Things That You Thought Were Recyclable (But Actually Aren’t) And How To Recycle Them

Segregating looks easy enough. Food waste goes into the biodegradable bin, paper goes into the recyclable bin. Everything else goes into the non-biodegradeable bin. But did you just –unknowingly– made a mistake? We’ve rounded up some items that you thought were recyclable at recycling facilities (but actually take more effort than just that.) We have also included current solutions on how to recycle them. We urge readers to find a way to upcycle or reuse them instead!

  1. Takeout containers and pizza boxes. Yes, we mean those cardboard boxes that your convenience store microwaveables come in. These are lined with greased paper or sometimes a plastic film, which are not recyclable. As with pizza boxes, recycling facilities will not take containers with grease or food, as this contaminates the lot and lowers the output quality, and we all know those pizzas are dripping with grease. Composting this is also tricky as oil causes rot (and attracts more bugs) — sad to say. Just cut out the clean portions of the box for recycling. Then next time, just think twice before having a pizza delivered.
  2. Paper cups and drink cartons. Same as with takeout containers, these have greased/plastic linings. We like to use them as planters for our growing seedlings, just poke holes at the bottom.
  3. Bottle caps. Caps are actually made of a different kind of plastic (most likely resin, #2 or #5 plastic), and cannot be recycled together with the bottles. Most local recycling facilities will ask you to take them off before turning them in (or they will take them off before crushing the bottles – and throw away the caps), as there are special recycling facility for the type of plastic that the caps are made of. Other types of #5 plastics include yogurt containers, margarine tubs, and plastic utensils. You can easily think of different ways to reuse and upcycle these types of plastic though.
  4. Tissue, napkins, and wet paper. Used tissues and napkins are not to be recycled as wetting them breaks down the bonds between the fibers. Meanwhile, the boxes that they come in can be!
  5. Oxobiodegradeable plastic bags. These plastics are mixed with chemicals that speed up the biodegrading process very subtly — thus are “contaminated” plastics and cannot be recycled together with other plastics. Fortunately though, there are some programs that turn plastic bags into composite lumber and new plastic bags. Ask your local grocery if they have a recycling program for this.
  6. Ceramics. Well it’s fragile like glass – but isn’t glass, unfortunately. It’s made of clay — but also unfortunately, not organic. The only way to recycle them is to break them down into fine sand – some brick / concrete makers accept them as fillers.
  7. Glass (Well, some.) – Pyrex glass melts at a different temperature than other types of glass, thus isn’t accepted at most recycling facilities. Same as above, grinding them into sand may help them find new life. Other than that, chucking broken glass shards into the trash bin may just lead to injury.
  8. Shredded paper. Most facilities won’t accept them due to the fact that they are very hard to separate (different paper types + minuscule strips = hours and hours of manual labor) You can however reuse them as packing material (instead of using styro and bubble wrap) – or can also be composted.
  9. Colored paper. Heavily dyed paper has color that will run – contaminating all the other types of paper being recycled in the batch, just like a bright red shirt among your whites. Most recycling facilities only accept the lighter colored ones. As such, try to reuse and recycle your colored papers as much as possible, such as making art projects for the kids.
  10. Parchment. Wax paper / parchment paper is coated with wax or silicone, making it difficult to recycle. As it is used in cooking, it is also often contaminated with oil or food.

Do you know of any recycling facilities or recycling programs that accept any of the items we listed above? Comment below.

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