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How to Recycle Pizza Boxes—And More Complicated Items

Learn how to recycle pizza boxes and other notoriously complicated items like razors, batteries, and aerosol cans.

Written by
Asha Swann

You've probably spotted the recycling symbol on everything from egg cartons to household cleaner bottles. While we often think every item with the familiar triangular symbol is recyclable, there's actually more to recycling than meets the eye.

Unfortunately, 25% (or 1 in 4) of the items that get recycled aren't actually recyclable. Many factors go into how recyclable something is, even if it's toting a recycling symbol.

"The resin identification code, which is that number inside of the symbol on plastic items, helps us understand which type of plastic an item is made of. But that piece of information is just one of many that determines an item’s recyclability," says Kylie Byrd, a recycling expert at Eco-Cycle. "Equally important factors include size, color, whether there are mixed materials present, the condition of the item (for instance, how clean it is), and the infrastructure that region has in place for processing that item.”

Improper recycling costs Americans millions of dollars every year, as some items can break machines. For example, plastic bags can get tangled in machinery, breaking the equipment and putting workers in dangerous situations.

The good news is we can all learn how to be better recyclers. Beyond learning the different types of plastics, it's also important to learn how to recycle the more complicated items of the bunch, like pizza boxes, grocery bags, and plastic razors. Here are some of the most-asked-about items and exactly how to dispose of them correctly.

8 Hard-to-Recycle Items (and How to Dispose of Them)

1. Pizza Boxes

Pizza boxes are cardboard, so they're technically recyclable. But once the cardboard becomes soaked in pizza grease and sauce, it’s impossible for recycling machines to separate the food from the paper. To recycle your pizza boxes, cut out the soiled pieces before putting them in your curbside recycling bin.

2. Aluminum Foil

Not every city accepts loose aluminum foil in its municipal recycling program. If your city does, first rinse the foil to get rid of food debris, then crush it up into a ball. Don't toss it into the recycling bin until the ball is at least two inches in diameter.

3. Batteries

Most cities consider batteries to be hazardous waste, so they shouldn’t go in the trash or recycling bin. Instead, stores like Office Depot and Best Buy have a dropbox for you to put your old batteries in. Call ahead to see if your local stores have this option.

4. Grocery Bags

If you’ve recently switched to shopping with reusable tote bags, that’s great! But what are you supposed to do with all the plastic bags lying around? Recycling plastic bags has become a lot easier thanks to all the stores that have added drop-off bins to their entrances. You can find them at many popular chains, including Target and Walmart.

5. Tires

Recycling tires on your own can be tricky and time-consuming. Thankfully, Liberty Tire can take the burden off your hands. It's the number one tire recycling service in North America, with over 35 locations across the U.S. and Canada.

The company takes your worn-out tires and repurposes them into new items like rubberized asphalt, construction materials, and athletic surfaces. 

6. Toothpaste Tubes

Toothpaste tubes can be really tricky to recycle. First, call to see if your municipal recycling program accepts them. If they don't, you can send them to TerraCycle, which recycles "all brands of used or empty toothpaste tubes and caps, toothbrushes, toothpaste cartons, toothbrush outer packaging, and floss containers."

7. Razors

Razors shouldn’t go in your recycling bin, mostly because they can be unsafe for the workers handling the recycling. TerraCycle has a program where you can safely mail your razors to be properly taken apart and repurposed. Also consider swapping plastic razors for a reusable metal safety razor, which has easily-recyclable blades.

8. Aerosol Cans

Aerosol cans can be dangerous if they're not disposed of correctly, as they can explode when punctured or heated.

Check with your city’s waste management program to see whether aerosol cans are accepted or not. Many cities now have the necessary equipment to safely crush the cans. Just be sure to use all of the product before sending it off to the recycling center, whether that's hairspray, shaving cream, or even whipped cream.