13 Things We Should Really Stop Recycling

13 Things We Should Really Stop Recycling

As i prepare the recycling for this weeks pickup, I have to admit: sometimes I'm not sure whether it belongs in the recycling. Or if it's plastic, paper, for the green bin.

I think we can all agree that we all need to do our part, for the greater good of our planet. But what does that mean? Am I doing it right, or am I part of the problem.

According to Waste Management , North America's leading provider of integrated environmental solutions, one out of every four items that ends up in the blue bin doesn’t belong. This creates enormous problems for the recycling economy.

China, previously one of the world’s largest importers of recycling waste, recently set strict limits on what they will accept to reduce “yang laji,” or foreign trash—throwing a major curve ball at the U.S. recycling industry.


Contamination rates – or the percentage of trash mixed with recyclables – has steadily climbed over the years. Today, the average contamination rate among communities and businesses sits at around 25%. China will accept our recyclables, but at a 0.5% max on recycling contamination. That means that the 25% contamination rate we see today at the curb must reach virtually zero for those items to be recycled. Anything above that 0.5% contamination will be trash.

This means we need to be aware of how to recycle properly and avoid contamination of recyclables. There is a term for when we don't know what bin an item belongs in called “aspirational recycling,” also known as “wishful recycling” or “wishcycling.” It is basically setting aside materials for recycling that are not actually recycled by one's garbage collection service.

While rules differ in every municipality (check your local recycling website to find out what’s acceptable), I have picked out some key offenders to keep in mind.

1. Plastic Bags

Plastic bags and wraps can be recycled into new materials, but not as part of the curbside recycling programs most cities have. So please don’t put plastic bags and wraps in your curbside bin if your recycling program says no. More than 20,000 retail locations across the country – such as large grocery chains, home improvement stores, Walmart, Target, etc. – provide collection bins for these plastic bags and wraps, usually in the storefront close to the main entrance. Recycle them there!

2. Pizza Boxes

Paper recycling centers will not accept greasy cardboard i.e. pizza boxes. Pizza boxes made from cardboard are recyclable but the coupons, stickers or other adhesives attached are a problem. Also, pizza boxes contain pizza. And pizza contains fatty grease. It is that greasy residue that causes problems. So check your local recycling rules. Find out if pizza boxes can even be recycled in your area, or are outright banned. If recycling isn’t an option, composting is.

3. Receipts

Just put your receipts in the regular trash. Most receipts are "thermal" paper, printed via a heat process instead of with old-fashioned ink. The paper requires a fairly large infusion of BPA for the numbers to appear. When it gets recycled with other kinds of paper, it potentially ends up in products like shopping bags—or even toilet paper—which give you a more intimate contact with the chemical than you want.

4. Shredded Paper

Did you know that shredded paper is not accepted in most curbside recycling programs? Though paper is recyclable, shredded paper presents a unique problem: the tiny shreds simply can’t make it through the recycling sorting process. Instead, they gum up the machinery or cause a paper explosion.

5. Gift Wrap

Different cities have different rules. Do recycle paper-based wrapping and reuse gift bags. Dyed or laminated paper, or paper containing additives like gold- or silver-colored shapes, glitter, plastics, etc. can’t be recycled. Very thin wrapping paper usually doesn’t have enough good-quality fibers for recycling. Sticky tape still attached makes wrapping paper very difficult to recycle. Do not put bows, ribbons and cellophane wrapping in your curbside recycling container.


6. Toys, Lawn Furniture, And Kiddy Pools

Not everything that is plastic is recyclable in your curbside recycling container. The easiest thing to remember when it comes to plastics is to recycle only food and beverage bottles, jugs, and tubs.Just because an item is made from plastic or has plastic parts, doesn’t mean that it can be recycled. So, no, these types of ridged plastic items are not accepted in curbside recycling programs. However, they are often reusable.

7. Food Residue

This one is important. Even if a container is labeled correctly for recycling in your area, another contamination culprit is food residue. Washing out food scraps from recyclables can be just as important as putting the right thing in the recycling bin, said Jackie Lang, a spokeswoman for Waste Management told the New York Times . You don’t have to scrub containers until they are sparkling clean — that could waste water. But too many scraps of food and liquid can contaminate a load, which could then be sent to a landfill, Ms. Lang said. As much as possible, “keep food and liquids out,” she said.

8. Glass

Probably not. Glass recycling rules vary, so please check your local program guidelines for options available for you to recycle glass.  Some communities have curbside pickup of glass or drop-off locations to recycle glass. Window panes, mirrors, light bulbs and tableware are impractical to recycle. Bottles and jars are usually fine.

9. Diapers

While there are trial diaper recycling programs popping up all over the world, the answer is no. Do not put used diapers in with your recycling. Dirty diapers and sanitary products have no place in the recycling bin. Whether they are clean or dirty, they go in the trash.

10. Dishes And Ceramics

Your unwanted glass dishes cannot go in the recycling because they melt at a different temperature than other types of glass. Ceramic can’t be melted down at most waste facilities. Recycling facilities that accept brick and concrete will sometimes accept ceramics. Never recycle any broken glass item, even glass bottles or jars. Broken glass can injure trash haulers and sanitation workers.

11. Coffee Cups

The plastic lid might be recyclable in your area; check the number inside it against your local recycling guidelines. Most waste management facilities will treat the cups as trash. In my area they can go in my green bin, for compasting.

12. Garden Hose

The number one thing you don’t want to do with an old garden hose is put it in the recycling bin. It can muck things up. In the recycling world, garden hoses are what are known as “tanglers.” Tanglers include hoses, along with ropes, chains, and cords.A single tangler can cause a massive disruption for recycling facilities, potentially resulting in safety issues for workers and mechanical issues for machinery. All this leads to downtime and extra expense in facilities across the nation.

13. Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap can be recycled, but it should NOT be added to your recycling container. Instead, recycle bubble wrap along with your plastic bags at special collection points, often found at the entrance of grocery stores and pharmacies. This guidance applies not only to bubble wrap, but also to completely plastic bubble mailers and to air pillows, too.

Here are three simple rules that helped me today:

  1. Recycle all empty bottles, cans, paper and cardboard
  2. Keep food and liquids out of your recycling
  3. Keep plastic bags out of your recycling

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