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11 Things You Think Are Recyclable But They’re Not

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 recyclablevincent noel/Shutterstock

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 CapsJiri Vaclavek/Shutterstock

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 messAlenKadr/Shutterstock

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 BagsNatalie Board/Shutterstock

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 Hangersndquang/Shutterstock

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 ceramicsDarklight/Shutterstock


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 glassBirute Vijeikiene/Shutterstock

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 CupsPam Walker/Shutterstock


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 PaperNongnuch_L/Shutterstock

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 CartonsSunnyToys/Shutterstock

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 PaperMaria Uspenskaya/Shutterstock

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.

Rachel Brougham
Rachel Brougham lived through a major home renovation in 2019, knows the ups and downs of home improvement, and loves sharing tips with readers. A veteran journalist of both print and television, she’s won several awards for her writing and has covered everything from the environment and education to health care, politics and food. She’s written for several publications beyond newspapers including Bob Vila, Taste of Home and Minnesota Parent, and she currently writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column. Her memoir, Widowland, about the sudden loss of her husband, was published in 2022. She specializes in everything from home decor and design to lawn and garden, product reviews and pet care. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her tending to her garden (both vegetables and native plants), playing with her dog, watching sports with her family or getting some exercise. A native of Michigan, she currently lives in Minneapolis. An avid user of Instagram, you can follow her @RachBrougham.