In my quest to live a greener life, I recently shared a post on Facebook about non recyclable materials, some of which surprised a few people. So I decided to put together this resource to help those who are interested and wanting to get it right when it comes to proper waste disposal and things which can be recycled vs those which cannot.

I’ve actually gone a step further too, covering not only the surprising non recyclable materials, but also those which can be recycled but you may not realise it, and those which may not be recyclable, but are compostable – which is also relevant to the conversation.

Because it’s all well and good wanting to do the right thing, but we need to it the right way too or we’re not actually reducing the problem – we could inadvertently be adding to it.

The Importance of Proper Waste Disposal

Zero waste living is not realistic for most people; the best we can do in most cases is to limit our carbon footprint and reduce the amount of single use plastic we buy. In order to do better, we need an awareness not only of which materials we’re using are problematic, but also how we should be properly disposing of those materials to minimise their environmental impact.

A smiling woman holding a piece of paper showing a recycling symbol beside a tree.

There’s a lot of confusion here, and definitely room for improvement – which is a good thing; it means we can make positive change through proper waste disposal, simply by processing our waste more efficiently.

Ultimately, it’s about my new motto: conscience over convenience.

Incidentally, I’ve really had to do my research here, because some of those products mentioned in my Facebook post surprised me too. I thought I was fairly well educated on the subject, but even the most conscientious and environmentally-aware can be caught out by these particular items.

For example, people are up in arms about the whole McDonald’s straws debacle. Naturally a move to non-recyclable paper straws appears very much to be greenwashing an important issue – and it may be so. But, let’s look a little deeper and it’s worth noting that paper straws biodegrade and are not harmful to wildlife – neither of which is true of plastic straws.

Glass globe on grass.

So, while it may seem utterly pointless to make that switch on the face of it – especially for those (morons) who value their milkshake over their planet – the reality is that paper straws are still far preferable than sticking with the status quo of their plastic counterparts.

Here’s my list of top surprising recyclables; compostables; non recyclable materials; and more!

Top Non Recyclable Materials People Incorrectly Think Can Be Recycled

  • Hand soap pump dispenser tops
  • Kitchen roll
  • Glossy receipts
  • Non-paper gift wrap
  • Coffee cups
  • Plastic bags
  • Tissues
  • Paper straws
  • Greasy takeaway pizza boxes
  • Soft plastic/laminated foil packaging such as pet food and baby food pouches
  • Photo paper
  • Nail varnish bottles
  • Crisp packets
  • Post-it notes
  • Shampoo bottles and food containers that have not been rinsed
  • Tissue boxes where the plastic insert has not been removed
  • Plastic toys
  • Treated wood
  • Dishes
  • Mirrors
  • (Some) cotton wool
Hands holding various things which can be recycled and non recyclable materials which require proper waste disposal.

Top Things Which Can Be Recycled – But People Don’t Realise

  • Kitchen foil and foil trays that are used but still clean
  • Empty surface cleaner bottle with the trigger spray
  • Metal lids
  • Empty bleach bottles
  • Envelopes with windows

Top Items Which Cannot Be Composted

  • Tea and coffee bags – tea leaves and coffee grounds are fine, but the bags often contain synthetic fibres
  • Citrus peel and onion and garlic – they contain natural compounds which are harmful to worms and other small critters
  • Dairy, bread, and meat and fish products, cooking oil and rice – all attract pests
  • Walnuts – contain a compound called juglone which is toxic to some plants
  • Waste from carnivorous animals (includes humans!)
  • Personal hygiene products such as nappies and tampons
  • Glossy / coated paper
  • Sawdust – unless confident it’s from untreated wood
  • Diseased plants – can contaminate your compost
  • Tomatoes – can take root! 
  • Weeds – as above
  • Pesticides
Recycling symbols printed on palms of hands, with a seedling growing on the ground between them.

Top Items People Don’t Realise Can Be Composted

  • Latex balloons
  • Beer, wine, and spirits
  • Natural corks from wine bottles
  • Hair and nail clippings free from polish
  • Feathers and fur
  • 100% cotton wool free from chemicals
  • Herbs and spices
  • Coffee grounds and paper filters
  • Ropes
  • Matches
  • Toothpicks
  • Shredded bills and bank statements
  • Used paper towels and tissues (so long as they’ve not been used during illness or to clean up chemicals)
  • Dry pet food
  • Small pet bedding from herbivores
  • Nuts and their shells (except walnuts)
  • White glue, papier mache and masking tape
  • Cellophane (plant-based only – not plastic shrink-wrap)
  • Natural sponges
  • Wood ash from a log burner
A woman holding a seedling.

How to Dispose of Your Waste Properly: The Items You Still Need to Check

Some items you may or may not be able to put out for your local council to recycle, depending on where you live and local recycling facilities.

You should check locally for the following materials:

  • Aerosol cans
  • Styrofoam – polystyrene
  • Aluminium tubes such as toothpaste
  • Crisp packets


Are you aware that many supermarkets now collect materials which cannot be recycled from home through your local council? You’ll often find a large bin in your local supermarket foyer where you can dispose of the following items:

  • Shrink wrap
  • Bubble wrap
  • Toilet roll film
  • Frozen food bags
  • Cereal inner bags
  • Bread and produce wrap
  • Drinks multipack wrap


Some libraries offer schemes where you can drop off the following items for recycling:

  • Batteries
  • Electrical
  • Crisp packets


Finally, have you heard of TerraCycle? They have recycling solutions for practically every type of waste you may have. Some of the schemes are a little inconvenient due to requiring bulk collection and then drop off at a dedicated location. But if you’re committed, then it’s something to look into.

A list of surprising non recyclable materials, plus recyclables and items which can and cannot be composted. #sustainability #plasticfree #zeroplasticliving

The free schemes currently offered by TerraCycle are:

  • EllaCycle – baby food pouches
  • The ACUVUE® Contact Lens Recycle Programme
  • The Air and Home Care Recycling Programme
  • The Aqua Optima® Water Filter Recycling Programme
  • The Beach Plastic Recycling Programme
  • The Bread Bag Recycling Programme
  • The Cigarette Waste Recycling Programme
  • The Colgate® Oral Care Recycling Programme
  • The Confectionery Recycling Programme
  • The Crisp Packet Recycling Scheme
  • The Febreze® Air Freshener Recycling Programme
  • The KIMTECH™ Apparel Recycling Programme
  • The KIMTECH™ Nitrile Glove Recycling Programme
  • The KP Snacks® Nuts, Popcorn, Crisps and Pretzels Packet Recycling Programme
  • The L’Occitane® Recycling Programme
  • The Personal Care and Beauty Recycling Programme
  • The Pet Food Recycling Programme
  • The pladis Biscuits and Snacks Recycling Programme
  • The Pringles® Can Recycling Programme
  • The RB® Hygiene Home Recycling Programme
  • The Spontex® Disposable Gloves Recycling Scheme
  • The Swisse Me Recycling Programme
  • The Tassimo® & L’OR® Recycling Programme
  • The Tayto® Recycling Programme
  • The Weleda® Plastic Recycling Programme
  • The Writing Instruments Recycling Programme

Which of these recyclable / non recyclable items were you most surprised by?

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is a huge advocate of personal growth, focusing on journaling to increase positivity and facilitate mindful motherhood. With a wealth of experience in breastfeeding and CMPA, Kate is also an expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.

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