What can’t be recycled?

If your business recycles, which it should, you’ve definitely heard the word contamination being thrown around. A lot of people know the definition of the word, and associate it with waste that’s been ruined, but not many know the extent of how easy it is to contaminate waste, or even what you can and can’t throw away. This means there’s a chance that you’ve thrown away more contaminated waste than not.

Once you read this, you can make a large improvement in your own recycling habits and not only help save the planet but to stop running the risk of a company refusing to take your waste.

What is recycling contamination?

In short, recycling contamination is when the wrong things are put into recycling bins, or when recyclable things are disposed of incorrectly, whether it’s an unwashed yoghurt pot that still has some left inside or glass that’s been put in a paper bin.

Why is it important?

That explanation might not seem as important as it is. It may look slightly anti-climactic if you were thinking it’d involve toxic waste or poisonous chemicals, but it’s significant. Here are some of the problems people have to deal with when waste is contaminated:

Broken machines

Plastic bags are especially bad for this. They can wrap around parts of the machine and damage them, which not only costs money to fix but can injure the sorters working in the plants.

Dangerous for workers

Recycling workers are in an environment where they’re in danger of coming into contact with hazardous waste, sharp items, or even harmful bacteria from old food. Contamination makes it unsafe for sorters to deal with recyclables, and it can all be avoided.

It ruins the whole group of things that were being recycled

If it’s too expensive to take out the contaminated items, it’d be easier to just throw the whole thing away. This leaves a lot of recyclables unusable, which is a shame because it just leaves huge amounts of waste that could be utilised elsewhere.

Depreciates in value

Waste is worth something, and contaminated waste is worth a lot less. Like we explained before, the cost of recycling is important, and contamination is a huge indicator of whether it’s worth working on.

Damaged recycling relationship

Companies that contaminate waste often will likely be refused service by the recycling plants, which can strain a lot of relationships that would otherwise be productive and positive. It isn’t necessary!

All of this can hurt your local area!

If you’re injuring workers, damaging relationships between companies and recycling plants, and cutting the value of waste coming into plants, it’s your local economy that’s paying the most. Recycling is a business, and ruining entire bins of recycling is going to put you behind.

Food waste

Food can’t be put in the recycling bin, and neither can food packaging that’s been damaged by flood, like pizza boxes. That being said, unused or left-over fruit and veg can be used as compost if you work in a company that has plants.

Tinfoil and products that contain it

Aluminium foil is slightly different from the aluminium that makes up cans, and because of this, they can’t be recycled.

Cling film, polystyrene and plastic bags

There are numerous types of plastics that make up different things, and these three things are incredibly difficult to recycle at work, as they can’t be filtered through easily, and there aren’t many recycling plants that deal with this type. There are, however, recycling bins for plastic bags and cling films in a lot of supermarkets.


When aerosols are mixed with other recycling and compressed, there is a large chance canister that isn’t fully emptied will explode. These explosions not only have the potential to harm staff at recycling plants but also pose a risk of causing a fire.

Clothes, textiles and shoes

The shape of clothes makes them really difficult to sort, as they can often get tangled at different points of sorting. On top of this, clothes can’t be reused once damaged, and are damaged easily.

Certain food packaging

These containers may be made from, or include, materials that are not recyclable- if in doubt, look on the packaging!

Broken glass

Broken glass can seriously injure recycling workers, and it is an unnecessary danger for them. Just bin it!

Specific types of glass

Mirrors and window glass are included in this, as the coatings on these are often not recyclable. These types of glass have different chemical makeup and manufacturing process than container glass. Only container glass, such as food jars and bottles can be recycled!

Shredded paper

Shredded paper often makes the paper weaker, due to the fibres being shortened. On top of this, it’s difficult to sort through and can even be a fire hazard. You can learn some alternatives to putting them in the recycling bin in this brilliant post by Reduce Reuse Recycle.

Tissues/ paper towels

These are seen as personal hygiene products, which aren’t recyclable due to complications with bacteria. The fibres in things like these are also shorter than those in regular paper, which like shredded paper, compromises the quality of the product if it were to be reused.


Recycling can be, at times, a complete minefield. That being said, it’s extremely important and should be taken seriously for businesses and residents alike, as it helps the planet! Make sure to make a note of anything we’ve said that affects how you currently recycle and follow it next time you’re unsure of what to do.

Need recycling collections?

We understand how SME’s have a small margin for error in their funds and that having the most efficient option all round is very important. There’s a stigma around switching a provider, as it’s seen as time-consuming and complex – but we do it differently. We’ve cut all the unnecessary details out of our form and we contact you directly, so you don’t have to worry about finding a provider that suits your budget. Find out more about us by clicking this link.  

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