Materials You Should Not Recycle & What To Do Instead

Materials You Should Not Recycle & What To Do Instead

Recycling is one of the easiest ways to keep pollution and waste at bay. It's something almost everyone can do without much effort, but that doesn't mean we should do it just because it's the right thing to do. In fact, there are some materials you should not recycle, these are called the non recyclable materials, and here, we are going to talk about what materials that can't be recycled and what you should do instead.

What are non recyclable materials?

Non recyclable materials, in its most basic definition, are things that cannot be recycled — not at home, and not at your local recycling facility. Meaning, you shouldn’t put these materials along in the same bin as the recyclables as they bring consequences for the whole waste management system. 

According to Ohio Valley Waste, a local waste management, improper recycling can lead to the following:

  • Decreased efficiency
  • Damage to equipment (and danger to employees)
  • Contamination of recyclable materials
  • Environmental issues

So, to avoid these issues, it’s important to know the rules and guidelines provided by your local waste management facility. Rules and regulations may vary by region, so it’s necessary to adhere to your local waste management’s rules before putting out your curbside bins.

Non recyclable materials examples 

Generally, there is a lot of non recyclable waste. Here’s a list of non recyclable materials that you should not put in your recyclables bin:

  • Food waste
  • Food tainted items
  • Ceramics
  • Plastic wrap
  • Packing peanuts/ bubble wrap
  • Wax boxes
  • Photo paper
  • Medical waste
  • Styrofoam
  • Hazardous chemicals/ chemical containers
  • Plastic toys
  • Wood
  • Light bulbs
  • Gift wraps
  • Straws
  • Plastic bags
  • Glass

 For even more items, visit HEALabel's Recyclable & Non Recyclable Materials page.

Materials You Should Not Recycle & What To Do Instead


What can and can’t be recycled are surprisingly not that easy to recognize. Many people mistake non recyclable items for recyclables. And though the intention was good, recycling non recyclable materials can do more harm to the environment than good. 

Here are some common non recyclable materials that you might be ‘recycling’ but you shouldn’t and what to do instead!


1. Pizza box/ Food-soiled boxes

Pizzas mostly come in cardboard boxes, which are typically recyclable. However, what makes these boxes non recyclable is the grease, cheese, or a few bits of food waste left still in the box. Food particles might contaminate other materials, and might even damage the recycling equipment.

Here’s what to do instead: If the box is soaked with grease, it’s better to dispose of it in a composting bin rather than put it in the recyclable bin. It’s still compostable.

Note: It’s the same for other take away food packaging that is made from cardboard.


2. Plastic Bags

We all know plastic bags are just generally bad news. It is one of the single-use plastics that you should be avoiding. Because first, they have a very long lifespan, AND they are non recyclable. But if you really can’t avoid it, the next thing that you can do is to not let them go with the recyclables as they may also damage equipment due to their light weight. They can cause clogging in the system.

Here’s what to do: avoid them and replace them with reusable alternatives. Some stores have plastic bag recycling bins, so you can collect them and then drop them off there.


3. Old Books

Books are made of paper, so they are mostly recyclable. However, hardcover books sometimes contain non-paper components that make them non recyclable. 

You can recycle them at home and make something out of them but I would not recommend it if it requires cutting, or ruining them entirely. Really, it’s such a waste.

Here’s what to do instead: Donate them.


4. Old electronics

Most electronics are made with non recyclable materials. Old batteries, cell phones, laptops, and other devices contain toxins in the circuitry which can leach into the ground and contaminate the other materials. 

What to do instead: Donate them to thrift stores or donation centers.


5. Bubble wrap/ Packing peanuts

Packing peanuts are made of expanded polystyrene/ styrofoam which is one of the non recyclable materials. So is bubble wrap, it’s just one of the things that cannot be recycled.

What to do instead: Reuse it for your next parcel you’ll send or send it back to commercial shipping services to be reused.


6. Paper Coffee cups

As they are made of paper, many would think that they should be included with paper in the recycling bins. But that’s actually wrong. These cups have a thin coating of plastic or wax, and so, they may potentially damage the recycling equipment.

What to do instead: dispose of them in a composting bin. 

Even better: bring your reusable coffee cup/ mug to the cafe!

Despite the fact that many materials can be reused in one form or another, a lot of things that people incorrectly think can be recycled, actually cannot. There are times when recycling isn't the best option. 

It is important to learn which materials we should not recycle and how to dispose of them properly. Let’s be conscious of the Earth's waste disposal problem and be part of the solution.