Recyclables That End Up in Landfills

Recyclables That End Up in Landfills

Despite our efforts to live sustainably, certain everyday items we assume are recyclable often end up in landfills. Pizza boxes, plastic grocery bags, wire hangers—these seemingly recyclable products can actually disrupt recycling machinery, contaminate other materials, and ultimately end up as waste.

Continue reading to discover 11 deceptive “recyclables” that aren’t as environmentally friendly as you might think. You’ll learn the primary reasons why these tricky items aren’t recyclable and gain tips for keeping them out of the trash through smart consumption and disposal methods.

Greasy Takeout Containers Mislead

Imagine you’ve meticulously stacked a recycling tower to conserve space and are eager to fill it with grease-stained cardboard. However, refrain from placing soiled takeout containers in your bin, as they can damage recycling equipment and contaminate other materials.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

While convenient for storing leftovers, repurposing greasy containers spells disaster for recycling plants. The grease and food scraps render the cardboard unsuitable for processing into new paper products.

Handy Bottle Caps Fall Short

Despite diligently separating plastics by type before disposing of water bottles, many are unaware that their caps fall into the “not recyclable” category. While the bottles themselves may be recycled, their plastic lids often end up as non-reprocessed landfill waste.

While convenient for storing leftovers, repurposing greasy containers spells disaster for recycling plants. The grease and food scraps render the cardboard unsuitable for processing into new paper products. Handy Bottle Caps Fall Short Despite diligently separating plastics by type before disposing of water bottles, many are unaware that their caps fall into the "not recyclable" category. While the bottles themselves may be recycled, their plastic lids often end up as non-reprocessed landfill waste.

Source: Wikimedia

Since bottle caps are typically made from plastics that cannot be recycled, it’s important to dispose of them in the trash before crushing containers. While recycling facilities can effectively process eligible plastics, bottle caps usually do not meet the criteria.

Contaminated Paper Goods Are Not Accepted

You may feel confident about recycling paper items, but it’s important to note that paper towels, tissues, napkins, and certain food boxes are not suitable for recycling. These paper products are often chemically coated, colored, or soiled, making them unfit for recycling.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

Instead of blindly tossing questionable paper goods into your home recycling, it’s wise to first check with your local facility. If they reject the items, consider exploring reusable alternatives such as cloth napkins and reusable food containers.

Plastic Bags Go Unnoticed

Many people easily toss plastic grocery bags into the recycling bin without realizing that most municipal facilities do not accept them. Due to their tendency to clog sorting machines, these bags often end up in landfills despite being made of plastic.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

While some stores may offer plastic bag recycling, your best option is to refuse single-use plastics altogether. Keeping a stash of reusable grocery totes can prevent countless bags from ending up in landfills and harming the environment.

Wire Hangers Cause Tangles

Surprisingly, wire hangers should be thrown in the trash despite being made of metal. Most recycling facilities cannot safely process tangled wire. While your local dry cleaner may accept them, few recycling facilities are equipped to handle wire.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

To avoid damaging recycling equipment and risking worker safety, it’s best to keep wire hangers out of curbside recycling. Keep a few on hand for unclogging sinks and paint cans, and dispose of the rest in the trash. Remember, metal-free hangers belong in the bin!

Broken Ceramics Spell Bad Luck

You might reluctantly toss your broken mug, hoping ceramics qualify as recyclable. However, most facilities cannot process shattered dishes and clay debris. Unless specifically stated otherwise, ceramics should be disposed of in landfills.

Source: Unsplash/Meg Boulden

Source: Unsplash/Meg Boulden

Before disposing of damaged dinnerware, call ahead to see if your recycler can grind ceramics. Alternatively, consider giving broken pottery pieces a new life through creative mosaic art projects before resorting to throwing them away.

Not All Glass Meets Recycling Standards

While it’s common knowledge to keep broken glass out of curbside recycling to protect workers, many intact glass items still do not meet recycling criteria. Windows, bakeware, lightbulbs, and more fall short of the requirements for glass recycling.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

While it may be tempting to recycle glass, unfamiliar shapes and sizes can disrupt sorting and processing machinery. When in doubt, it’s best to contact your local facility to learn about their glass recycling policies. It’s always better to err on the side of caution.

Styrofoam Doesn’t Have a Recycling Fate

Despite its widespread use in packaging, Styrofoam is not widely recyclable due to economic impracticality. Recycling facilities struggle to justify the costs associated with collecting, sorting, processing, and transporting foam.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

Instead of wishfully sending foam packing peanuts and food containers to recycling purgatory, reconsider their use altogether. Look for recyclable packaging alternatives and reduce reliance on this environmentally persistent material.

Avoid Shredded Paper In the Bin

After spending an hour responsibly shredding documents, it’s disheartening to realize that most recycling plants cannot process shredded paper. The thinly shredded scraps are nearly impossible to sort properly at facilities.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

When recycling paper, avoid tossing post-consumer shredded scraps into your curbside bin unless explicitly permitted. Instead, consider repurposing shredded waste creatively, such as using it for compost or packing material, before disposing of it.

That Convenient Juice Carton Might End Up in a Landfill

You might happily toss empty juice and milk cartons into the recycling, unaware that many of them have unrecyclable plastic linings. This hidden coating keeps liquids in but complicates recycling efforts once the carton is discarded.

Source: Unsplash/Mateusz Feliksik

Source: Unsplash/Mateusz Feliksik

Before discarding cartons, check for a recycling symbol. If they turn out to be non-recyclable, repurpose them into crafty containers or bird feeders instead of sending them directly to the landfill.

Colorfully Treated Paper Falls Short in Recyclability

After joyfully creating stacks of vibrant construction paper with your kids, pause before recycling the colorful scraps. Chemically altered paper often fails recyclability tests.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

Regrettably, paper that undergoes intensive dyeing, bleaching, and coating treatments poses contamination risks at recycling facilities. The chemical residues can significantly disrupt pulp processing, especially when mixed with untreated scrap paper. Rather than tossing questionable paper products into your curbside bin, contact your local plant first to check their policies. Opt for untreated, uncolored stocks for future projects. If you do have treated paper waste, consider upcycling it through arts and crafts before disposal.

Commit to Responsible Recycling Practices

Despite our efforts to make sustainable choices, many well-intentioned individuals still end up discarding items they assumed were recyclable. Stay informed about recycling no-nos in your community, double-check guidelines, reconsider household disposables, and when uncertain, refrain from adding it to the bin! Make a personal commitment to proper recycling by familiarizing yourself with guidelines, repurposing non-processable items responsibly, and minimizing the use of hard-to-recycle materials whenever possible. Follow these tips to reduce waste sent to landfills and raise awareness.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

Reaching out directly to your local recycling facility is beneficial for staying informed about current policies. With advancements in technology and processing capabilities, what was unrecyclable last year may now be accepted. By staying connected with community resources, you can ensure effective personal recycling habits. There’s always room for improvement in minimizing problematic “recyclables” ending up in landfills through mindful consumption and disposal.

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