Surprising Things That Can And Can’t Be Recycled
1 Can’t Be Recycled: Wet Paper
Although paper is recyclable, when it gets wet, it cannot be recycled. In fact, it will most likely just end up in a landfill. That’s because paper items that have been exposed to water may have damaged fibers and pose contamination risks. This decreases the paper’s value, and as such, many collection agencies won’t take it.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: wet cardboard can’t be recycled either for the exact same reasons.
If your bin doesn’t have a lid and you think it’s going to rain overnight, wait until the morning of pickup to take your paper products out to the curb.
2 Can Be Recycled: Keys
Do you have any old keys lying around? Perhaps from a car you no longer own, an old lock that was on your home’s front door, or a childhood chest/trunk you recently threw out? The good news is those keys can be recycled for scrap metal.
The Key for Hope Foundation is one such organization that takes your unwanted keys and key fobs off your hands and not only recycles them, but uses the money they raise through key drives and direct key donations to purchase food to help stock food pantries in its communities. Their aim is to end hunger by recycling old and/or unused keys.
3 Can’t Be Recycled: Paper Towels
Yes, paper towels are paper products, but they can’t be recycled. There are two reasons for this. One, used paper towels often have food or other residue on them. This residue can contaminate other recyclables. Two, there is a pretty good chance your roll of paper towels has already been recycled. As such, their fibers would be too short to be made into new paper. The same applies to both used and unused paper towels.
The good news is you can recycle the tubes that come inside paper towel rolls. As long as they are clean, you can just put them in the bin alongside your other cardboard materials.
4 Can Be Recycled: Cigarette Butts
If there is a plus side to smoking, it’s that cigarette butts can be recycled. Recycling business TerraCycle has been recycling cigarette butts for years. The company teamed up with Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company to turn old cigarette butts into usable products such as plastic, lumber, shipping pallets, and ashtrays.
Now, if you’re wondering what happens to the rest of the cigarette, I’ll tell you. The paper is recycled, and the tobacco is composted.
FYI, TerraCycle accepts extinguished cigarettes, cigarette filters, loose tobacco pouches, outer plastic packaging, inner foil packaging, rolling paper, and ash. They do not, however, accept the paperboard packaging of a cigarette box and recommend that you recycle them through your municipal recycling program instead.
5 Can’t Be Recycled: Pizza Boxes
Cardboard is definitely recyclable, but when you put food like pizza in it, it becomes a greasy, oil-soaked mess, and it’s this grease and other food waste left behind (i.e. crumbs, cheese stuck to the box, etc.) that can damage recycling equipment and contaminate other recyclables in the bin. That being said, the best thing to do is put your empty pizza boxes in the trash or the composting bin.
Or, you could always order from a pizzeria that puts their pizzas in edible boxes. I’m not sure if this is even still a thing, but back in 2016, a Brooklyn-based pizzeria replaced their traditional cardboard delivery boxes with edible boxes made out of pizza. Yum!
6 Can Be Recycled: Hair Styling Tools
I’ve been through so many dryers, curling irons, flat irons, and other hair styling tools over the years. And had I known then what I know now, I would have never thrown them out. According to Earth911, these hair styling tools can be recycled for their scrap metal.
Beware, though. You can’t just simply place them in your curbside recycling bin along with your other recyclables. That’s because they contain toxic chemicals like lead and cadmium, which require special care. That being said, take them to a place that collects scrap metal. They’ll be glad to take these appliances off your hands.
7 Can’t Be Recycled: Treated Wood
Whenever there’s a severe storm, I always hear radio ads from excavating contractors and similar businesses urging people to bring their downed tree branches and limbs to their facilities to be recycled. What you hardly ever hear them tell you is to bring them wood from your damaged patio or deck. Why is that? Because treated wood can’t be recycled.
According to an article published by Insider, the chemicals found in wood treatments make it unsafe to burn for heat or energy. It’s best, then, to use the treated wood for any upcoming DIY projects you may have. If you don’t have any projects, you can always call your city’s waste management team to find out the best steps to take to safely dispose of the wood.
8 Can Be Recycled: Toothbrushes
Yes, you can recycle toothbrushes. Now, when I say recycle, I don’t mean donating your used toothbrush for someone else to put into their mouth. Yuck! What I am talking about is recycling the materials that go into your toothbrush. You know, plastic, metal, nylon, etc. All you have to do is mail your toothbrush to a participating recycling program (TerraCycle is one such program) and they will turn your old toothbrush into new plastic products.
TerraCycle will even recycle your other oral care items, including empty floss containers and toothpaste tubes. Just register online and TerraCycle will email you a shipping label. Print it out, put it on the package with your old oral care items, and send it in the mail.
9 Can’t Be Recycled: Mirrors
Just about all glass jars and containers can be recycled, while mirrors and similar types of glass can’t. Not only that, trying to recycle mirror glass with regular glass will render the regular glass unusable.
That being said, there are a number of things you can do to get rid of your mirrors. If they aren’t broken, you can always sell them on Craigslist or eBay. Or you can give them away. If the glass is broken, you can use it for craft projects or you can simply throw it away. Just be sure to wrap it so no one gets cut by it when handling the trash.
10 Can Be Recycled: Tennis Balls
Millions of tennis balls end up in landfills across the U.S. every year, but they don’t have to. You can mail them to a company that recycles them, and they will remove the felt and turn what’s left of them into the crumb rubber that’s used on playground surfaces and tennis courts.
Unfortunately, tennis ball recycling is a fairly new phenomenon. According to Recycleballs.org, there really is no profitability in it, especially since tennis ball rubber has to compete with tire rubber, which is low-cost and is found just about everywhere.
“There is also the prohibitive factor of costly necessary infrastructure and costs of de-felting and the management needed to facilitate these efforts. For these reasons, tennis ball recycling has not been able to successfully materialize, despite the depth of the problem and the considerable passion to see this happen,” Recycleballs.org wrote.
11 Can’t Be Recycled: Receipts
Receipts that are thermal plastic-coated can’t be recycled for one simple reason: they contain bisphenol A (BPA). Unfortunately, recycling paper receipts would result in releasing more BPA into the air.
So, what can you do? First, look at your receipt to see if it’s shiny. Those are the ones that are usually coated with thermal plastic. Next, check to see if your receipt does indeed contain BPA. You can do this by scratching it. If scratching it leaves a dark mark, it contains BPA. That being said, you will need to throw those receipts in the trash. You might also want to consider opting for digital receipts in the future.
12 Can Be Recycled: Shingles
Traditional shingles are made from asphalt—the same stuff used to build and maintain roads, parking lots, airport runways, sidewalks, etc. It stands to reason, then, that shingles can be recycled and used for those exact projects, with the most common being road paving.
Here’s how it works: A roofing contractor teams up with a local shingle recycling center. The contractor then removes the old roofing from your home and takes the shingles to the local center. The center then grinds up the old shingles and prepares them for use in a number of applications.
FYI, if you have old shingles lying around from your last roofing project, you can eliminate the middleman and take them to a recycling center yourself.
13 Can’t Be Recycled: Hardcover Books
You probably assumed that all books are recyclable, right? That would be true if they were all made only of paper. But hardcover books contain non-paper components. As such, some recycling programs will exclude hardcover books because of the cover and binding, unless you remove them.
What you do with the leftover stuff is up to you. For example, you can always turn those old book covers into fun picture frames. It’s fairly simple, too. Just use an X-ACTO knife to cut an opening in the front cover in the shape (rectangle, square, oval) of the picture you want to insert. Then, create a sleeve for your photo, being sure to tape it behind the opening. Next, slide the photo into the sleeve, and voilà! Your own homemade picture frame.
14 Can Be Recycled: CDs And DVDs
Old or unused CDs and DVDs don’t have to be thrown out. Yes, you could sell them or donate them to a library, school, music store, or other organization. But you could also recycle them with a company like GreenDisk.
According to their website, GreenDisk refurbishes what they can and recycles the rest. “Material that has no further operating life is broken down to its smallest components (metals, plastics, etc.) and used in the manufacturing of new products,” they wrote. The discs can even be used to create materials for automotive and building industries.
15 Can’t Be Recycled: Waxed Paper And Cartons
Waxed paper, silicone baking paper, waxed baking cups, broth cartons, stock cartons, orange juice cartons, and most frozen food boxes cannot be recycled due to the wax fibers on their coating. That’s because the fibers don’t break down easily. As such, they should be tossed in the trash.
But before you do so, check with your local sanitation department. Some municipalities won’t accept the cartons. In that case, you can always use them for an upcoming craft project. For example, you can use your empty orange juice cartons to plant a miniature garden. You could also use it to make a bird feeder. The possibilities are endless!
16 Can Be Recycled: Inhalers
My dad has asthma and COPD, and he has gone through quite a few inhalers over the years. Unfortunately, those inhalers just ended up in the trash because we never knew, until now, that they could be recycled.
But he wasn’t the only one who didn’t know. According to an article published by Family Handyman, more than 46 million people throw away their inhalers every year. That’s dangerous because inhalers are considered hazardous waste because of the drugs they may still contain. Plus, they are also pressurized, which means they can explode in the landfill or incinerator.
Thankfully, inhalers can be taken to participating pharmacies, where they will be broken down into plastics and aluminum.
17 Can’t Be Recycled: Plastic Straws And Utensils
Did you know that 91 percent of all plastic isn’t recycled at all? As you probably guessed, it ends up in landfills or in the environment instead. This is especially true when it comes to single-use plastics, i.e. straws and utensils. These items are hard to recycle because they fall into the crevices of recycling machinery. As a result, they aren’t accepted by recycling centers.
With that said, you can always opt for edible straws and utensils. Edible straws are made with ingredients such as sugar, water, cornstarch, bovine gelatin, and flavoring. Edible utensils can be made from a number of ingredients. For example, the edible spoons sold by Incredible Eats are made from a mix of wheat, oats, corn, chickpeas, and brown rice.
18 Can Be Recycled: Eyewear
There are two ways in which eyewear can be recycled. One, you can pop out the lenses and put the plastic or metal frames in the bin to be recycled. You will have to check your local recycling guidelines first, though.
Two, you can always send your glasses to an organization who will give them to visually impaired people who can’t afford to buy their own glasses. For example, Respectacle partners with the Lions Club to distribute glasses all over the U.S. New Eyes will send your glasses overseas with medical missions and international nonprofits. OneSight will use the money from your recycled glasses to pay for a brand new pair of glasses for another patient.
19 Can’t Be Recycled: Clothes Hangers
Yes, metal can be recycled, but wire hangers typically aren’t made of pure metal. Additionally, their curved ends can cause them to get caught on recycling equipment. There are some places, however, New York city being one of them, that lets you toss in your wire hangers with the rest of your recyclables. But most places won’t accept them.
As for plastic hangers, they aren’t always made of pure plastic. In fact, they are often made of mixed materials.
Then, there are wood hangers. Most of the time, their wood is treated, so they can’t be recycled at all due to the chemicals found in them.
20 Can Be Recycled: Disposable Diapers
It makes sense that you can recycle disposable diapers since they are made with plastic. But did you know that it’s not just clean diapers that can be recycled? Yes, that’s right, dirty diapers can be recycled, too.
As disgusting as it may seem, there are companies that will recycle your baby’s used diapers. They do it by separating the waste from the plastic, sanitizing and washing the material several times, and turning the plastic into reusable paper pulp and plastic components.
By the way, you can recycle other hygiene products, too, including disposable bed liners, feminine hygiene pads, and adult incontinence products.