The 5 Worst Things to Throw in the Recycling Bin

Updated: Oct. 13, 2023

Don't make the mistake of throwing these items in your home recycling bin.

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Woman holding a recycling bin
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What Not to Throw in Your Recycling Bin

Bill Keegan, president of recycling and waste management company Dem-Con, has seen it all in his 24 years in the recycling business. Here are five things he says should absolutely never be tossed into your home recycling bins, and what you can do with the items instead.

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Lithium ion battery
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Lithium-ion Batteries

These batteries can explode and catch fire when broken or crushed by machinery. They’re responsible for fires nearly every month at Dem-Con and other recycling centers in the country.

Instead: Visit Call2Recycle and punch in your ZIP code to find a battery drop-off center near you.

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Shredded paper
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Shredded Paper

This paper can contaminate entire batches of glass and other materials. It’s slippery underfoot, a cleanup nightmare, and can’t be recycled at some centers.

Instead: Compost, minimize shredding and take paper to local shredding events.

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Plastic bag
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Plastic Bags, Films and Tarps

Plastic bags and other similar items wrap around belts and rollers, stopping equipment and entire production lines.

Instead: Deposit bags in drop-off boxes at the entrances of most chain stores. Visit Plastic Film Recycling for exact locations.

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Extension cord
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Hoses, Wire and Extension Cords

It might seem obvious, but these items can’t be recycled because they tangle machinery and can be dangerous for workers to remove.

Instead: Repair broken hoses and extension cords. Otherwise, trash them.

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Sharp Items and Syringes

These items pose health hazards for recycling workers. Conveyor belts must be stopped to remove items safely.

Instead: Visit Safe Needle Disposal to learn about your state’s guidelines for disposal.

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Excerpt from A Walk Around the Block: Stoplight Secrets, Mischievous Squirrels, Manhole Mysteries & Other Stuff You See Every Day (And Know Nothing About)
By Spike Carlsen. Published by HarperOne. Copyright © 2020 HarperCollins.

About the author: Spike Carlsen served as editor and executive editor of The Family Handyman magazine for 15 years. “A Walk Around the Block,” which examines the inner workings, mysteries and histories of the world around us, is his seventh book. More information at