Recycling Do’s and Don’ts


I am an avid recycler, and just when I think I know everything there is to recycle, I got this update from earth911. Have I ever been doing this wrong! I just put a pizza box in the recycling- Little did I know!  Check out the below do’s and don’ts from Earth 911.

‘Contamination is everywhere when it comes to recycling. It most likely occurs because people want to recycle as much as possible, and figure that anything tossed in a recycling bin will be recycled in some way. Actually, the opposite is true, as contamination is the quickest way that an entire batch of recyclables will end up in a landfill because of a few outsiders. This is especially true when it comes to paper, since you rarely find a paper product that is entirely made of paper.

The best way to ensure that your paper is safe to recycle is by knowing what is accepted.Use Earth911 to find specific products that your local program or recycling center collects, as well as exceptions.

While all recycling programs are different, here’s five materials that will likely interfere with recycling once it reaches a paper mill:

1. Food Waste

  • Paper is recycled by mixing shredded fiber with water to make new pulp. Well, you may have learned in chemistry class that oil and water don’t mix well, so oil stains won’t simply dissolve in the water. Instead, you’ll get new paper that still has oil stains.
  • Oil is a pretty common cooking ingredient, meaning that it’s a likely remnant for lots of different foods. You’ll be able to tell the difference between a water stain and an oil stain because oil won’t evaporate over time.

Common Example: Pizza boxes- This really applies to any to-go food containers, but lots of people see a pizza box as just more cardboard. It’s unlikely your pizza box is recyclable when the pizza is gone, since oil from the food has been absorbed by the cardboard. Your best bet to not contaminate the rest of your recyclables is to place it in the trash.

2. Hazardous Products

  • Anything that comes into contact with hazardous waste becomes hazardous waste. This is why most paper towels and napkins are unrecyclable; they either clean up food waste or hazardous waste (e.g. household cleaners,motor oil, paint).

Common Example: Paint-stained newspaper- When you’re painting the walls, you don’t want to get the floor dirty, so often people lay down newspaper. Well, if paint drips on the newsprint, it belongs in the trash instead of the recycling bin.

3. Plastic/Wax Lining

Linings are added to many paper products for a number of reasons:

  1. Temperature control (think coffee cups)
  2. Leak control
  3. Strength and durability

While we definitely appreciate these traits in our paper packaging, plastic and wax lining is too difficult to separate during the recycling process. The exception is plastic windows in envelopes, because they can be easily detached by a filter leaving behind just paper.

Common Example: Paper cups- You’ve already learned why the plastic lining exists on these cups; the next step is making sure they go in the trash can. Reusable mugs and bottles are a way of keeping your waste output low while still enjoying a nice beverage.

4. Pressure-Sensitive Adhesives (PSAs)

Not to be confused with public service announcements, these PSAs refer to anything that you can peel and stick without moisture. They are difficult to filter out and don’t dissolve in water (although the adhesive does), meaning they could be lodged in equipment.

Common Example: Sticky notes- You may know them by a corporate name, and you also may find the bright colors user-friendly. Extra complications arise when the bright colored notes are attached to white paper, as white and colored paper are separated when recycled (like when you do laundry). Address labels, stamps and even tape fall into this category as well.

5. Wet Paper

Wet paper is a contaminant if the paper will be drenched with water prior to recycling anyway. The answer is that exposure to water shortens paper fibers, making it less valuable. If your curbside program or local recycling center can’t sell the paper to a mill, there’s no point in collecting it for recycling.

This is yet another reason to not try and recycle napkins or paper towels. As a good rule of thumb, make sure your paper recyclables are covered if it’s raining.

Common Example: Wet newspaper- You may use it to stop roof leaks from ruining your wood floor or to line your pet hamster’s cage. Regardless, wet newspaper has little value to recyclers. Considering most newspapers are made from recycled newsprint, it’s important that what we recycle is in good shape.


A few items that are typically safe to include with your paper recycling:

  • Envelopes with adhesive, metal latches or plastic windows
  • Paper clips
  • Staples
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