What Can’t You Recycle? Here’s a List of Things and You May Be Surprised

pizza boxes

Pizza Boxes on Rug

By now, nearly everyone knows that recycling helps to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. Recycling not only helps to conserve natural resources, but it also helps to reduce pollution and protect the environment. Additionally, properly recycling items can reduce the demand for new raw materials, which can help to conserve resources and reduce the environmental impacts of resource extraction and processing.

Recycle Green BinRecycling plays a role in the circular economy, a system where materials are recycled and used to make new products, reducing the need for new raw materials. This can help to create a closed-loop system where materials are constantly reused, reducing waste and protecting the environment.

At Polly Products, we are a proud part of this closed-loop system. In fact, it is our green promise. We specialize in tertiary recycling and are proud to share that our products are built from 100% recycled #2 plastic, just like some of the ones that fill your house daily.

Now, what many people may not know is, what can’t you recycle? Adding non-recyclable trash to your recycling can contaminate the recycling stream and make it more difficult to recycle the actual recyclable materials. Sometimes, entire loads of recyclable materials are sent to landfill when it’s deemed too contaminated with dirty materials or the wrong materials. When non-recyclable materials are mixed in with recyclables, it can also cause problems for the machines that sort and process the recycling. This can lead to costly damage to the equipment and result in otherwise recyclable materials being sent to landfills, and injury to the workers at the recycling facility.

Adding non-recyclable materials to your recycling can also decrease the quality of the recycled materials, making them less valuable and less likely to be used in the production of new products.

Don't spelled out on wood blocks

What Can’t You Curbside Recycle?

We’ve rounded up a list of 14 items that cannot be recycled for you to bear in mind the next time you’re sorting your garbage.

  1. Plastic bags – These materials are often too lightweight and thin to be effectively sorted and processed by recycling facilities. Additionally, they can get caught in the machinery, causing damage and disruptions. Take these to a grocery store for recycling.
  2. Styrofoam – This material is challenging to recycle because it is lightweight and can easily break into small pieces, making it difficult to sort and process. Additionally, it is not biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment.  Go online to find a facility that does accept Styrofoam and packaging foam.
  3. Disposable coffee cups – The lining of most disposable coffee cups is made of plastic, which makes them non-recyclable. Some coffee vendors now provide recyclable or compostable cups, so be sure to ask.
  4. Pizza boxes – Check with your local provider, but many areas will now recycle pizza boxes.  Of course, remove any food and sauce containers before recycling it.  At the very least, the top of the box can be removed and recycled.
  5. Glass cookware – Glass cookware, such as Pyrex or Corning Ware, is not recyclable because it is made of a type of glass that is chemically and physically different from the glass used in bottles and jars.
  6. Lightbulbs – Fluorescent lightbulbs contain small amounts of mercury, which makes them hazardous and non-recyclable. Additionally, the other components of lightbulbs are not recyclable.  However, many big box stores will take them for recycling.
  7. Aerosol cans – Sometimes.  While aerosol cans are made of metal, the cans often contain hazardous chemicals, such as propellants and solvents, which make them non-recyclable.  However, you can recycle aerosol cans, as long as they do not contain hazardous materials. Whipped cream, shaving cream, hair spray, and sunscreen containers are among the items that are recyclable, but make sure the canisters are completely empty before placing them in your recycling container.
  8. Foam packaging – Foam packaging, such as Styrofoam peanuts, is not recyclable because it is difficult to sort and process. Additionally, foam packaging is not biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment. Recycle this with your Styrofoam.
  9. Disposable diapers – Disposable diapers are not recyclable because they are made of a combination of materials, such as plastic, paper, and absorbent gels, which are difficult to separate and recycle.  Do we need to mention the contaminants?
  10. Electronics – Many electronic devices, such as computers and phones, contain a variety of materials, such as metals, plastics, and hazardous chemicals, making them difficult to recycle. Additionally, the high value of many electronic components makes them attractive targets for thieves, which can make it difficult to safely and securely recycle them.  Many providers and municipalities offer electronic recycling events where you can take your items.
  11. Paint cans – Like aerosol cans, they are made of metal, making them theoretically recyclable. But again, the cans often contain hazardous materials, such as paint and solvents, which make them non-recyclable.  Again, your municipality may offer a hazardous materials collection event to prevent them from being landfilled which can contaminate the ground and ground water.
  12. Medical waste – Medical waste, such as sharp and infectious materials, is hazardous and not recyclable. Instead, it must be properly disposed of through special programs and facilities.
  13. Pressure-treated wood – Pressure-treated wood is not recyclable because it has been treated with chemicals that are harmful to the environment. These chemicals can leach out of the wood and contaminate the soil and water.
  14. Shoes – Shoes are not commonly recycled because they are made of a variety of materials, such as rubber, leather, and fabric, which are difficult to separate and recycle. Additionally, shoes are often contaminated with dirt and debris, making them difficult to recycle even if their individual components are otherwise recyclable.  If they are in good shape, consider donating them to a thrift store or community assistance program.
  15. Mattresses – Mattresses picked up by service providers are usually headed for a landfill.  That’s unfortunate because there are so many recyclable materials in a mattress.  Byebyemattress.com collects mattresses from large commercial businesses such as hotels in California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  They also provide a link on their website to mattress recyclers in other states  and countries.
  16. Wire, extension cords, plastic tear strips from plastic lids – It seems counterintuitive that these items can’t be recycled in curbside or single-stream programs, but it’s a matter of safety.  These items are known as ‘tanglers’ at recycling facilities and are responsible for shutdowns, costly repairs, and even deaths in recycling facilities.  They get caught in the recycling machinery, requiring full shut down and an employee must crawl among the sharp knives and gears to remove the tanglers from the machinery.  When in doubt, throw it out so everyone goes home tonight.

Polly Products Recycling

When in doubt as to whether or not an item is recyclable, check the labels, check with your local recycling provider, or give it a quick Google search. Once you get the rules down, sorting your recycling is quick and easy, and honestly, it just feels good to imagine what the next phase of life will be for your discarded item.

Check out our whole catalog of products that we proudly manufacture out of recycled plastic components right here in mid-Michigan.

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