What Types of Paper Are Not Recyclable?


Paper is often singled out, especially in office environments, as an easily recycled item. Bins for recycled paper are much more common than those for other materials such as plastic and aluminum. However, not all paper is created equal and some paper products are not suitable for the recycling process.

Food and Drink Packaging

  • Any paper that has been contaminated with food products cannot be recycled. This includes fast-food wrappers and candy wrappers. Clean paper grocery sacks can be recycled, but those with spilled food in them cannot. Although cardboard is often accepted as a recyclable paper material, pizza boxes cannot be recycled because of their greasy contents. Paper milk and juice cartons have a plastic coating on the inside that makes them non-recyclable as well.


  • Phone books are a huge waste of paper as they are typically delivered to every home regardless of the resident's need for a new book. The glue that binds many phone books together can make them impossible to recycle. However, some phone books are now being manufactured with a more soluble glue that will not disrupt the recycling process. Check the phone book itself for indications as to whether or not is can be recycled. Paperback and hardback books are often difficult to recycle for the same reason. In the case of these books, donating them to a charity or taking them to a used book store is often the most environmentally friendly course of action.


  • Tissues, paper towels and napkins are all examples of paper products that cannot be recycled. These items are typically contaminated once they reach the trash can, and even clean tissues are not suitable for recycling. You can reduce your use of these types of products by investing in reusable cleaning cloths in place of paper towels, and cloth napkins in place of disposable paper ones.


  • When preparing an item for recycling, you should always check for small items that may disrupt the recycling process. Twist ties and rubber bands must be removed from all papers before recycling. Stickers, laminated papers and some glossy papers are non-recyclable. Remove the fake membership cards that are laminated or made from plastic that come in your junk mail before recycling it. In some recycling, staples are acceptable. However, you should check with your particular recycling plant or collection service.


  • Despite the fact that many of the above items seem destined for the landfill, there are some steps that you can take to reduce your waste in this area. Select biodegradable items whenever possible. Paper plates and cups, tissues, paper towels, toilet paper and napkins are all available in environmentally-friendly biodegradable forms. If you have a compost heap, you can often add these items to your composter. If not, you can still rest assured that these items will not remain in the landfill forever, as they will eventually biodegrade.

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