If you’re already making efforts to recycle, don’t let your recycling efforts go to waste. Follow these tips to make sure you don’t make any recycling blunders.


Clean and dry everything you recycle. This is by far, the most important rule. Leftover food or liquids can contaminate the batches. Anything that contained food or liquids should be rinsed and dried, such as aluminum foil, cans, jars, plastic bottles, plastic containers, etc.

Remove plastic tape from boxes and remove plastic windows from envelopes before recycling them. Plastic tape and plastic windows are not recyclable. If left on, they could contaminate the batch.

Keep the caps on plastic bottles, aerosol cans, or glass jars. They can be recycled together. Recycling centers used to request that caps be taken off, but they have since changed their process. Even if the caps and bottles are made of different types of materials, recycle them together. Once they’ve been separated, the caps will slip through cracks of the sorting machine and won’t be able to be sorted properly. Check with your local curbside recycling program because some won’t even recycle caps at all.


Don’t recycle anything smaller than a post-it note. You shouldn’t recycle shredded paper or small plastic caps that have been separated from their containers. Once collected, the recycling center has to sort it. There’s a risk of something this small not being sorted properly and contaminating the entire batch.

Don’t wrap up your recyclables in a large plastic bag. Due to safety reasons, they aren’t always opened up in recycling centers. Save your plastic bags and recycle them at your local grocery store.

Don’t remove the labels off of containers before recycling. While not harmful, it’s extra work you don’t need to do.

Don’t crush your plastic bottles before screwing the caps back on. The recycling center sorts things based on size and shape. If it’s too flat, it might accidentally be sorted as paper.

Things that can’t be recycled

  • Broken glass. Unfortunately, it puts the handlers’ safety at jeopardy and their safety is top priority. For a guide on how to dispose broken glass, go here.
  • Coffee cups. While predominantly made of paper, they also contain plastic to prevent leaks.
  • Photos. They have a special coating that will contaminate the batch.
  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic straws
  • Shiny wrapping paper. To achieve that look, they are made with a mixture of different components. Unfortunately, recycling that will contaminate the batch.
  • Shredded paper. The pieces are too small and will fall through the cracks of the sorting machine. Check with your local curbside recycling program because some will accept it if it’s in a paper bag labeled as “shredded paper.”
  • Soap dispenser tops. While the bottle itself is recyclable, the top is not.
  • Used pizza boxes and other greasy paper and cardboard. The grease will contaminate the batch.

Other tips

For things that can’t be recycled, but can be composted, such as shredded paper, compost them. Compostable things that end up in the landfills produce methane because of the lack of oxygen. A compost pile that receives oxygen or has worms will produce carbon dioxide instead. For more information of the harmful effects of landfill gas, visit here.

If you can, reusing is better than recycling. Due to the inefficiencies of recycling, it is estimated that only 9% of plastic produced by the entire world is recycled and 79% of it ends up in landfills.