What to Do With Things You Can’t Recycle Curbside

When we try to recycle the unrecyclable, we gum up the whole process. “It’s a waste of time, money, and other resources when recycling centers have to deal with things they don’t accept,” explains Darby Hoover, a recycling expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council. These items can’t go in your recycling bin—but you can still get rid of them responsibly.


Coffee Pods

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Most coffee pods are not recyclable through curbside pickup. Consider buying a Break Room Zero Waste Box ($110; terracycle.com) to collect used coffee pods, plastic packaging, and disposable utensils, then ship it back for free and everything will be recycled.


Glass Kitchenware

Most of the glass cookware in your kitchen (like Pyrex) either has been treated or is too thick for the recycling plant to handle. Donate anything in decent shape and toss the rest.


Greasy Pizza Boxes

The oil can contaminate the sorting and pulping processes at the recycling plant. If your community accepts food waste for curbside pickup, it may take pizza boxes in the compost bin.



Because the glass has been treated, old mirrors should be donated to charity. Broken ones will have to be put in your regular trash.


Packing Materials

Take foam peanuts and other packing materials to a local shipping store or small business that ships items often and can reuse them.


Plastic Bags, Wrap, or Packaging Film

Some grocery stores will let you return plastic bags (including shopping bags, zip-top bags, bread bags, and dry cleaning bags) to be recycled by a special handler, notes Sarah Womer, founder of Zero to Go.


Shredded Paper

Once paper has been shredded, it’s too small for most recyclers to handle. Check with your municipality about how to package it for pickup or ask if there is a local drop-off location that will accept it.


Takeout Food Containers

If you can tear a cardboard container, it is typically safe to put in your curbside compost bin. Otherwise it goes in the trash. Wash and reuse plastic ones—they aren’t safe for long-term food storage but can be put to good use organizing odds and ends in your junk drawer or basement.


Water Filters

These are made from composite materials that municipal recycling centers aren’t able to handle. Check with your filter manufacturer for a take-back program.