15 Surprising Items That Shouldn’t Be Recycled

But that doesn't mean they need to end up in landfills.

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Light bulbs
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Light bulbs

CFLs, fluorescents and other light bulbs contain mercury, so you can’t throw them in with the rest of your recyclables—or your trash can. In fact, it’s actually illegal in some states to put CFLs in your trash. Instead, they’ll need to go to a recycling center equipped to dispose of the toxic chemicals safely. Visit search.earth911.com to find out where drop-off locations are or when pickup services come to your area. Speaking of light, here are 15 ways to brighten your home.

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Don’t toss broken bakeware out with your jars. Because glass like Pyrex is treated to survive high temperatures, it also won’t melt down correctly with the rest of your glass. Wrap it up so broken glass can’t hurt sanitation handlers, then place the glass in your trash. Or, save that Pyrex and use it to make one of these vintage recipes.

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Drinking glasses
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Drinking glasses

Like Pyrex, glasses are treated with chemicals that help them withstand both hot and cold temperatures, meaning their melting point is higher. Because they won’t melt correctly with your typical glass jar, they mess up the recycling process for other types of glass. Wrap them in paper to contain any shards, then leave them in the trash.

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Unlike glass, ceramics can’t melt down to be recycled. But that doesn’t mean your old mugs need to sit in a landfill. If they’re still in good condition, donate them to a thrift store. There are other options if they’re chipped, though; they can be crushed down for concrete, gravel, retaining walls and more. Check search.earth911.com to see if there are any drop-off spots near you; some places that accept brick and concrete might also take ceramics off your hands. If not, some artists will take them for use in mosaics and other projects.

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Wire hangers can get caught in recycling machinery, but they can often go to scrap metal businesses equipped to deal with the wiry shapes. Meanwhile, it’s hard for disposal centers to know what type of plastic others are made of, so they’re forced to trash those, too. Follow the other two R’s: reduce and reuse. Don’t take plastic hangers home from the clothes store if you don’t plan to use it, and donate your extra hangers to a thrift store.

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Styrofoam containers

Styrofoam containers

Actually, there’s no such thing as a “Styrofoam” cup. The trademarked name for polystyrene is only used for insulation and craft projects, and the foam used in coffee cups and egg cartons is expanded polystyrene. On search.earth911.com, see if there’s a recycling center that will accept #6 plastic polystyrene, then call to confirm they’ll take items like egg cartons and takeout containers, which many won’t.

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Packing peanuts

Packing peanuts

Like other foam products, you’ll have a tough time finding anywhere that will take your old packing peanuts. Your best bet is to reuse them the next time you send a package, or call up local shipping centers to see if their business can use them.

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Broken mirror


A “looking glass” isn’t as easy to recycle as most glass. A reflective coating helps mirrors do their jobs, but that treatment also makes it hard for recyclers to break them down. If it’s in decent condition, sell or donate an old mirror. For broken ones, see if any artist groups in your area are collecting mirrors as scraps for use in their projects. This is why you need to keep the cap on plastic bottles when recycling.

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aerosol can
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Half-full aerosol cans

Anything left in an aerosol can is considered hazardous waste (yes, including whipped cream and hairspray), so make sure it’s empty first. Check your local recycling center to make sure they take empty aerosols—some consider even empty cans hazardous. If yours does accept them, remove the plastic cap before tossing it in the recycling bin. Skip the canned stuff and try making your own whipped cream at home.

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Plastic bag
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Plastic bags

Nearly every household has a “bag of bags,” but don’t empty your extras into the recycling bin when it gets to full. While plastic bags are recyclable, most facilities only have the means to deal with rigid plastics, like bottles and coffee lids. Visit plasticfilmrecycling.org to find a drop-off spot near you. Or, pick up a cute reusable grocery bag and you’ll never need a plastic bag again.

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Bubble wrap

Bubble wrap

Like plastic bags, most roadside programs don’t have the technology to recycle bubble wrap, but that doesn’t mean it needs to go in landfills. Ask your local mail delivery service if they can reuse your bubble wrap (assuming you haven’t been popping the bubbles), or ask your plastic bag recycler if they’ll accept bubble wrap, too. 

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One slice of pizza left in the box
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Pizza boxes

Even though corrugated cardboard is normally recyclable, pizza boxes are an exception. When the paper goes through pulping at the recycling plant, it’s hard to separate the cardboard fibers from the oil in grease stains. Throw any greasy sections of the cardboard in the trash, though a non-soiled pizza box is perfectly acceptable to recycle. Here’s how to perfectly reheat pizza so it tastes as good as day one.

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Making the switch from hard copies of movies and music to streaming-only? Don’t chuck them all in with the rest of your recyclables. They’re made from a mix of metals, plastics and other materials, making them impossible to recycle at most plants. If you don’t want to donate your discs, find a recycling center that will accept them through greendisk.com or cdrecyclingcenter.org.

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Window frames


Because windows are treated in so many different ways—tinted, tempered, laminated and more—it’s hard to find an effective way to recycle them. Check search.earth911.com for programs that take old building materials, or wrap the glass up and throw it away. Don’t miss these 10 window cleaning tips from the pros.

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Mash-up of cables
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About half the states have laws requiring residents to recycle their old electronics, but you can’t just leave them by the road. Not only could you be the victim of identity theft if you don’t properly wipe your information, but electronics contain mercury, lead and other toxins. Visit ecyclingcentral.com to find a list of recyclers who can take your obsolete gadgets off your hands. Don’t miss these ways that green living can make you healthier.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest