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22 Recycling Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Can you recycle … bubble wrap? What about styrofoam? And what’s the harm in throwing plastic bags in the recycling bin even though you know they’re not recyclable? Get the answers to these common recycling questions and more.

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How to Recycle — Not Just Wishcycle

Every day, people stand between bins, trying to decide if an item can be recycled. Unsure, many throw the item in the recycling, hoping that it can be reused. But was it really recyclable? This common practice (you know you do it) is called wishcycling. While many of us want to recycle and compost as much as possible to help the planet, in reality, wishcycling can do more harm than good.

According to Recycle Coach, unrecyclable materials often cause conveyor belts at recycling plants to become jammed, which puts workers in precarious situations as they try to resolve the issue. It also causes usable materials to be downcycled or sent to landfills because of the contamination. Wishcycling increases our carbon footprint, as non-recyclable items must be shipped from the recycling plant to the landfill, and it increases taxes because of this additional transportation.

Learn more about common items you may *think* are recyclable but often aren’t — or aren’t without some extra steps.

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Greasy Pizza Boxes

Once corrugated cardboard has become soiled with oils and other food products, its paper fibers are often inseparable from those contaminants during the pulping process. Portions of pizza boxes that haven’t been stained with grease or crumbs can be ripped off and recycled, and those soggy bits can be composted. (If you’re in an urban area, you can find a pickup service through CompostNow.)

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Thermal Receipts

According to the American Chemical Society, 93 percent of thermal receipts — that is, the slick kind printed with a heat process instead of traditional ink — contain Bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor that can pose serious health risks. When paper with BPA is recycled or composted, we’re exposed to it all over again, which is why experts say the safest thing to do is to keep it in your regular garbage. Better yet, decline (or ask for electronic versions of) receipts in the first place whenever you can.

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Toothbrushes and Toothpaste Tubes

Oral care products and their packaging are made with everything from numbered plastics and nylon to aluminum and steel, and recyclers need to process each of those materials separately — which makes them a no-go for many local programs. If you’ve got the time to research what’s gone into your items and break them down yourself, Earth911 will walk you through how to do it. If you’d rather leave it to the experts, TerraCycle and Colgate offer a mail-in Oral Care Recycling Program.

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