You Thought You Could Recycle This, But You Can’t

Recycling can be a nightmare, can’t it? Some things seem like they cannot be recycled but it’s ok, while some others are impossible to recycle even though they look like they should be. This confusion could help explain why so little of what could be recycled in the United States isn’t. For example, only 50% of the 2.7 million tons of aluminum cans discarded each year in this country is actually recycled. If all them were recycled along with all tin and steel cans, we would save 74% of the energy needed to produce new ones to use. Now here are 8 things you thought you could recycle, but you actually cannot.

8 Things You Cannot Actually Recycle


How much styrofoam do we get in packaging these days? Any boxed equipment is full of it. However, this material is highly flammable because it’s a petroleum product. All you can do is try not to get it in the first place.

Juice Boxes

Many types of juice boxes of all sizes are coated with a plastic layer which makes it impossible to recycle them. You should, however, be able to see on the back of each packet when shopping to see if they are recyclable or not.

Wire Hangers

Most American recycling centers are not set up to deal with wires like these. However, wire coathangers, like any kind of wiring, is loved by scrap merchants. Either get in touch with one or talk to your local dry cleaner.

Plastic Bottle Caps

Yes, they can be recycled, but like some other items on this list, some centers will not accept them on cost efficiency grounds. There are facilities which do accept them however.


Broken ceramics have been a key ingredient for archaeologists the world over. They break down, but slowly. The high firing process makes them relatively strong, but does mean they cannot be recycled and reused. Consider repurposing them instead as pen holders, flower pots, and so on.

Plastic Bags

An empty plastic bag can be recycled, let’s get that straight. However, as sorting recyclables is a manual process, most do not bother with bags as each one needs to be individually checked before recycling, which makes them cost inefficient. Some stores, however, will take their bags back for recycling so this might be a solution.

Some Types of Paper

When you think of recycling, you think of paper, right? It is the ultimate use, recycle, and reuse material. Afterall, the first we probably saw of effective, modern recycling is the slight brown toilet paper which appeared in the 90s. However, wet paper is not usually recycled. Not because it’s impossible or unsafe, but because it’s of less value than dry paper due to the shortening of fibers. Heavy dyed paper is often rejected because recycling it alongside white paper is like doing a hot whites wash with a red sock, it all goes a bit pink.

Pizza Boxes

Perhaps saving the biggest surprise for last, but yes, you cannot recycle any paper or cardboard products tainted with food, grease, oils and so on. This also rules out paper tissues, and other food paper/card packaging which has come into direct contact with food items. This is not the case with plastics and glass products which are recycled using water and heat processes.

What Can You Recycle Then?

Recycling is necessarily a minefield to negotiate, but there are valuable resources for working out what it is possible to recycle and what not to. Earth 911 have many facilities to help with recycling or know where to send people. It is possible to find a mixture of pick up recycling, recycling points at local supermarkets, bars, and schools, and to visit recycling centers.

Take Some Steps to Cut Your Use of Non-Recyclables

It’s hard to stop some companies from filling their products with non-biodegradable styrofoam or polystyrene products. However, sometimes it is possible to shop between ethical suppliers so you can minimize the use of products which cannot be reused, recycled or which will not at least just decompose in quick time without hurting the environment. For example, buy wooden hangers instead of wire ones, look for juice cartons which can be recycled, make your own pizzas instead of getting take out (yes, that does mean you can try that insane combo you’ve always dreamed of), use paper or biodegradable bags, and use an easy to clean flask instead of plastic bottles.