Recycling 101 | 10 Surprising Things You Can’t Put In Your Recycling Bin (11/11/2022)

Feb 10, 2023 Annie Cao

In our previous blog posts, we’ve talked about what the numbers on plastic recycling labels mean and the basic rules of recycling. For today’s blog post, we’ll be discussing 10 surprising things that can’t be recycled so you can avoid wishcycling.


1. Receipts

Even though receipts look like they’re made out of paper that can be recycled, that’s actually not the case. They’re lined with BPA, which is a plastic that can’t be separated from the paper.

Try: opting for no receipts or electronic receipts whenever possible and throwing away any receipts you do get.



2. Plastic Shower Curtains & Liners

Many shower curtains and liners are made of PVC (plastic #3) and can’t be put into curbside recycling. But you can try looking for places to donate them or reuse them.

Try: putting shower liners under your picnic blanket to keep it from getting wet.



3. Colored Glass

Because clear recycled glass is in high demand, some facilities may not take colored glass. Mixing hues can impact their ability to sell recycled glass to manufacturers. However, this does vary depending on the area you’re in, so be sure to check with your municipality.

Try: upcycling the glass containers you do have by reusing them around the house for storage or plants.



4. Used Paper Towels

Paper towels consist of fibers that are too short to be recycled, so they can’t be used again. If you do have paper towels, composting is usually the best option.

Try: buying reusable towels to cut down on the use of paper towels.



5. Mirrors

Recycling centers usually recycle glass by crushing them into small pieces and melting it down. However, the glass used to make mirrors is different than the glass used for bottles and jars. Additionally, mirrors have a reflective coating painted on the back. These two factors make it almost impossible to recycle mirrors.

Try: calling your local art store — some places may take your donation if they sell broken glass to mosaic and stained glass manufacturers. If your mirror isn’t broken, you can try donating to your local antique store or selling it secondhand.



6. Styrofoam

Styrofoam is rarely recycled because it’s primarily made of air. It’s also commonly used in takeout containers and trays, so there’s a high chance of food contamination. Cleaning it is challenging because of how porous it is, and unfortunately, businesses don’t really recycle styrofoam because of how unprofitable it is.

Try: reusing styrofoam for arts and crafts ideas. You can also make glue by dissolving it in acetone that you can use for your projects.



7. Gum Wrappers

Gum wrappers can’t be recycled because they’re mixed with aluminum, paper, wax, and plastic. Since these materials can’t be separated, you should avoid putting these in your recycling bin.

Try: buying gum that doesn’t come in wrappers (or avoiding gum in general) or using gum wrappers in arts and crafts projects.



8. Ice Cream Cartons

Ice cream cartons are made from paperboard that is usually coated in wet-strength plastic lining, so they won’t be accepted in curbside recycling. But make sure to double check with your local recycling program, as there are no standardized rules and there’s a chance your area may accept them.

Try: washing your ice cream cartons and reusing them as storage containers.



9. Ceramic Mugs & Dishes

Ceramic mugs and dishes can’t go into your curbside recycling because facilities typically don’t have the equipment to recycle them. However, you can check to see if there’s a brick and concrete recycling center near you that will take them.

Try: embracing your old ceramic cups and dishes (even with their chips and cracks) and reusing them as storage and decor. If you do want to get rid of your ceramic item, you can donate them to a local thrift shop or give them away as part of a free item swap.



10. Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap is made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE), aka plastic #4. This plastic can’t go into curbside recycling because it’s considered a plastic film that can jam the machines at recycling facilities. But thankfully, there are drop-off programs that will recycle bubble wrap.

Try: reusing bubble wrap for your next move or if you need to ship an item somewhere.


Unfortunately, many people are unaware of what can and can’t be recycled and may be participating in wishcycling, which is placing items in the recycling bin in the hopes of it being recycled. But this actually hurts and contaminates the recycling system, resulting in less things being recycled.

And lastly, make sure to check with your municipality since recycling rules may vary in different areas!

Share this article with friends and family to help spread this information and help people learn about what shouldn’t be going into curbside recycling!


Article photos and cover photo sourced from Google Images

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