3 things you didn’t realise can’t be recycled

We all want to do the right thing and recycle as much as possible. However, by putting a non-recyclable into the recycling bin, you contaminate the rest of the recycling and then none of it gets recycled.

Always check with your local council for region-specific rules on what they do and don’t accept. However, here are three things that generally cannot be recycled, wherever you are.

Paper towels and tissues

Recycling is not the best option for paper towels and tissues; however, check with your local council to confirm.

So, paper can be recycled. However, paper towels and tissues are, in fact, not just paper. If you’ve ever put a normal piece of paper into water, you’ll know it generally dissolves in your hand pretty quickly. This is because water breaks up the hydrogen bonds holding the paper fibres together. To stop paper towels and tissues from going the same way – which would not help when you’re trying to wipe up a spill – certain chemicals are added, meaning they won’t melt in your hands when wet.

Unfortunately, this means the fibres are much harder to recycle. Some councils may be an exception; but you’re better off putting in the compost (our fave) or in the rubbish bin if composting is not an option. Or reduce paper towel use by using washable cloths!

A note on composting tissues – you can, unless they have been used for what tissues are usually used for. In other words, the jury is still out on how long a virus will live in a compost heap, and for this reason we suggest you don’t try to compost tissues that have been used for a cold.

Read about the difference between composting and recycling here.


About half of all receipts produced cannot be recycled due to harmful chemicals they contain.

Another example where paper is not recyclable. About half of all receipts printed are printed on shiny thermal paper containing harmful BPA and BPS chemicals. Without actually testing a receipt in a lab, it is impossible to tell the difference. In recycling these receipts, BPA is released into the air, which is bad for our health and also the environment.

The better option is to say no to receipts, or opt for digital receipts via email. Because the only way to dispose of physical receipts is to send them to landfill, and we think too much goes to landfill already.

Bottle lids

Depending on the size of the bottle top, it may be too small to be recycled.

Plastic bottles can be recycled; however, their lids cannot be.

If the lids stay on the bottles, air cannot escape during the crushing process at the recycling plant and builds up pressure inside. So make sure you remove the lid before recycling.

Lids themselves are usually too small to be recycled separately – they get stuck in the moving parts of the plant and cause jams. Measure it against a business card: if it’s bigger than the card, it can be recycled.

Beer bottle caps are also too small to be recycled on their own; however, place them inside a can of similar material. That way they can be recycled and won’t jam the machinery.


Information taken from Carbon Track and Country Living.

Read about what goes into landfill, and our goal of zero waste, on our blog.


Article by Tallis Baker

Planet Friendly Packaging acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we work.

Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by COVID-19. Stay safe.