Surprising items you can and can't recycle curbside

Jenna Careri / October 6th, 2016

[LightField Studios]/Shutterstock


Curbside recycling programs have increased Americans’ commitment to recycling. After all, if an action is easier to take, people will actually do it! But we shouldn’t go overboard and recycle everything. Check with your area’s sanitation department to determine exactly what your program will and won’t accept. In the meantime, here are a few surprising items that generally can and can’t be recycled at home.


Pizza boxes

You’ve been told never to recycle this cardboard because of the grease, but new techniques allow some facilities to separate the oil from the cardboard. If your recycling program doesn’t do this, you can still tear off the non-greasy parts of the box for recycling.

Bottle caps

Though a different type of plastic than the bottle, they are accepted by most centers. Be sure to check on whether you should leave the leave the cap on the container or separate it. Metal bottles caps are also accepted, but gather them in another metal container first for easier sorting at the recycling facility.

Liquid cartons

Often called Tetra-Paks, these cartons are a mix of materials that has made it difficult to recycle in the past. But more and more communities are accepting these prevalent containers used for juice, milk, broth and soup.

Coffee pods

Better known as K-Cups, these can be recycled if you separate the parts. The cup is made of #7 plastic, so check to see if your recycling program accepts this type of plastic. The coffee grounds can go into the compost.


Shredded paper

Though paper can be recycled, these small bits are often not accepted for recycling. One, it’s difficult to sort pieces that small. Two, shredded paper is hard to bundle for packaging. Three, such short fibers are not good for making quality recycled paper.

Brightly colored paper

Compare this to the red sock in a load of white laundry. A piece of paper deeply saturated with color can ruin a batch of paper set for recycling, preventing all of it from being turned into new paper.


Though made of a type of plastic, these soft, lightweight shoes aren’t biodegradable and can’t be recycled. They can be donated to most thrift stores that also accept clothing.

Plastic bags

These thin sheets of plastic clog the sorting machines at recycling facilities. Instead, take plastic bags to a store that accepts them. Many groceries collect them in a bin at the front of the store.


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