Sustainability| 3 min read

10 Things You Can't Put In Your Curbside Recycling

Recycling is one of the best things that you can do to reuse some common materials that might wind up in your shopping cart.

Recycling is one of the best things that you can do to reuse some common materials that might wind up in your shopping cart. Things like paper, glass, and plastic can usually be recycled. But what you can put in your curbside recycling bin is sometimes limited. Your recycling company will have guidelines on what you can and cannot recycle in your curbside recycle bin, but generally speaking, these 10 items are not recyclable.

Pizza Boxes

Pizza boxes are made of cardboard, which is something you can recycle. However, cardboard that has been contaminated with grease from the ingredients in pizza cannot be recycled. During the process of recycling cardboard and other types of paper, the fibers of the cardboard are separated and made into something new. If cardboard has been contaminated by grease, these fibers cannot be separated.

Attempting to recycle contaminated material can have far-reaching consequences, including the contamination of other recyclables. Once contaminated, all of these items will need to be disposed of in the landfill.


Styrofoam, which is the brand name of a plastic-based material called polystyrene, is a common item that cannot be recycled in most curbside recycling programs. Your best option for dealing with polystyrene is to avoid it all together. When visiting a restaurant, for example, bring your own take out container instead of accepting a Styrofoam container.

You can also encourage your local government to follow Maine and San Diego’s example and begin banning single-use polystyrene containers. If you do end up with polystyrene, you can search locally for a facility that will accept and recycle it.

Aerosol cans

Aerosol cans are an easy item to mistake as being recyclable, but they usually can’t be recycled due to the pressurized air inside of the cans and any contaminants that might be left over once disposed of. Some cities do have recycling programs for these cans, but you’ll need to do a bit of research to find the closest dropoff location to you.

Plastic grocery bags

There’s good news and there’s bad news. First, the bad news: your plastic grocery bags can’t be thrown in with other plastic items in your curbside recycling. Most curbside recyclers won’t take them. But there’s good news: most large grocery store outlets will accept these bags, as well as Ziploc sandwich bags, for recycling! Call your local grocery store to confirm that a plastic bag recycling program exists.

Bubble wrap

Similar to plastic bags, bubble wrap cannot be accepted by most curbside recycling programs. There are some recycling locations that will take them, though. You may have luck with dropping them off at the store with your plastic bags, but call ahead to confirm that bubble wrap can be accepted.


Batteries cannot be thrown in with your other cubrside recycling, and they also should NOT be disposed of in the garbage. Batteries sent to the landfill can leak harmful materials into the natural environment which is never a good thing. Most battery stores and some hardware stores will accept batteries for recycling free of charge to you. Call around to locations near you to find the best place to recycle your batteries.

Compact flourescent (CFL) light bulbs

CFL bulbs are popular because they’re relatively inexpensive, last considerably longer than incandescent bulbs, and use 50-75% less energy. But when they burn out, they can’t be thrown in with your curbside recyclables and shouldnt be sent to the dump. CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury, but if every CFL was thrown out, that mercury adds up. Most hardware stores will accept CFL bulbs for recycling – even the mercury can be reused! Call around to find a location close to you that will accept CFL bulbs.

Paper towels

Like pizza boxes, paper towels shouldn’t be recycled due to food residues and other contaminants that they likely have on them. But that isn’t the only reason they shouldn’t be sent to the recycling. Chances are, they’ve already been recycled once already and just can’t be recyceld again! The fibers are too short to go through the process of paper recycling again.


Mirrors are made from glass, but they are coated with a reflective material that cannot be recycled. Instead of trying to recycle your mirror, consider donating it. If your mirror is broken, it should be thrown in with the garbage or repurposed for other crafts. If you do throw broken mirror shards away, be sure to wrap them in something like newspaper to prevent injury.


Diapers are probably one of the worst things you could try to recycle at the curb. Remember how we mentioned that grease from pizza boxes can contaminate other recyclables? Diapers that end up in single-stream recycling systems are a nightmare to deal with. They can get caught in machinery and contaminate other recyclables, which would then need to be thrown away. Diaps need to be sent to the landfill.


Close Bitnami banner