13 Common Household Items You Can't Recycle

Americans are generally civic-minded and conscientious, and have for the most part adopted the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra popularized by the environmental movement of the 1970s. Nevertheless, many homeowners are still confused about what can and can’t be recycled. Rules and regulations vary by region, but here are 13 items that should never wind up in your household's recycling bin.

  1. Packing Peanuts

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    Can You Recycle Packing Peanuts?

    Packing peanuts are made of expanded polystyrene and therefore can’t be recycled. If you receive a passel of packing peanuts in a delivery, rather than ship them off to a landfill, consider reusing them around the house; many commercial shipping services also will accept clean packing peanuts from consumers.

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  2. Grease- or Oil-Soaked Cardboard

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    Can You  Recycle Cardboard?

    That gooey, yummy pizza you enjoyed last weekend most likely came in a cardboard box, which is typically recyclable. If, however, the box is too greasy or contaminated with food waste, such as cheese stuck to the lid, it can’t be recycled. That’s because the grease and food particles might damage the recycling equipment or contaminate other materials in the bin.

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  3. Most Lids

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    Can You Recycle Lids?

    Most lids and caps on water bottles, soda bottles, detergent bottles, and similar containers are made from polypropylene, also known as plastic #5, and typically can't be recycled.


    Related: 12 Genius Ways to Reuse Your Plastic Bottles

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  4. Hardcover Books

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    Can You Recycle Hardcover Books?

    Because books are made of paper, many people assume they’re fully recyclable. But the sturdy covers of hardcover books contain non-paper components and must therefore be removed before you toss that novel into the bin.


    Related: 9 Smart Uses for Dusty Old Books

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  5. Ceramic or Oven-Safe Serving Pieces

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    Can You Recycle Ceramic?

    Ceramic and oven-safe dishes, bakeware, cookware, and serving pieces are designed to withstand high heat, so they have a higher melting point than conventional glass. For this reason, most recycling centers will turn away these handy kitchen necessities.

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  6. Styrofoam or Polystyrene Containers

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    Can You Recycle Styrofoam?

    Styrofoam and polystyrene containers (egg cartons, fast food take-out boxes, coffee cups, and the like) aren’t recyclable—and even worse, they don't biodegrade in landfills. Many restaurant chains have shifted away from styrofoam and polystyrene packaging, and homeowners should consider doing the same.


    Related: 9 Little Tricks to Make Trash Day Less of a Chore

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  7. Plastic Straws and Utensils

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    Can You Recycle Plastic Straws and Utensils?

    Plastic utensils and some disposable straws contain plastic #6 (polystyrene). Because this material costs big bucks to recycle, most municipalities will not accept your plastic serving items. Before you toss them in the trash, however, consider reusing them for DIY projects!


    Related: Stop! Don't Toss These 13 Secretly Handy Disposables

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  8. Aerosol Cans

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    How to Dispose of Aerosol Cans

    Although aerosol cans are made of metal, the pressurized contents could damage recycling machinery. As a result, these items should be discarded with the regular trash.


    Related: Let It Go: 14 Things to Trash Without Thinking Twice

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  9. Plastic Bags and Plastic Wrap

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    Can You Recycle Plastic Bags?

    Plastic shopping bags and plastic wrap usually aren't accepted for recycling because the lightweight material can tangle, clog, and potentially damage the machinery used in recycling centers. Keep in mind, however, that many grocery store chains allow consumers to reuse plastic shopping bags; some also have collection bins for torn or unusable bags.


    Related: 10 Brilliant Ways to Reuse Plastic Bags

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  10. Windows, Mirrors, or Broken Glass

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    How to Dispose of Broken Glass

    While almost all glass jars and containers are recyclable, not all glass is created equal. Homeowners should think twice before trying to recycle window glass, light bulbs, fluorescent light tubes, mirrors, plate glass, drinking glasses, eyeglasses, vases, and glass art pieces.


    Related: Why Didn't I Think of That? 18 Clever Tricks to Simplify Your Life

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  11. Waxed Paper and Cartons

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    Can You Recycle Waxed Paper and Cartons?

    Do you buy broth, stock, and orange juice in cartons? This convenient packaging should not be recycled, because the wax fibers on the coating won’t break down properly. Other products with wax coatings, such as waxed paper, silicone baking paper, waxed baking cups, and most frozen food boxes, should also be tossed in the trash—but as some municipalities do accept cartons, check first with your local sanitation department.


    Related: The 10 Biggest Myths About Recycling

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  12. Plastic Shower Curtains and Liners

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    Can You Recycle Plastic Shower Curtains?

    Most plastic shower curtains and liners are constructed with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Because of the chemicals used in the manufacturing of PVC, these items can’t be broken down and recycled. They are, however, ripe for reuse: Try giving curtains a new life as outdoor tablecloths, drop cloths, drawer liners, or craft supplies.


    Related: 8 Genius Ways to Turn Clutter into Cash

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  13. Medical Waste

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    How to Dispose of Medical Waste

    Needles, plastic syringes, and prescription containers are classified as biohazards and therefore can’t be recycled. Contact your doctor, pharmacy, or local hospital to learn about disposal options.


    Related: 11 Things It's Illegal to Throw in the Trash

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  14. Check First

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    Check First

    When it doubt, check for labels on the item-in-question to see if it belongs in the recycling bin. No luck? A quick Internet search should do the trick. 

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  15. See the House of the Week

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