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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? Not Always! 7 Everyday Items Bound for Landfills

During some recent cool weather here at Quality Logo Products HQ, I got through the chilly mornings with my Keurig coffee maker cranking out coffee and tea like a champ. For those newbies stopping by, if you had no idea that I love my Keurig, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with my past blog on the subject. It’s cool, we’ll still be here when you’re finished.

After reading some news that mentioned how K-cups aren’t recyclable a coworker and I started to wonder what other things we throw in the recycle bin which aren’t actually recyclable. Some items really surprised us, while others we nodded our head in agreement with.

Pizza boxes covered in grease? Doesn’t really shock me that recycling plants can’t process them and reuse that material again for other products. Yogurt containers, though? I’ve been throwing those in the blue bin for years and feeling my inner eco-goddess shine!

What other items have I been hunting down those blue recycling bins for that aren’t actually recyclable? Some were shocking and others never hurt to be reminded of.

1. Planter’s Nut Containers

The main problem with this offender is that only some recycling plants can properly remove the paper from the metal and use both materials again. Both materials are technically recyclable, but together they are not. To save them from the landfills, try to reuse and repurpose them instead of pitching them. For example, they make great planters for small plants or flowers for your desk at work: just remove the label and you’re good to go!

Feed your coffee addiction and your flowers one cup at a time!

2. Keurig’s K-Cups

Due to the unique brewing vessel, the package needs to withstand a fairly high amount of heat. So, K-Cups have to be resistant to the exact elements that are needed during the recycling process: heat, moisture, air, light. I wish there was a way you could recycle them, but there’s no way to do so while maintaining their excellent product. The best advice I can offer? Remove the foil lid when you’re finished with the K-Cup and compost the brewed coffee grounds yourself in your personal compost. Or, throw the grounds on your flower beds since some flowers love acidic soil. The acidity from the grounds will give life to some beautiful blooms in the spring.

3. Plastic Grocery Bags

These are the bane of my existence. I’ve complained several times about the annoyance of saving them, packing them up, and going to a grocery store that actually has a receptacle to collect them. Some states have even banned them and several more are considering this measure. My suggestion? Bring your own reusable bags to the store and keep a bunch in your car to have on hand. It not only helps the environment, but also keeps your rage in check.

4. Plastic #5 (Yogurt and Hummus Containers)

This is one that really shocked me. You more than likely have one of these containers made from #5 plastic in your refrigerator right now. Not every recycling program nationwide accepts it, but check out Earth911.com to find out if there’s one near you that you can drop them off at.

5. Paper Cups with a Plastic or Wax Lining

Soggy, used paper is a no-go for recycling centers

You may be thinking: “I never use these styles of cups,” but if you stopped at Starbucks this morning, you did! While clean and unused paper cups of this type are recyclable, it’s difficult to process them at a recycling plant once they get wet. Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Tim Horton’s (a shout out to all you Canadians reading) have been working together to produce a more environmentally-friendly paper cup, but nothing has come out yet. Instead of opting for a paper cup each time, bring along a reusable tumbler to get your morning jolt of caffeine. Starbucks will reward you with 10 cents off your drink.

6. Plastic Bottle Caps

While plastic water bottles can be recycled and broken down for use again, their caps are more difficult to deal with. Melting a water bottle and its bottle cap has about a hundred degree difference between the two of them. Some communities do recycle them, while others do not because of the process involved. Check out Earth911 to find out if your community recycles them or where you can go to drop them off.

7. Styrofoam

Even you Dunkin’ Donut fiends out there can’t escape the same problem Starbucks runs into. Many cities and towns don’t recycle Styrofoam and it can take up to 500 years for it to decompose in a landfill. This stuff is tricky to get rid of since it isn’t recyclable and should not be burned up. For some tips, check out this website on green living tips for some handy ideas.

While this list may leave you wondering what CAN be recycled, there are tons of items out are that can be. Just be sure to double check with your community to find out what materials they take. A little research on plastic classifications and other materials can mean a better environment for our children and our children’s children.

Do any of these items surprise you? Do you have any other ways to reuse them than what I mentioned? Sound off below!



Amy Swanson

Amy is one of Quality Logo Products’ content developers and social media coordinators. She is a self-professed newspaper nerd and thoroughly enjoys reading business and financial news and having impromptu discussions about it. Oh yeah, she’s “one of those” people! A true Midwestern girl by nature, she loves riding her bike, photography, and the Chicago Cubs. You can also connect with Amy on

Comments

  1. Jill Tooley

    I’ve been tossing empty k-cups, hummus containers, and yogurt containers into recycling bins for years now! It boggles my mind that they’re not recyclable. I want to say that my county accepts them in bins, but now I’ll have to go back and verify for sure.

    Seeing so much styrofoam breaks my heart! I wish Dunkin’ Donuts would stop using them for their coffee drinks. It’s one of the cheapest materials to produce (which is why so many people use them) but it also takes FOREVER to biodegrade in landfills. To be honest, many times I avoid DD just because of their styrofoam cups. (Do they allow people to bring in non-DD tumblers to fill instead?) There has to be another type of container that’s just as cheap to make but is actually recyclable! I read awhile back that Starbucks is aiming to provide only reusable or recyclable cups in their stores by 2015, and that they’re developing new cups that they hope to mass produce by that time. Hopefully this happens and hopefully other coffee places follow suit!

    I hate throwing away items that can’t be recycled. It’s such a waste! Good call on reusing the Planters containers instead of pitching them. From now on, I’m going to be more conscious of the plastics I’m purchasing.

    • Amy Swanson

      I’ve always done the same, Jill! In college I’d sometimes hunt out a blue recycling bin for my yogurt containers :(

      I’d heard that too about the 2015 cup decision, I hope they come to one. As for Dunkin’ Donuts, I’m not sure if they allow outside tumblers. I’ve never seen someone ask before, but it’d sure save them money and the environment.

      Mandy and I were just throwing around blog ideas one afternoon and she mentioned that her Planter’s container said it wasn’t recyclable. That of course got the ball running and after researching, I’m still surprised by the amount of items that can’t be. Shocking!!

  2. Rachel

    This post makes me so sad!! I’ve been recycling yogurt containers and similar plastics forever–but I guess I really haven’t, if my area doesn’t have the right recycling facilities. :( You’ve definitely inspired me to look more thoroughly into my local recycling options to see what I’ve been doing wrong for all these years. Thanks for such an informative post!

    • Amy Swanson

      Happy to help, Rachel :) I was shocked too by the yogurt containers and water bottle caps. I’d always just assumed that anything plastic must be recyclable, but I guess the saying about “assuming” is true.

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    Nice rundown, Amy! I’m actually pretty surprised that those Starbucks cups aren’t recyclable. I could have sworn that they had the little “recycle” symbol on them. Guess I was mistaken. Thanks for the heads-up. :)

    • Amy Swanson

      The cups themselves are made out of “post-consumer products”, meaning that they’re made out of recycled material. The article I found mentioned that they weren’t recyclable since wet cardboard can’t be used. However, I wonder what would happen if you waited to recycle the cup when your leftover coffee had dried. Would it be re-usable then? Still some researching is needed, I guess.

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    I was so sad that day when we found out that I couldn’t recycle my cashew container. For nuts claiming to have NUT-rition, they sure aren’t doing the environment any favors.

    it also makes me sad that I love coffee, but K-cups, DD Styrofoam, and Starbucks’ paper cups can’t be recycled. I guess I’ll just have to drink iced coffee for the rest of my life. Oh darn.

  5. JPorretto

    Seriously? The CAPS? (See what I did there? Pun alert)

    What a major pain that some parts of the bottles are less recyclable than others!

    Have you seen the new water bottles? They use thinner plastic and smaller caps. I appreciate the effort, too bad they’re barely useable. The bottles collapse on themselves all the time, and it takes multiple tries to get the cap on right. Couldn’t there be a happy medium with a LITTLE more useability?

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I’ve never had a problem with the thinner bottles with less plastic. Maybe you’re just doing it wrong, Jeff. :)

  6. Lauren

    Great post Amy! You should make a sign (Using pictures of course) of what is and what is not recyclable and place it by the big recycle bin over in 724… we have some serious offenders!

    • Amy Swanson

      Hahaha, that’s a great idea, Lauren! Always safer with pictures than words to get your point across ;) Thanks for commenting!

  7. Cybernetic SAM

    Also, McDonalds bags and most fast food wrappers are non-recyclable, as well as most paper-towels and cigarette boxes. There are so many things unfortunately that can’t be recycled, all because they contain material that can’t be reused. I had hoped by now a lot of these products would have changed over. Sadly, they have not. Great post, it is always nice to inform the public of these things as most people don’t know! There are solutions to all these things, I wish people would bring their own Tupperware to restaurants that use Styrofoam take-home containers as it is a USELESS and outdated technology.

    • Amy Swanson

      I hate that paper towels aren’t recyclable, I’ve been trying to ween myself off of them and use actual towels instead, but it’s hard. I’ve found that keeping the paper towels in the least convenient place possible when cooking and moving my drawer of towels closer has worked the best. Just doing little things can help.

      Some restaurants that I go to actually have take-home containers that can be heated up in the microwave and washed in the dishwasher. I’ll use them a couple times before throwing them out since I’m totally 100% sure they’re BPA free LOL Baby steps I guess.

  8. Amanda

    Nice post Amy! My question is–Of the items we put in the recycling bin that are not actually able to be recycled. What do they do with them? Is it easy for the facility to sort and pitch those items? Or do they just not recycle any of it. I’ve always recycled, but haven’t stayed on top of what can really be recycled. Thanks for updating us!

    • amy

      Always happy to help, Amanda :) I was shocked by the number of things on this list that I had always been searching out recycling bins to dispose of it “properly”.

      I haven’t done any research on it, but I’m assuming the recycling facility throws away anything they can’t use, however don’t quote me on that ;)

      • Amanda

        Hmm…I wonder. I sure hope recycle what they can, and then pitch the rest….rather than pitching it all. That would make sense, and I hope that is the case. Because I just do my best to guess at what can be recycled and put in all the bin; rather than separating it and such. Hope it’s helping! =)

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