What You Need to Know about the Most Common Non-Recyclable Items

When you are looking to become more effective at recycling, knowing exactly what you can recycle is half the battle. It is equally as important, however, that you understand what you should not place into your recycling bin each week. If you try to recycle items that you shouldn’t, then you can cause entire batches of recyclable goods to end up in landfills. As such, you will need to brush up on the most common non-recyclable items if you wish to lead a more environmentally friendly life. Read on to explore several of the products that you should never recycle:

Plastic grocery bags

plastic bagJust because an item is made of plastic does not always mean that it is recyclable. One of the most common examples of this is the plastic grocery bag, which you should never include with your regular recycling. The flimsy nature of these products often causes them to become entangled in recycling equipment. They can even cause damage to entire sorting machines.

Therefore, you will need to pursue alternate recycling methods for your plastic bags. For example, you can save your plastic grocery bags and take them to your local store for specially marked recycling bins. Alternatively, you should consider saving your plastic bags and reusing them at home.

Various paper products

Contrary to what you may think, recycling companies will not accept every type of paper product. Any paper that is dyed a bright color is typically unfit for recycling. If recycling facilities try to process even one sheet of colorful paper, then it can contaminate an entire load of otherwise recyclable papers. During the process of heat treatment, dyed papers usually bleed into the white papers and color the entire batch. A good rule of thumb is to never recycle sheets of paper that are darker than pastel.

You should also refrain from recycling your shredded paper. Whole sheets of paper can generally undergo the recycling process up to eight times, but shredded paper may not be eligible for recycling at all. By breaking sheets down into smaller pieces, you both reduce the value of these materials and make it more difficult for recyclers to sort and process them. Shredded paper is also more liable to cause jams in recycling machines. For these reasons, you should compost these materials rather than recycle them.

Plastic bottle caps

bottlecapThe majority of plastic bottle caps are composed of a unique type of plastic known as polypropylene. Designated by their No. 5 label, these materials are not as easily recyclable as the standard No. 1 and No. 2 plastics that are used to make bottles. As such, many recycling entities will not accept plastic caps along with your regular recycling. This means that you should remove and separate any soda bottle lids or laundry detergent caps from other recyclables.

In recent years, however, some recycling facilities have adopted machinery that enables them to process polypropylene along with other plastics. When in doubt, you should call your local recycler to see if they are able to accept plastic bottle caps.

Certain household items

Some of your household items require special recycling and cannot be included along with your regular weekly recyclables. For example, you can almost never recycle aerosol cans. You might think that you could recycle these cans along with other steel and aluminum items from around the house, but aerosol cans are known as hazardous items because their contents are highly flammable and can emit harmful chemicals. You should, therefore, ensure that these items are empty of all product before you try to recycle them. Some cities won’t accept aerosol containers at all, even when they are empty. If your city does not take these items, then you will need to dispose of them in the trash.

You should also pay attention to the types of household glass that you recycle. Though recycling entities will always accept some glass items such as bottles and jars, they will not accept a number of other common products. Large glass items such as old mirrors and windows are never eligible for recycling. In addition, you should never place any household dishes into your recycling bin, particularly if they are made of ceramic.


Sometimes called expanded polystyrene, Styrofoam is a product that you can never recycle, regardless of the form it comes in. Styrofoam products such as cups and packing materials often bear the No. 5 or No. 6 labels, which can fool you into thinking that you can recycle it with similar materials. However, Styrofoam is a petroleum-based material that is easily combustible. As such, it poses a great risk to recycling facilities. In addition, the recycling process leaves it with very few leftover materials, which makes it unsuitable for reuse in new products.


medicationsIt is crucial that you take extra caution when disposing of medications, whether they are old prescriptions or expired over-the-counter medicine. Never opt to simply throw medications away where children and pets can easily access them. Many people even use their household drains as an alternate disposal method, but this can cause medicine to wash into the local water supply. You may consider recycling as a third option for disposal, but recycling entities will only accept your plastic medication containers.

Instead of recycling, look into which companies will accept your old medications. Some entities allow you to send them pills and other unsafe products, which they will then destroy through the process of incineration.