I have found that so many well-meaning individuals don’t know what actually is or isn’t recyclable

The problem is that when a non-recyclable item is thrown into the same bin as a recyclable item, the bin is “contaminated” and the whole contents of the recycling dumpster are thrown into landfill.

Note that this changes based on your city, look at their recycling guidelines

What can you recycle?


clean and dry paper, magazines, paper boxes, cardboard


clean aluminum, steel, tin


clean and dry glass containers, but NO mirrors


In general, if it is not a plastic container/bottle/tub, you cannot recycle plastic.

Containers/tubs, Plastics #1, #2, #5. My city accepts some other plastics that aren’t recyclable everywhere, so it will be different. Check your city’s website. However generally only plastic containers can be recycled, not random pieces of plastic packaging.

The reason other types of plastics cannot be recycled is because when plastic is recycled it is melted down and downgraded to a thinner piece of plastic- generally plastic can only be recycled 3 times or so before it ends up in landfill or in waterways. Other plastic compounds like polystyrene, plastic #6 aka styrofoam, is impossible to recycle. They must be clean.

What can’t you recycle?

Thin Plastics

Thin plastics (plastic wrap, clean plastic bags, bubble wrap). These can be recycled at thin plastic recycling at most grocery stores.

Used paper napkins and cardboard containers

Soiled materials are not clean enough to be properly sorted. These instead can be composted

Irregular plastic packaging

image from woobamboo.com

Weirdly shaped plastic bubble packaging like this cannot be recycled because it is difficult to pick up and sort through machinery, despite what a company may tell you.

Fused materials and packaging

image from uline.com

Fused plastic wrap and paper mailers cannot be recycled because the two materials cannot be separated. Reuse them instead if you get them in the mail.

Pumps and sprayers

Pumps and spray bottles, and spritzers often are made of plastic that have metal springs, so you would have to take everything apart to recycle, and at that point they probably won’t be large enough to recycle.


Technically plastic #6, styrofoam is not recyclable anywhere.

Paper plates/bowls/cups

Paper plates, bowls, and cups are coated in plastic to be heat and liquid resistant and it is impossible to separate the two.

Pizza boxes

Pizza boxes are soiled paper which cannot be properly sorted and recycled. These can be composted.

Hot coffee cups and lids

Hot coffee cups are paper coated in plastic, which are impossible to separate therefore they cannot be recycled. Plastic lids are often made of plastic #6 which is not recyclable. Also only plastic containers generally can be recycled.

Plastic cutlery/utensils

Plastic straws, plastic utensils/cutlery, etc. cannot be recycled because of its material as well as its irregular shape.

Have any questions about what can and cannot be recycled? Comment below!

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