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What Household Items Can and Can’t Be Recycled

What Household Items Can and Can’t Be Recycled
4 min. read
Recycling sign in the middle of household items

Image: 9dream studio / Shutterstock.com

We all want to do our part to help the planet. And we know that recycling helps reduce waste and redirects non-biodegradable items from already full landfills. But with so many different products and materials out there, it can be tricky to know what can and cannot be recycled. 

While restrictions and recycling capabilities will vary in different regions, there are some common rules when it comes to recycling. We’ve broken down your standard household recycling by category to help you sort it all out. This list of what to recycle and what to dispose of elsewhere will help you make the right recycling choices. 


There are a lot of different kinds of paper out there. And because paper is so widely used, recycling as much paper as possible is important. While most paper can be ground back down into pulp and remade into new paper products, some types of paper can’t go in your recycling bin. Here are the details:

DO Recycle These Paper Products Whenever Possible

Computer paper, notepaper, magazines, newspapers, flyers, phonebooks, mail, plain gift wrap and greeting cards (no embellishments), paper bags, cereal and snack boxes, cardboard boxes (shipping, moving, packing, etc.)

Do NOT Recycle These Paper Items

Food soiled paper products including napkins, tissues, paper towels, paper plates, pizza and take-out boxes. Shredded paper, wax or parchment paper, plastic or foil-coated cardboard (freezer or microwave safe packaging), take-out beverage cups, foil or glitter gift wrap, books.


Household food and drink containers made of aluminum, steel and tin are almost all recyclable. This includes pop cans, food cans, clean aluminum foil as well as aluminum pie plates. In most areas, empty aerosol cans are also recyclable but remember to remove the plastic lid. Always clean food containers before putting them in the bin, so food waste does not contaminate other recycling.

You can’t put larger household metals such as toys, pots and pans, utensils and baking sheets in the recycling. And construction materials must always be disposed of safely at an approved facility.


When it comes to glass, a pretty safe rule is if it holds food, it’s recyclable. This includes glass jars that contain spreads and condiments, soft drink and beer bottles, as well as wine and liquor bottles.

Most other types of glass do not go in the recycling bin. Glass and ceramic dinnerware and baking dishes, drinking glasses, vases and mirrors vases should go to the donation center or carefully thrown away if broken. Lightbulbs do not go in regular recycling, but they can be recycled at an appropriate recycling facility.


Here’s where things start to get a little more confusing. There are a LOT of different plastics out there and none of them are good for the planet. And unfortunately, not all of them are recyclable. Generally, all plastic beverage bottles and any plastic food containers with lids are recyclable. To further break down which plastics can and cannot go in the bin, verify what is accepted in your area.

Most plastics will have a recycling symbol and a number on them that lets you know what kind of plastic the item is made of. Plastics with a #1 or #2 on them are almost always recyclable, while plastics #3 – #6 may not be accepted in all areas. Plastic #7 is one of the most challenging plastics to recycle and has only recently been added to some recycling centers.

These Items NEVER Go in the Recycling Bin

Then there are some items that you think should go in the bin, but they are never recyclable. And it turns out that not putting non-recyclable items in the recycling bin is just as important as putting the right things in. Some non-recyclables can actually taint the good recycling and redirect a whole batch of recycling to the landfill.

Plastic bags often require special collection and processing equipment that most areas don’t offer. And they pose a big problem when people put them in the recycling as they take extra work to remove. Plastic cutlery and plastic straws are also not recyclable though many people think they are.  And no polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers are recyclable. It’s best to avoid these products if possible.

Doing your part to help reduce waste and improve recycling practices saves the planet and saves time and money for your city or municipality. For more information on what can and can’t be recycled, please refer to the guidelines in your area.


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