Bad recycling habits have consequences. Putting things in your recycling can that can’t actually be recycled can contaminate everything else in the can. This contamination is the main reason why countries that used to take America’s trash for recycling – China, India, and the Philippines – have stopped taking it. Here are some common items that you shouldn’t put in your recycling can.

  1. Padded shipping envelopes. Millions of padded envelopes are shipped every day, mainly from internet retailers. Most padded envelopes are made out of mixed materials glued together, paper on the outside and plastic bubble wrap inside. These envelopes should go in your regular trash can. Like a lot of other products, padded shipping envelopes are theoretically recyclable, but from a practical standpoint, they actually aren’t.
  2. Mixed materials glued together. Coffee bags, like shipping envelopes, are made from mixed materials, paper on the outside and plastic inside. Cardboard boxes with metallic foil glued on the outside is also not recyclable. See photo below.
  3. Plastic bags and shrink wrap. They are not recyclable, and they screw up the machinery at recycling facilities. Shiny plastic bags, like the bags that potato chips come in, are also not recyclable.
  4. Anything that can tangle around other things. This includes rope, wire, garden hoses, netting, gift wrap ribbon, and clothes hangers. Even if these things are made out of recyclable materials, put them in your trash can. They create a lot of problems at recycling facilities.
  5. Anything with food still in it. A pizza box with the crusts inside or cheese stuck to the box is not recyclable. The same goes for cans and jars with food still inside them. Recycling centers don’t want the mice, rats, bugs, and mold that come with these items.
  6. Toothpaste tubes. These are also made with mixed materials.
  7. Styrofoam. Shipping peanuts, molded foam packaging, and foam coffee cups and plates should all go in the trash can.
  8. Batteries. You can get a fine in California for putting batteries of any kind in your trash or recycling cans.
  9. Sharps. Don’t put sharp things in your recycling cans. They could injure the people handling it at recycling centers, things like broken glass or ceramics, nails, razor blades, and sharp can lids.

Styrofoam Pellets

styrofoam3NEVER PUT LOOSE STYROFOAM PELLETS IN YOUR GARBAGE CAN!! When garbage collectors empty garbage cans into their truck, they turn the cans upside down. When they do that, loose styrofoam pellets can get blown all over the neighborhood in even the slightest breeze. Styrofoam pellets are made out of petroleum. They do not biodegrade; they do not fall apart in the rain; and they do not get eaten by squirrels. They hang around in the environment for a long time. Styrofoam pellets should always be put into plastic bags and sealed before placing the bags into your garbage can. If you have a lot of styrofoam pellets, you can drop off bags of them at most packaging stores at no charge, where they will get reused. The UPS store in downtown Berkeley will accept bags of styrofoam pellets if they are clean and there is nothing else in the bag. Loose styrofoam pellets in your garbage can are a disaster waiting to happen!