Surprising everyday items you can't recycle, from toothpaste tubes to receipts

·Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
Toothpaste tubes, receipts and cotton buds are all non-recyclable. [Photo: Getty]
Toothpaste tubes, receipts and cotton buds are all non-recyclable. [Photo: Getty]

We all want to do our best for the planet, but are our recycling efforts going – forgive the pun – to waste?

Going green is a no-brainer at a time when we are increasingly aware of the need to clean up our world – from plastic pollution to the strain on resources posed by fashion fashion.

But confusion over how to recycle is a significant roadblock when it comes to living in a eco-friendly way, with close to four in ten of us (37%) claiming we don’t always know if products can be recycled.

Items which can’t be recycled

Cotton buds

Let’s start with an easy one: cotton buds.

You only have to have seen that viral picture of a seahorse to know plastic cotton buds pose a problem to the planet – and thankfully there is a ban coming in next year.

READ MORE: Lidl cuts down on plastic waste with reusable fruit and veg bags

“Some items are just too small to recycle - they might fall out during transit to a recycling plant or drop into the wrong place at a plant where small items that might contaminate a load are extracted,” explains Rachelle Strauss, founder of Zero Waste Week, which runs from 2 to 6 September this year.

In the mean time, make sure you invest in eco-friendly alternatives made from bamboo or paper.

Ready meal plastic trays

Do yourself – and the planet – a favour by avoiding microwave and oven-ready meals.

“Black plastic trays that convenience meals are packed in is difficult for lasers to see, so it can cause problems in a recycling plant,” she says.

Our suggestion to give up the ready meal habit? Keep it simple and chuck a baked potato in the microwave then go crazy with toppings – cheaper, more nutritious and almost as speedy.

Toothpaste tubes

Yup – your regular dental must-have is a big, fat nuisance when it comes to the recycling planet.

“Toothpaste tubes cannot be recycled as they are heavily contaminated with the product and contain several different materials that can’t be separated within our current recycling facilities,” explains Sophie Hadden, PR officer at Wrap.

In a similar vein, crisp packets and cat food pouches – which are also made up from composite materials – can pose problems for recycling.

Pyrex dishes

Broken your favourite Pyrex tupperware? Our commiserations – but make sure you don’t stick it in the regular recycling.

Pyrex products “can't be recycled with glass because Pyrex has been specially treated in the manufacturing process to withstand high temperatures,” says Strauss.

Sanitary products

A number of sanitary towels and tampons from leading brands are not recyclable, and they are flagged as “serious contamination” risk if mixed in with other products, according to the WRAP website.

However, there are recyclable alternatives available, or alternatively women could use a reusable silicone menstrual cup.


You may think that paper receipts are fine to chuck in with the rest of your paper waste, but sadly it’s not the case.

The majority of receipts are non-recyclable. While the paper itself is recyclable, “93% of thermal receipts contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic industrial chemical that’s used to produce specific kinds of plastic,” according the Recycle Coach website.

READ MORE: The supermarkets and shops with recycling incentives

Opt for digital receipts instead to reduce your impact in a small, yet significant way, advises Strauss.

Perfume bottles

You might think you can chuck your perfume bottles in with the rest of your glass waste, but sadly that’s not the case.

“Perfume bottles cannot be recycled as part of normal household services as they need cleaning, and the metal elements taking apart and recycled separately,” explains a press release from The Perfume Shop.

What to do with non-recyclable items?

The simplest option? Don’t purchase non-recyclable items in the first place. Hunt for alternatives at your local supermarket, or visit the Eco Friendly Shop website for everything from paper straws to bamboo toothbrushes.

It’s worth mentioning that each local authority treats recycling differently – so what’s true for one area might not be the same for another, explains Strauss.

You can check your local council’s policy by calling up their waste department, or typing your postcode into the Recycle Now website to see your local recycling options.

If you have non-recyclable items, contact TerraCycle to arrange a waste collection. You can do this as a household, or as a wider institution (speak to your company’s lead to arrange a regular office collection).

Going forward, supermarkets such as Co-Op and Iceland are looking to remove all hard-to-recycle dark and plastic plastics by 2023.

And for those items – like perfume bottles – that you can’t help but purchase? Try to buy from companies which have their own recycling schemes, like The Perfume Shop’s bottle recycling scheme, launching this month.

“We are delighted to be leading the way in recycling luxury perfume bottles,” says Cathy Newman, marketing & customer experience director at The Perfume Shop.

Read more about supermarkets and shops which offer recycling initiatives here.