Recycling Tips that May Surprise You

Surprises in the world of recycling


Most of us are not strangers to recycling. We are familiar with the multi-colored bins and the appropriate way to sort our recyclables. Despite our dedication and commitment to recycling, many items are ultimately diverted out of our recycling bins to landfills.

Before depositing any unwanted items into the bin, you should determine if they are accepted by your local recycling center. Most will provide you with a list of items they collect in each designated bin (ex: plastic #2 in the blue bin). Even though some can appear recyclable, they may in fact be sorted and placed into the trash. By acknowledging the following items as non-recyclable you may continue to make appropriate choice by investing in alternatives, reusing the items, or by simply reducing your consumption of them.

Common things which are actually non-recyclable

    • Pizza boxes
      Even though pizza boxes are made out of recyclable cardboard, once the paper comes in contact with food oils and animal byproducts it can no longer be recycled. Simply stated: water and oil don’t mix in a paper slushy. A grease stained pizza box can cause a whole recycling bin to be contaminated and ultimately be diverted as trash.

Best alternative:
The most eco-friendly and fun substitute for a hot-and-ready pizza, is to make one yourself. This will allow you to eliminate the unnecessary packing associated with a ready or frozen pizza.

    • Styrofoam

      Recycling centers do not collect styrofoam because the chemicals required to breakdown the product are extremely toxic. If processed, it can only be chopped or compressed into other styrofoam products. In addition, styrofoam is not biodegradable, thus when thrown away it can contaminate water ways, soil, and poison wildlife.

Best alternative:
When confronted with styrofoam at a restaurant (take out boxes, cups, plates, etc.), opt for an aluminum or paper container. In packages, styrofoam peanuts can be replaced with old newspapers, plastic bubbles, and even textiles.

    • Plastic coat hangers

      It is difficult to determine what type of plastic is used to create hangers, thus recycling centers will not accept them. Even if marked, centers will sort your recycling bin and dispose of your unwanted hangers because the recycling machine can be damaged by wedged hangers.

Best alternative:
When shopping for a substitute, purchase 100% FSC certified wood hangers. Bamboo is a highly recommended wood due to its renewable and sustainable qualities. If you truly want to invest in an eco-friendly way to store your clothes, invest in a standing closet or organic hanging canvas shelves. Or, use a green dry cleaners that recycles the metal hangers for you. Many cleaners do provide re-use of hangers if they are returned in a neat stack.

    • Mirrors
      The glass used for mirrors is non-recyclable due to its chemical composition. Since mirrors are made out of various components, there is not easy way to disassemble them for recycling. In addition, mirrors may contain various levels of lead, which if recycled and leached can pose a threat to the environment.

Best alternative:
If you are looking to purchase a new mirror, invest in one that is distinguishably marked lead-free. The best alternative would be to buy a vintage/antique mirror or to relocate an old mirror to remodel the room.

    • Juice boxes

      According to the University of Michigan, Americans consume 4 billion juice boxes a year, all of which end up in landfills. Juice boxes which contain bright graphics and metallic insulation are non-recyclable because the bonded material are inseparable, thus preventing the recycling process to take place.

Best alternative:
When purchasing juice, get the kind which is sold in a recyclable plastic container. Avoid buying small individual bottles, packs, or boxes, instead purchase a large gallon of juice to refill your glasses or reusable bottles.


Learn More:

Eco Water Bottles

Recycling by Force

Raising Healthy Children

Water Conservation Overview


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