13 commonly-recycled items that can’t actually be recycled

Tackling the world’s climate emergency feels like a huge challenge – because how can just one individual make a real difference?

Global Recycling Day (March 18) was designed to encourage all of us to make small changes that have a big impact on the world.

And yep, recycling your rubbish is one way to do your small-but-crucial bit for the environment.

But did you know that many commonly-recycled things aren’t actually suitable for the green recycling bin?

No worries if you’ve added them in the past – especially because every local authority has their own rules about what they’ll accept in your recycling (check them here).

You can think twice before adding them in future, though. As there are certainly a few surprises on the list…

Which common items can’t go in your household recycling?

Pizza boxes (with food stains)

Cardboard is usually a big ‘thumbs up’ for the recycling bin. Just make sure there are no grease stains, melted cheese or any rogue bits of crust left before you pop it in.

Nothing with excess food or drink still on it, or ingrained stains like grease, can be recycled unfortunately – meaning that pizza boxes should generally be headed for the general rubbish bin.

Takeaway coffee cups

Coffee cups from takeaway cafés don’t usually belong in the green bin. Apparently, this is because they’re usually a combination of paper and plastic – specially designed to keep heat in and rogue leaks out.

Either explore if your coffee shop of choice takes them back for separate recycling – or opt for a stylish reusable cup.

Bin bags

Bin bags – or black bin liners – can’t be recycled. So if you use them to gather up your recycling, make sure you don’t leave them in the green bin. Put them in the general rubbish instead.

According to London Recycles, black bags are coloured with a substance called carbon black pigments – that affects how the sorting systems at recycling centres work.

So even if you leave the bin bag open for the recycling to be tossed out, they’re still thrown away on sight.

Used kitchen roll

The cardboard tube found inside the kitchen roll– and toilet roll, for that matter – are for the green recycling bin – but any used kitchen roll paper is not.

It might seem obvious, but anything with bodily fluids, food stains or general muck can’t be recycled.

13 commonly-recycled items that can’t actually be recycled

Plastic shopping bags

These bags can’t be recycled for a similar reason to black bags – though this time it’s because they actually get caught in recycling centre sorting machinery.

The best way to recycle a plastic shopping bag is to reuse it, again as a shopping bag or as a small household bin liner.

Try to avoid getting new plastic shopping bags where possible – choose to use one or two heavy-duty ‘bags for life’ if you can.

Plastic straws

Plastic straws aren’t for the recycling, even though they’re plastic.

They’ve actually been banned in the UK since April 2020 – and RecycleNow advises you don’t use them at all.

They can’t be recycled because, the website explains, they’re so small that they often fall out during the sorting process.

Polystyrene foam

Even if you keep the foam box your takeaway chips or kebab comes in clean, it can’t be recycled, says Recycle Now. It’s called ‘expanded polystyrene’ and it belongs in your normal rubbish.

Pringles cans

Shockingly, Pringles cans can’t be recycled at all – because there are so many different materials making up each can (plastic, metal, cardboard).

The company does provide options for crisp fans to drop off the cans (without the lid) at supermarket ‘bring banks’. Pringles explains how to recycle them here.

Crisp and sweet packets

Love sweet treats and savoury crisps? Look at the back of the packaging before you ditch it in the green bin, as they may be made of multiple and non-recyclable materials.

If they’re classed as ‘multi-layer flexible packaging’, they can’t be recycled.

Bubble wrap

RecycleNow suggests recycling bubble wrap at supermarket recycling points – as it can’t be added to the green bin.

Due to the type of ‘plastic film’ it’s made from (low-density polyethylene) being a potential clogger for the recycling centre sorting machine, you may be better off reusing where possible.

Face masks and PPE

Disposable face coverings are, strangely, now part of everyday life – not just in hospitals. But don’t put them in your household recycling.

When disposing of a mask, make sure you cut the ear strings with a pair of scissors and then pop them in the normal rubbish bin. Or opt for a reusable mask that you can wash regularly.


If you have leftover wood, perhaps from your garden, you shouldn’t just leave it in your recycling bin.

Instead, find a way to reuse and upcycle if possible – or contact Community Wood Recycling or a wood recycling specialist to see if it can be picked up.

Glittery wrapping paper

If it’s made of foil, glittery, in any way metallic or covered in bows, ribbons or sellotape, your wrapping paper doesn’t belong in household recycling. These materials aren’t recyclable.

Put it with the rest of your waste, if you can’t reuse it, of course.

Normal, decoration-free wrapping paper should be okay to recycle from home – just make sure you can scrunch it up into a ball before it goes in the green bin.

MORE : 23 surprising things you didn’t know you could recycle

MORE : Reduce, reuse, recycle: Sustainable lifestyle hacks for your home and kitchen

MORE : Can you recycle Covid tests?

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