8 Items You Didn’t Know You Can’t Recycle

When we recycle, we tend to think we’re doing right by the environment. It’s important to recycle diligently, but sometimes it’s best to double check what you’re putting in your recycling bin. Does that cardboard container have a plastic film? Does that pizza box have grease stains on it? In the world of recycling, not all materials are equal.

There are certain things that seem obvious to throw in our blue bins. What about juice boxes, for instance? Surprisingly, many materials are in fact either non-recyclable or are even considered hazardous waste.

Here are eight surprising items that you should never recycle:

Juice boxes

Sure, juice boxes are made out of cardboard, but that’s not all they’re made of. Most manufactured juice boxes are not able to be reprocessed due to the plastic film that coats the outside. Don’t fret: some companies have created recyclable juice boxes, and they are specially marked. However, when in doubt, throw the boxes into the regular garbage.

Used napkins and paper towels

Though these are both paper products, it’s best to compost them if they’re used. The reason is due to food, grease, etc. that has been absorbed in the paper fibers.

Pizza boxes

The same goes for pizza boxes! There is too much grease and food residue that gets absorbed in the cardboard, and that makes the material not able to be recycled easily, or at all.  

Wet paper

Wet paper isn’t contaminated with food or chemicals like napkins or paper towels. However, when paper gets wet, the fiber breaks down, making it virtually unrecyclable.

Plastic lids

Not all plastic is created equal! To be sure, several kinds of plastic lids are okay to throw in the recycle bin. Those are usually marked with the recycling symbol. But most screw-off tops from water bottles are considered a big no-no. The reason for this is because the small plastic lids tend not to be made with the same plastic as the bottle. Mixing them (IE: having the cap still on the bottle) will contaminate the recycling process.

Coated Materials

Like many juice boxes, there is a wide variety of materials that have a plastic film on top and cannot be recycled. This includes chip bags and freezer food containers and plastic bags as well.


Although it looks like styrofoam should be recycled, it shouldn’t – with good reason. Styrofoam is highly flammable (it’s created with petroleum!) and is considered to be quite dangerous in a recycling facility, considering we melt down plastics for reuse.

Heavily Dyed Paper

This one may come as a shocker! Even if your paper is clean, if you are trying to recycle paper that is dyed with dark colors, chances are it won’t be recyclable. Because the recycling process uses heat, the dye will come off of the paper and on to other goods.

BONUS: Special Recyclables

Though most of these things can be recycled, they must be done in accordance with your city laws and regulations. Materials like batteries, old cell phones, printer cartridges and certain kinds of light bulbs all have specific ways that they need to be disposed of for safety and eco-conscious purposes.