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10 Things You Think Are Recyclable—But Aren’t

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.

Close up of empty pizza box with greasy wax paper. Isolated.vincent 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. Learn about the things that other countries recycle but the Unites States doesn’t.

White dirty napkin isolated on white. with clipping pathAlenKadr/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. One thing that is recyclable after years of back and forth debate—plastic bottle caps (that you can keep on your bottles).

Full frame view of full plastic shopping bags on tiled floorNatalie 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.

Aluminum and plastic clothes 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. Find out what happens when you put the wrong item in the recycling bin.

Shattered coffee cup on a black clothDarklight/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. On the bright side, we’re finally finding great ways to make products with recycled ocean plastics.

Pieces of shattered glass or mirror in an abandoned houseBirute 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. Find out 15 more things that shouldn’t be tossed in the recycling bin.

Styrofoam Cups BackgroundPam Walker/Shutterstock


Styrofoam cannot be recycled and it does not biodegrade. Try limiting your use of Styrofoam coffee cups, food containers and packing peanuts. Got some old cellphones sitting around as well? You can also recycle your outdated tech devices.

Closeup texture of paper scrap of document on brown paper background.Nongnuch_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. Here’s how to know what those plastic recycling numbers really mean.

two long strong rows of milk in white carton packaging with round cap on the top stay at store shelf top side view. SunnyToys/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. On the flip side, here are some items you might not know you could recycle.

Abstract rainbow background with colored paper.Dark tones.pogonici/Shutterstock

Colored paper

Paper that is heavily dyed is often heat-treated which may contaminate it and make it unrecyclable.

The Family Handyman
Originally Published on The Family Handyman

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