Recycling is great. It saves energy, prevents unnecessary waste and helps create a healthier environment that everyone can enjoy. But before you start loading up your recycling bin with every last consumable in your home, you should know that some things cannot be recycled through your local curbside recycling program.

What kinds of things cannot be recycled? It turns out there are quite a few items you should be keeping out of your bin, either because they will end up in the landfill anyways or could potentially damage recycling equipment. Take a look at the list below and keep it handy the next time you go to take out the recycling.

1. Anything With a Glossy, Plastic Coating

That includes the venti-sized Starbucks cup your morning coffee came in. Glossy paperboard materials, such as coffee cups and juice boxes, are lined with a plastic that is hard to separate from the paper. For this reason, most recycling programs won’t accept the following items:

  • Paper Coffee Cups
  • Juice Boxes
  • Frozen Food Boxes
  • Chip Bags

The odds are that you won’t be able to recycle the items above, but there are some notable exceptions. For instance, San Diego and Phoenix accept frozen food boxes with other paper recyclables as part of their curbside collection programs. Make sure you double-check your local recycling rules just to be on the safe side.

2. Colored Paper

Construction Paper Spread Out on a Table

You cannot recycle colored paper for the same reason you can’t wash your pink shirts with your white ones. The dyes used in colored paper easily run, producing an inferior paper product that mills won’t accept. For that reason, you should keep construction paper and cardstock out of your bin. Sticky Notes, fortunately, are accepted by most recyclers.

3. Plastic Grocery Bags

Municipal recycling facilities usually discard plastic bags because they’re equipment is only suitable for rigid plastics, such as bottles. But while your curbside collection program probably can’t accept plastic bags, your local grocery or big-box store might:

“Rigid plastics should be placed in curbside bins while flexible plastics get recycled at 18,000 participating grocery and retail stores. We need consumers to help us keep flexible plastics out of curbside bins because most communities have invested in recycling equipment designed for rigid items, such as bottles, containers and cans. Flexible plastics can get stuck in equipment costing recyclers time and money to fix.”

Steve Russell | Vice President of Plastics, American Chemistry Council

Use to find a retail drop-off location near you. Check out the full list of accepted items to see what else you can recycle on your next trip to the store.

4. Anything With Food Sticking to It

Stack of Pizza Boxes

Materials stained with food introduce contaminants into the recycling process, potentially gumming up the machines used in recycling facilities. To avoid creating headaches for your local municipal solid waste worker, do not recycle any of these things:

  • Greasy Pizza Boxes
  • Used Paper Plates
  • Used Napkins/Paper Towels
  • Unrinsed Take-out Containers
  • Unrinsed Jars

Can You Recycle Bottle Caps?

“Plastic bottle caps are widely collected for recycling across the United States. A recent report found that 76% of Americans have access to recycling programs that collect bottle caps…The important thing is for consumers to twist caps back on their plastic bottles and jugs before placing them in the bin. Loose caps often fall through typical recycling equipment and don’t get recycled.”

Steve Russell | Vice President of Plastics, American Chemistry Council

5. Incandescent Lightbulbs

Modern energy-efficient lightbulbs, such as LEDs and compact fluorescents, can be recycled. (However, they must be dropped off at a local recycler or collection center in order to be properly recycled.) Older incandescent lightbulbs generally cannot be recycled and should be thrown out with the trash.

6. Household Odds and Ends

When it comes to household junk, you should really make sure you know what can be recycled and what cannot. Steve Russell offers a few examples of household knickknacks you should think twice about before throwing in the bin:

“A lot of the waste management services we hear from say the following items are common offenders that should be kept out of recycling bins: garden hoses, video tapes, clothes and shoes. We’ve even heard stories about bowling balls winding up in the recycling stream, which can result in costly damage to processing equipment.”

7. Foam Polystyrene

Packing Peanuts in Cardboard Box

Most community recycling programs don’t collect foam polystyrene, often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam (which as it turns out is actually a trademarked brand of building insulation). However, according to the American Chemistry Council, recycling opportunities for foam packaging are growing:

“Residents in dozens of California cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento, CA, can recycle foam polystyrene at curbside. These recycling programs accept foam packaging used for shipping products, as well as foam foodservice packaging, such as coffee cups and take-out containers—residents simply clean and toss them in the blue bin with other recyclables. There also is a growing list of drop off locations that accept foam foodservice packaging or foam packaging for shipping products or both. You can find the closest locations on this map.”

Have more questions about the types of things you cannot recycle? Check out UWLAX’s recycling guide to look up your options for specific materials. If you’re still not sure if you can recycle something, check with your city’s waste management department.

“The scope of acceptable material largely depends on the type of recycling equipment available in each community,” says Russell. “For this reason, it’s important to check local requirements to verify what you can put in your bin. That information can usually be found online through local resources. Don’t risk contaminating all the good material your community collects by putting the wrong items in the bin.”

Bottom line, don’t recycle something if you’re not sure it can be. You’ll make your local recycler’s day a whole lot easier.