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What You Can't Recycle With Most Recyclables

May 28th, 2020

Place yourself in this situation. You’ve just opened a carton of grape tomatoes for dinner, and you go to toss the crate in the recycling bin. But, you pause mid-throw. Can this carton be recycled? It’s got plastic, sure, but there are two different kinds of plastic and some kind of paper attached to it, too. Can this be recycled?

You’ve undoubtedly been faced with this particular problem. Even if part of a product contains recyclable material, such as a paper envelope with a bubble-wrap interior, sometimes the addition of a non-recyclable material can make the product a recycling contaminant. 

Here at AMLI, we work hard to provide clean-air initiatives and lifestyle amenities that allow residents to live more sustainably every day, and that commitment includes providing our residents with access to recycling. To make your recycling experience an educational and successful one, we're here to help you learn about a few odds and ends that may need a little extra love and care before heading to a recycling plant.

Recycling policies vary state-by-state and even city-by-city. States and cities can create their own recycling policies based on the local laws for landfills and recycling centers. For example, some states have plastic bag bans or landfill bans, and some cities will issue fines for throwing away recyclable materials.

It’s always a good idea to check your local recycling guidelines before you toss items in the recycling bin. If your local recycling plant is stricter than others, then the inclusion of non-recyclable items can make the whole bin of items contaminated. If the bin is contaminated, then it generally heads to the landfill instead of the recycling plant. 

While there’s no way to lay out and interpret all the various recycling laws for every city and state, there are a few items that are generally non-recyclable across the board. Always feel safe recycling paper, flattened cardboard, metal cans, and plastic bottles. Just make sure the material is clean and dry.

What isn’t recyclable with most recyclables

Is glass recyclable?

While glass bottle and jars were once accepted in most mixed recycling containers, in recent years waste haulers and recycling facilities have stopped accepting it when it is mixed in with other recyclables. This is because broken glass can damage other recyclables or injure recycling workers. Check your local requirements to see if glass is accepted in your region. If it is not accepted in your single-stream recycling there may still be options for getting it recycled if you want to go the extra mile. Even though everyday waste haulers may no longer accept your glass, specialty recycling centers in you area may have a dedicated collection for glass containers and safe ways to get it recycled.

As a reminder glassware dishes can’t be recycled, so this only works for glass bottles or jars.

Are plastic shopping bags and plastic film recyclable?

Soft plastics (plastics you can rip) are one of the most problematic materials for recycling facilities. If placed in mixed recycling they can jam hauler equipment when sorting at recycling facilities. That is why all mixed recycling prohibits soft plastics and why you should never put your recycling in a plastic bag. The good news is there is still a way to help these materials get recycled.

How to plastic shopping and grocery bags and other plastic film

Most grocery stores have a plastic bag drop-off in their store where you can get rid of your own bags and other plastic bags. The stores will send the bags to recycling centers that specifically work with plastic bags, and it’s at no cost to you! These materials can also be taken to specialty recycling centers in your area, along with other specialty recycling to give these hard to recycle materials a second life.

Are aerosol cans recyclable?

Aerosol cans are not easily recyclable, but they can be recycled with the proper amount of preparation. The reason for this is that the pressure inside the can combined with the often-toxic contents, such as bug spray, air freshener or spray paint, makes for a complicated recycling process. Because the process is so complicated, not every recycling center has the proper capabilities to recycle aerosol cans. You many have to bring aerosol cans to a specialized recycling center. 

How to recycle aerosol cans

Check out this recycling locator to find out where you can recycle your aerosol cans and how you should prepare the cans to be recycled.

Are coat hangers recyclable?

Most coat hangers are not recyclable. The wire hangers usually get stuck in the recycling equipment, and the plastic hangers are generally made from a combination of plastics, making them extremely difficult to recycle. 

How to recycle coat hangers

You’re probably better off donating your old hangers than trying to recycle them. Thrift stores and dry cleaners are always looking to use coat hangers instead of constantly buying them.

Are pizza boxes recyclable?

If it’s dirty, then no, they aren’t. If you’re upset about having to throw away a perfectly good piece of cardboard, then you’re not alone, but the food debris and grease on the pizza box makes the cardboard non-recyclable. This goes for paper plates, too. 

How to recycle pizza boxes

If you manage to save the box from any trace of food, oil and grease, then by all means, recycle! You can cut out the greasy parts and just recycle the dry cardboard, but if you can’t, then you’ll just have to throw the whole thing away. It’s better to err on the side of caution and prevent recycling contamination than to toss it in and deem the whole bin non-recyclable. 

There are so many other items out there that are made from a multitude of plastics, metals and glass, but not all of them are recyclable in the same way as others are. Be sure to check your local city or state recycling centers to find out what can and can’t be recycled, and don’t forget that you can always reduce or reuse items, too!

Good luck!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/Stux

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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