5 Things You Can’t (Quite) Recycle

5 Things You Can’t (Quite) Recycle

It might get confusing about what exactly we can recycle, and what goes in your garbage or organics bin. You might even be surprised that what you think can be recycled is in fact, garbage! Here’s a list of five things people think are recyclable when they aren’t.

Food-Soiled Pizza Boxes

Summer is the perfect time to host a family get-together or a housewarming party, celebrating your move into a new home. Many events like these are accompanied by food: barbecues, snacks, and yes, pizza. But do you know how to recycle properly at these events?

For starters, food soiled pizza boxes cannot be thrown away in the recycling bin. Food soiled pizza boxes include any with grease or oils stuck to the boxes. These must be thrown away in your organics bin. Some people may think food-soiled pizza boxes go in the garbage, but if your residential garbage pickup has a three-stream sorting option, then these must go in the organics bin.

Canadians are recycling wrong every year, costing them millions of dollars. If these pizza boxes are thrown in the recycling, then the other recyclables would be contaminated with the grease and made unfit for recycling. The receiving facility will then have to transfer all these contaminated recyclables to the landfill or composting facility, adding additional hours and costs to an otherwise efficient system.

What if your pizza box is un-soiled? Then, in Vancouver, these boxes are considered mixed paper and can be recycled in your blue bins.

Glitter Wrapping, Ribbons & Foil

It might be shocking to learn that glitter can’t be recycled — so that enticing glitter foil wrapping paper and birthday card isn’t looking too tempting anymore, right?

Allen Langdon from RecycleBC spoke with CBC last Christmas about the hidden dangers of glitter. Glitter heavy foil wrap, bows, and ribbons can’t be recycled and instead must go in the garbage. However people are still throwing them in the recycling bin thinking, or hoping, otherwise.

Regular wrapping paper is recyclable, and so are normal bows and ribbon and foil, but glitter is a big no-no.

“We can’t recycle [those],” Langdon says. “They become a contaminant and we ask people to put them in the garbage.” (CBC, 2017).

So when you’re shopping for a birthday card, or an anniversary gift, opt for a glitter-less card! Paper packaging is recyclable, and so is kraft paper. You can also check the back of the cards or wrapping paper to see whether they are made from recycled paper or not. Choosing recycled, post-consumer paper products is one way to reduce our waste. Or we can go without wrapping at all! Zero wasters have long since devised interesting ways to wrap a present, like wrapping a gift in a piece of cloth instead of paper.

Bubble Wrap Mailers

Bubble wrap mailers can’t be recycled in curbside bins in British Columbia, Canada.

Yet a pilot project by RecycleBC has 116 recycling depots accepting bubble wrap packaging starting June 1st, 2018.

The participating depots will be collecting flexible plastic packaging, like bubble wrap and zipper-lock bags and crinkly wrappers. Chip bags will be accepted, as will net plastic bags for produce. These, found at grocery stores, can be recycled by dropping them off at a participating depot.

But is it worth driving out of your way to recycle them at a participating depot?

It might seem counter-productive to emit emissions with your drive to these depots to recycle plastic packaging, but consider how often you encounter flexible packaging waste in your life.

Bubble wrap has become a popular disposable waste item because ordering items online is more convenient than ever. Think about how many people order from Amazon each day, and how many packages sealed in bubble wrap are delivered. It’s not just Amazon either — consider eBay, commercial businesses, and local mom and pop stores that deliver products to your door. Bubble wrap and padded envelopes — these are a necessity for sellers to make sure their items arrive undamaged, but at the cost to the environment.


So when you think about it, being able to recycle these bubble wrap packaging is a good step forward for BC.

However, the best course of action will be to minimize our waste in the first place, making sure we really need to purchase the item online to begin with. You can also reach out to some online stores to ask about alternative packaging options before they ship the item out to you.

In general, when we use less plastics we don’t have to worry about finding a place to recycle them!

Propane Tanks

Propane tanks can be recycled, so why are they on this list?

Because even if you wash your propane tank, you can’t recycle them in your recycling or garbage bins at home. They are not safe for curbside pickup.

They cannot be recycled curbside because they are hazardous materials, and in rare cases cause fires in garbage trucks if they aren’t emptied properly. If the tanks are not clean, the oil will end up contaminating the rest of the recyclables in these trucks, making all the waste ineligible to be recycled.

Propane tanks need to be transported to a landfill facility or if you’re in Vancouver, at the Zero Waste Center, which accepts up to two propane tanks per day per vehicle for free.

Beverages from outside of Canada

Can beverages from outside of Canada be recycled in Canada?

This is a trick question – of course, they can!

The only difference is that if you paid a recycling deposit fee for example in the US, you can’t claim the fee back here in Canada.

This can deter Canadians from recycling bottles purchased across the border but think about the environmental impacts of a can that isn’t properly recycled. So why not avoid the hassle of either driving across the border to return the bottle for the deposit fee, or feeling guilty about throwing the can away in the trash here in Canada,  and buy Canadian instead? Supporting local economies, bottlers, and suppliers will be more beneficial to the Canadian economy in the long run. Or, simply avoid buying bottled water and aluminum cans in the first place!

So How Can I Recycle Right?

There are many free resources online that can help you recycle right this summer. Recycling can be confusing, as rules are always being updated here in BC Canada. Different cities, municipalities, and even countries have different recycling rules, to make it even more confusing!

We found most of the information for this blog post from the City of Vancouver’s Waste Wizard page and from RecycleBC and the RCBC Recyclepedia.


116 Recycle BC Depots Collecting Other Flexible Plastic Packaging (RecycleBC, May 2018)

Other Flexible Packaging (RecycleBC, 2018). 

Many Canadians are recycling wrong, and it’s costing us millions (Emily Chung, CBC 2018)