don't belong in that bin. Here's a look at 11 things you think are recyclable but they're not.

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Empty pizza box not recyclable
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Some Takeout Containers

You just built a stacked recycling tower to save space and you want to use it, but hold off on filling it with pizza boxes and Chinese takeout containers. Leave grease-soaked boxes and other cardboard containers, or anything with leftover food particles out of your recycling bin as they can damage or contaminate other recyclable materials.

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Plastic Bottle Caps
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Plastic Bottle Caps

You may be able to recycle the bottle, but the plastic bottle cap probably isn’t recyclable because they’re often made from a type of plastic that can’t be recycled. When it comes to recycling bottles, make sure they are crushed before sending them off to the recycling facility.

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dirty paper towel mess

Some Paper Products

Paper products such as paper towels, tissues and napkins are considered too contaminated to be recyclable. Instead of paper napkins, try using washable, cloth napkins for a more sustainable home. Some boxes, such as those used for frozen foods, also may not be recyclable since they have a coating that can’t be broken down properly in the recycling process.

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Plastic Grocery Bags
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Plastic Grocery Bags

Just because it’s made of plastic doesn’t mean it’s recyclable. Instead, use cloth grocery bags or try one of these 15 brilliant ways to reuse plastic grocery bags.

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Wire Hangers

Wire Hangers

Your local dry cleaner may take your old wire hangers, but many recycling facilities will not since they are not set up to deal with wire. Keep a couple wire hangers around to help unclog a kitchen sink. You can also use wire hangers to keep paint cans clean.

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broken tea cup ceramics


If your favorite coffee mug breaks, it likely belongs in the trash, not the recycling bin as many recyclers cannot accept them. If you have several broken mugs and dishes, contact your local recycling facility to see if they will accept them—some facilities may grind them up to be used in other ways.

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broken glass
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Some Types of Glass

While broken glass is recyclable, it shouldn’t be tossed in your recycling bin as it can injure workers. Instead, check with your local facility to see if they accept broken glass. Glass items such as Pyrex baking dishes, light bulbs, mirrors and eyeglasses are also among the glass items that should not be recycled.

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Styrofoam Cups
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Styrofoam cannot be recycled and it does not biodegrade. Try limiting your use of Styrofoam coffee cups, food containers and packing peanuts.

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Shredded Paper

Shredded Paper

While paper is often recyclable, shredded paper can be a problem for recycling facilities since it is difficult to sort. Instead, use it as mulch, for packing or use it for stuffing to make one of these 14 adorable DIY dog beds.

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Paper Milk Drink Cartons

Some Drink Cartons

Before you toss the orange juice box into your recycling bin, make sure it has the recycling symbol on it. The plastic coating on many of these containers makes them unsuitable for recycling. If the carton can’t be recycled, try turning it into a cool birdhouse.

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Colored Paper
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Colored Paper

Paper that is heavily dyed is often heat-treated which may contaminate it and make it unrecyclable. Try turning colorful poster board into art for a fun rainy-day art project with the kids.