How to Recycle 9 Things You Can’t Just Toss in the Recycling Bin
Most recycling services can’t handle everything you throw at them. These items typically can’t go with the rest of the recycling and need a little creative thinking to be responsibly disposed of—here’s how to do it.
Recycling isn’t just throwing any and all plastic and glass items into a bin and sending it off. Some recycling centers can handle many different types of plastics and glass, even without pre-sorting, but few can recycle everything—especially the odds and ends that end up tossed in a home recycling system because they are ostensibly made from recyclable materials.
Learning how to recycle responsibly (and effectively ) means learning the mysterious recycle symbol system. It can also include adopting a zero waste lifestyle or researching other zero waste disposal options, but at minimum, recycling everything the proper way (and not trying to recycle the wrong things) is key to protecting the environment as much as possible.
Trying to recycle the unrecyclable through conventional recycling methods can 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.
Before tackling new and different disposal methods, though, do some research on your recycling provider. Different services and recycling companies have varying requirements and handling capabilities, so double check that they can’t, in fact, accept your item before looking into alternative responsible disposal options. If they can’t, read on to learn how to recycle (or responsibly get rid of) nine common items.
Most coffee pods are not recyclable through curbside pickup. Consider buying a Break Room Zero Waste Box (From $108; zerowasteboxes.terracycle.com) to collect used coffee pods, plastic packaging, and disposable utensils, then ship it back for free to get everything inside recycled.
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 or upcycle 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. Otherwise, look for local composting opportunities, or cut away any non-greasy parts to recycle and trash the rest.
Because the glass has been treated, old mirrors should be donated to charity. Broken ones will have to be put in your regular trash or upcycled.
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.
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.