18 Common Items You Should Never Put in the Recycling Bin

You know recycling is good for the earth. About 50% of the 254 million tons of trash that’s thrown away could be recycled, yet only 34% makes it to the proper spot.

But just because separating your cans and bottles from your pizza crust feels good, it doesn’t mean everything you put in the recycling bin eventually gets reused. Some things that seem like they should be recycled wind up in the bin anyway. However well-intentioned, this wastes precious time and resources.

Wondering if your item belongs in the recycling bin or the trash? Read on to find out once and for all.

1. Pizza boxes

Barack Obama carrying pizza boxes
The grease can’t be separated from the paper fibers. | Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

A pristine, brand new pizza box is fine to go into the paper recycling. But that one covered in grease spots? Unfortunately, you’ll have to throw it in the trash or manually separate the dirty parts from the clean. The paper fibers aren’t able to be separated from the oils during the recycling process.

Next: It’s not a bright idea to recycle this.

2. Light bulbs

Antique Light Bulbs
Check your state regulations for disposal. | iStock.com/EzumeImages

They may be made of glass, but that doesn’t mean you can toss them in the recycling bin.

CFL light bulbs contain toxic chemicals, so you shouldn’t be throwing them in the trash, either. Some states even made it illegal. No matter what kind of light bulbs you’re getting rid of, you’ll need to find a special drop-off location to safely dispose of them.

Next: You’ll need to do this prep work before recycling.

3. Food soiled containers

take out container in trash
There can’t be any residue. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Rinse out all your containers before putting them into the recycling bin. There shouldn’t be any food residue left behind once it reaches the recycling center.

Next: You might be surprised this can be recycled.

4. Aluminum foil

Aluminum foil on white background
The foil isn’t recyclable. | wabeno/iStock/Getty Images

You can recycle aluminum cans. You cannot recycle aluminum foil.

Next: Take the one second to do this before putting this in the bin.

5. Capped water bottles

Row of water bottles
The caps have to be separate from the bottle. | Tezzstock/iStock/Getty Images

There’s a debate on whether water bottle caps are recyclable or not. The caps are, but they should be separated from the bottle so it can compress easily.

Next: This looks recyclable, but it’s not.

6. Pyrex

omelet in glass dish
They won’t melt in the recycling process. | Ankudi/iStock/Getty Images

Glass baking dishes like Pyrex are specially treated to withstand high temperatures in the oven, so they won’t melt down during the recycling process. You’ll need to wrap your broken items in old towels or paper for safety and then throw them away in the regular trash.

Next: These don’t melt down properly.

7. Drinking glasses

Glass pitcher of water
Glasses have a higher melting point. | Amnachphoto/iStock/Getty Images

Your drinking glasses are treated to have a higher melting point, so throwing them in with other glass jars in the recycling bin screws up the process. Broken glasses need to be carefully disposed of in the trash.

Next: You’re better off donating this item.

8. Ceramics

Coffee Mug
Donate ceramics instead. | Bill-Livingstone/iStock/Getty Images

Bad news about that chipped ceramic pot: It can’t be recycled. However, you can donate it to a thrift store, or if it’s in really bad condition there are drop-off spots that let your ceramic items find new life as gravel, concrete, and retaining walls.

Next: Reuse these items instead of recycling them.

9. Hangers

Wire hangers aren’t recyclable. | iStock.com/Thatpichai

No wire hangers!

Plastic and wire hangers are not recyclable. They are reusable, or if you have too many you can donate them to a local thrift store.

Next: Most recycling centers don’t accept these.

10. Styrofoam

white Styrofoam cups
Only some recycling centers accept them. | PamWalker68/iStock/Getty Images

It turns out there’s no such thing as a Styrofoam cup. Polystyrene, the material that’s used for insulation and craft projects, is different from what’s used to create takeout boxes and egg cartons. Some recycling centers accept them — but most don’t.

Next: Keep these on hand for when you need them.

11. Packing peanuts

white packing foam
Reuse them instead. | yuriz/iStock/Getty Images

You can’t recycle packing peanuts, but you can keep them on hand for future gifts that you want to safely ship. Otherwise, these just need to be tossed.

Next: It’s bad luck to recycle this.

12. Mirrors

broken glass
Mirrors don’t break down like other glass. | aerogondo/iStock/Getty Images

Whether a broken mirror causes seven years of bad luck is up for debate. One thing that’s not? You can’t recycle a mirror. It’s specially treated and doesn’t break down properly like other recyclable glass.

Next: Make sure this item is ready to recycle before putting it in the bin.

13. Aerosol cans with content inside

Bug spray
Make sure they’re empty. | Evgen_Prozhyrko/iStock/Getty Images

Leftover whipped cream and hairspray in an aerosol can is considered hazardous material. But you can often recycle these cans — sans cap — once they’re empty.

Next: These can be recycled in the proper place.

14. Plastic bags

Shopping bag
Check to see whether your local grocery store recycles them. | JoyTasa/iStock/Getty Images

It’s easy for your collection of plastic shopping bags to get out of control. But that doesn’t mean you can throw them into the recycling. Check at your local grocery store for a bag recycling area rather than tossing these in the trash.

Next: Keep this item on hand for later.

15. Bubble wrap

hands with bubble wrap
Reuse bubble wrap. | ajt/iStock/Getty Images

The best way to deal with excess bubble wrap is to reuse it for shipping or even for storing fragile items like holiday decorations and vases. Whatever you do, don’t put it in the recycling bin.

Next: You can recycle these in the proper place.

16. CDs and CD cases

Open metal pocket for storing CD discs
Try selling or donating them instead. | Timacoch/iStock/Getty Images

All music is digital now. Still, you can’t throw all those old CDs in the recycling bin. Instead, sell or donate them, or find a local recycling center for that specific purpose at greendisk.com or cdrecyclingcenter.org.

Next: Your town probably recycles these certain times of the year.

17. Electronics

kneeling person in jeans and shoes picking up broken phone
Find an electronics recycling center.  | iStock.com/mheim3011

You’re not supposed to throw away old electronics, but getting rid of them isn’t as easy as throwing them into the recycling bin, either. Check with your local township for upcoming electronic recycling days where you can safely dispose of old TVs, computers, cellphones, and more.

Next: Recycling these items can be dangerous.

18. Needles

close-up of vaccination phials
They must be disposed of according to specific guidelines. | the_guitar_mann/iStock/Getty Images

Recycling old needles can be dangerous for sorters working at your local recycling center. Needles should be placed in a sharps container (you can make your own) and then disposed of according to your community guidelines.

Read more: Shocking Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle

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