What to Do with Hard-to-Recycle Items

By Sher Warkentin in Thinking Sustainably

While curbside collection programs make recycling a breeze, you can't toss everything into those bins. However, that doesn't mean you can't recycle them. Many businesses and organizations are starting to create ways for consumers to responsibly dispose of hard-to-recycle items. If you're looking for ways to minimize waste and make the most of your at-home recycling, here's what you need to know.

Recycling 101

Most cities make it easy to recycle with curbside recycling programs. All it takes is checking your trash for recycling numbers to determine if you can toss items in the recycling bin. Commonly accepted recyclables include clean aluminum cans, several types of plastic containers, glass containers, paper, and cardboard. Before putting these items in your curbside bins, check with your local city recycling program for specific details about what's accepted in your neighborhood.

9 Hard-to-Recycle Items and What to Do with Them

Some common household items typically can't go in your curbside recycling. So how can you get rid of them without sending them to the landfill? From specialty recycling drop-off locations to brand partnerships that collect hard-to-recycle plastics, you'll be surprised at the options you have for responsible recycling.

Battery ends


Batteries are used to power everything from kids' toys to essentials like smoke detectors. While batteries offer a simple solution to your power needs, recycling them can be complex. Some states legally require you to recycle batteries and prohibit throwing them away. As more states adopt laws for recycling batteries, they also require retailers to provide programs that make recycling them easier.

Check with local home improvement stores or recycling centers to see if they take batteries. You can also visit Call2Recycle to find your nearest recycling location. While collecting used batteries at home before recycling, cover the ends with electrical tape and place them in a plastic container to prevent a fire hazard.

Empty Personal Care Products

If you survey your medicine cabinet, you'll likely find a lot of plastic. From toothpaste tubes to makeup containers, nearly everything you use to care for your body comes in packaging made with hard-to-recycle materials. Luckily, many brands that offer personal care products partner with recycling programs to prevent these items from ending up in landfills. For example, through the Tom's of Maine TerraCycle program, you can easily recycle items like deodorant containers, toothpaste tubes, and mouthwash bottles for free. You can also check with makeup and personal care retailers to see if they offer collection programs in-store.


According to the American Dental Association, replacing your toothbrush every three to four months is essential since bristles can become matted and frayed over time. But what do you do with all of those discarded brushes? Toothbrushes consist of mixed materials, making them difficult to recycle through a curbside program. Instead, look for a specialty recycling program that accepts toothbrushes, like TerraCycle.

Plastic Bags

Even if you've done your best to avoid plastic bags by using reusable totes and shopping for unpackaged produce, you may find yourself with a plastic bag here or there. While many curbside recycling bins don't accept plastic films, wrappings, or bags, grocery and home improvement stores often accept these hard-to-recycle items. Check with your local store to find out if it has a collection bin. You can also go to Bag and Film Recycling to search for a drop-off location near you.


In the digital age, where each new year brings a new round of technology upgrades, electronics like smartphones, laptops, and video game consoles are constantly being replaced. You can't toss these hard-to-recycle items in the bins at home. Instead, find out if electronics retailers in your area offer collection programs. Some manufacturers also provide buy-back programs or discounts when you trade in older models for new ones. If neither of these options is available to you, look for local e-waste collection drives or programs in your area.

A large pile of trash

Coffee Pods

Coffee pods make life more convenient, but they come at a cost. Used coffee pods can't be recycled at home, but luckily, most major manufacturers now offer recycling programs. Search for the brand you use and check its website to find out how to recycle the pods. Most companies provide mail-in programs that allow you to ship the pods for recycling in a prepaid envelope.

Glass Jars

Depending on where you live, glass food containers are typically recyclable in curbside programs. However, the problem is that they must be clean before you toss them in the bin. Leftover spaghetti sauce or salsa will make a mess of the recycling process and render items unrecyclable. Before you throw glass jars in the recycling bin, rinse them out. If you live in an area where glass isn't recyclable, search for a local specialty recycling location near you. In the worst case, you can save the jars and reuse them for food storage at home.

Pizza Boxes

Most curbside recycling programs accept cardboard, but many can't recycle cardboard or paper materials with grease or food stains. So, what do you do with those greasy pizza boxes? Once you remove and recycle the unstained portion of the box, you can add the remainder to your backyard compost or use it as a weed barrier in your garden.


According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 11.3 million tons of textile waste entered landfills in 2018. Whether you outgrow the size or the style, you likely have some items in your closet you no longer want. While many charitable organizations accept clothing donations, damaged, stained, or unwanted items will eventually end up in a landfill despite your best efforts to give them a new home.

Luckily, textiles like clothing can be recycled. Look for neighborhood textile recycling bins, or check with local clothing retailers to see if they offer a recycling program. Many larger companies give discounts when you bring in items to be recycled and even accept clothing from other brands. If you can't find a local drop-off, organizations like Retold Recycling offer mail-in programs to help you responsibly dispose of unusable clothes and other textiles.

Recycling Right for a Healthier Future

While some items take a little more effort to recycle, taking that extra step can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. To learn about other common items you can't place in the recycling bin, check out these ten surprising things you can't recycle curbside.

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Why It's Good

Taking a few small steps to manage hard-to-recycle items can make a big impact on the environment and your own global footprint.