Non-recyclable household items include the most common things that we often do not even bother to think about. Recycling practices vary significantly across the United States. Misplaced recycling, or including wet or dirty items, can contaminate the recycling stream.

Many of us have engaged in “wish-cycling” — tossing every paper, plastic, metal, or glass item into the recycling bin, assuming it should be recyclable. Unfortunately, recycling is more complex.

Recycling guidelines differ widely in the U.S. “There are thousands of recycling standards across the country,” says Rajesh Buch, a professor at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation.

The cost of advanced recycling systems, which can sort through piles of discarded items, runs into tens of millions of dollars. “Most communities lack the resources for fully loaded, full-capacity systems,” Buch explains.

Dumping every container or scrap into recycling bins can contaminate the waste stream. One estimate puts the contamination rate of recycling at 17%.

It’s essential to check with your local municipality to understand the types of recyclables they handle. Earth911 offers a recycling locator to help find where to dispose of certain recyclables, or you can pay companies like TerraCycle to manage your recycling. Some items almost should need to go in the trash or be taken to a special recycling facility:

Batteries
Batteries are one of the major source of non-recyclable household items. Cities like Seattle have banned disposing of batteries in the trash due to the risk of chemical leaks and fires. Batteries generally can’t be recycled curbside. Instead, take them to a battery recycling facility. Retail locations listed on Call2Recycle accept batteries.

Chip Bags and Snack Wrappers

Non-Recyclable Household

Chip bags and snack wrappers are often multi-layered materials that machines can’t separate. Some brands’ packaging can be recycled through How2Recycle at participating grocery stores.

Ceramics and Coffee Mugs
Ceramics, including coffee mugs and heat-resistant glass, can’t be recycled and can damage recycling equipment.

Coffee Pods

Non-Recyclable Household
Coffee pods need to be disassembled before recycling. The foil and plastic are recyclable but must be separated and cleaned. Pods can be returned to companies like Nescafe for recycling.

Diapers

Non-Recyclable Household
Disposable diapers are challenging to recycle due to their mixed materials. Most municipal facilities won’t accept them, but companies like TerraCycle might.

Aerosol Cans
Aerosol cans are metal with plastic caps, which should be recycled separately. Some recyclers accept them, but others don’t. Ensure they’re empty before recycling, especially if they contained chemicals.

E-Waste

Non-Recyclable Household
Items like cellphones, printers, and computers contain mixed materials unsuitable for standard recycling. Many cities have e-waste facilities, or retailers like Staples might recycle small appliances.

Inflatable Pools and Toys

Non-Recyclable Household
Most plastic containers are labeled with a resin identification code. While many facilities accept plastics marked 1 or 2, items like PVC (number 3), used in inflatable pool toys, are hard to recycle.

Light Bulbs
Various light bulbs, including CFLs and LEDs, require different disposal methods. Some contain hazardous chemicals like mercury. Many hardware stores and Batteries Plus accept various types.

Medical Waste

Non-Recyclable Household
Items like needles and syringes pose risks to workers and should be taken to specific disposal sites. Safe Needle Disposal provides lists of locations and mail-in services.

Napkins and Paper Towels

Non-Recyclable Household
Used paper towels and napkins are often contaminated and can’t be recycled. Their fibers are too short for recycling.

Prescription Pill Bottles
Small prescription pill bottles can fall through sorting machines and are often not recyclable. Some areas, like Madison, Wisconsin, accept bottles taller than 3 inches.

Greasy Pizza Boxes

Non-Recyclable Household
Grease-contaminated pizza boxes also included as non-recyclable household items as it can damage recycling machinery. Check with your local facility, as some may accept less greasy boxes.

Plastic Bags and Bubble Wrap


Plastic bags and bubble wrap can tangle in recycling machines, causing issues. Many grocery stores have collection boxes for these items.

Loose Plastic Bottle Tops
Loose plastic bottle caps are too small for many sorting machines. Check with your local recycler to see if they require cap-free bottles.

Styrofoam
Styrofoam is difficult to recycle and often banned for food containers. Many cities have drop-off sites for certain types of styrofoam.