Surprising Things That Can’t be Recycled (and What to Do With Them Instead)

by | Updated: September 12th, 2018 | Read time: 3 minutes

Are you aware that the pizza box you tossed into the bin last night can’t be recycled? Don’t feel too guilty. We’ve all made this mistake at some point.

We try our best to protect the planet and keep landfills free of items that can be repurposed and recycled. But our earnest efforts may actually be hindering the single-stream recycling process.

Woman in Striped Shirt Holding Bin of Cardboard Thoughtfully Considering What Cannot be Recycled |

Advances in technology mean we can now recycle more items than ever before. But there is still some stuff that simply can’t go into your curbside bin. And if it does, the entire batch of recyclables could become “contaminated.”

Recycling guidelines vary by city (check with your local provider for specifics). But generally, you should avoid tossing any of the following items into your recycle bin.

Aerosol cans. Three words: chemicals and propellants. But before you throw your spray cans into the trash, try your hand at transforming them into modern pendant lights or desk lamps!

Batteries and cellphones. These are typically not recyclable at your curb. However, the nationwide Call2Recycle® program can help ensure they don’t wind up in a landfill.

Butter tubs. Items like butter tubs, yogurt cups and vegetable oil bottles are usually made with number three to seven plastics (the number appears in a triangle on the bottom of the container), which many municipalities will not recycle. Instead of trashing these containers, use them to store leftover food or small objects, like screws, nails and beads. Small cups without lids can be used to grow fresh herbs.

Ceramics. Unfortunately, ceramic dishes, coffee mugs and other types of pottery often can’t be recycled. If items are in decent condition, consider donating them or selling them at your next garage sale. Turn broken pieces into unique jewelry or stepping stones for your garden.

Napkins/paper towels. Want to guess why these paper goods typically can’t be recycled? It’s because there’s no telling what they’ve absorbed. Instead of tossing them in the trash, add them to your compost heap.

Pizza boxes. Simply put, these are typically too greasy to recycle. But that doesn’t mean they belong in the garbage either. You can also put pizza boxes in your compost pile.

Plastic bags/wrap. Resist the urge to toss plastic wrap and bags into your recycle bin. Plastic bags can often be cleaned and reused or returned to the store.

Plastic bottle caps. Plastic bottles get the nod, but unfortunately their caps can’t be recycled. The good news is these little gems can be used in a variety of craft projects, from DIY stamps to picture frames and wall art.

Some coffee cups and juice boxes. If your cardboard beverage container is labeled for recycling, you’re in the clear. But if it’s not (likely due to its plastic or wax coating), don’t just deposit it in the nearest trash receptacle. Use it to plant herbs or flowers instead. And if you frequent an establishment that uses non-recyclable cups, consider bring your own reusable mug next time!

Some glass. Glass bottles, containers and jars make the cut. But items like mirrors, window panes and most light bulbs can’t be recycled. Instead of putting mirror fragments in the garbage, use them to create a beautiful mosaic tabletop.

Some paper. Paper can usually be recycled. But brightly colored, shredded and wet paper are a different story in most areas. Before you head to your trash can, consider using vibrant-colored paper to make beads, papier-mâché or origami, or using shredded paper to line your pet’s cage. Paper exposed to water can be used for kindling once it dries.

Wire hangers. Wire can’t be recycled in most areas. However, you can use them to make a variety of crafts (we’re talking bird feeders and baby mobiles!) or return them to your dry cleaner for reuse.