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Lifestyle Sustainability

6 Recycling Mistakes You Might Be Making

About 292 million tons of trash is produced in the US yearly, and out of that, only 32% is recycled. And not everything thrown into the recycle bin gets recycled. A lot of people are “aspirational recyclers”. Meaning that they overestimate what can be recycled, and recycle things that don’t belong. When that happens it can contaminate the entire bin, making none of it recyclable. So to help reduce unnecessary waste and aspirational recycling, here are 6 recycling mistakes you might be making, and what you can do about it.

Affiliate links may be included at no cost to you. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. To learn more, see here.

Coffee Cups

Single-use coffee cups are lined with a plastic coating, so they can’t be recycled. Opt for a to-go reusable coffee cup, like this one from Amazon.


Food Residue

Recycling pizza boxes and takeout containers are common recycling mistakes. These can’t be recycled because of leftover grease and food remnants that can’t be separated from the material. Instead, tear off the grease stained parts of cardboard, and wash out plastic takeout containers to recycle instead.


Related: Reusable Silicone Food Storage Bags | Pros and Cons + Review


Grocery Bags

Plastic grocery bags and plastic produce bags are a soft plastic, so they usually can’t be recycled like your other recyclables. Check the recycling program in your area to see if they accept plastic grocery and produce bags. If not, take them to a drop-off recycling location. Or ditch the plastic all together and opt for reusable shopping bags and produce bags.

Wrapping Paper

Metallic, glittery wrapping paper can’t be recycled. To see if your wrapping paper recyclable, scrunch it up in a ball. If it scrunches, and stays scrunched up, it can possibly be recycled. Here’s an example. However, you could also use something like kraft paper, or a reusable wrap to stay on the safe side.


Related: Ethical Etsy Holiday Gift Guide


Shredded or Small Pieces of Paper

Depending on your area, shredded paper can’t be recycled because the small pieces could potentially damage the recycling equipment. If your area allows for shredded paper to be recycled, you may have to keep it contained in a separate bag. Another alternative could be to compost the material, or use it as bedding for certain types of animals.

Additionally, other small scraps of paper can be hard to recycle because of similar issues. It can both damage equipment, and be hard to sort.


Receipts can’t be recycled due to being made with thermal paper. Thermal paper contains BPA and BPS, which are chemicals used to make certain plastics. So not exactly recyclable. Instead, opt out of receipts whenever possible.


Related: I Switched to Eco-Friendly Toilet Paper and Here’s What I Thought (Who Gives a Crap Review)


When In Doubt, Throw It Out

This is a great phrase that both industry professionals, and sustainability activists want us to follow. Accidentally recycling something that doesn’t belong does more harm than good. And learning from your recycling mistakes helps prevent unnecessary waste going into the landfill. So when in doubt, throw it out.

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Featured photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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