4 Items You Thought You Could Recycle (But You Can’t)

Everyone from the time they are four years old knows what this sign (♻) means. As our children grow up, they learn the reduce, reuse, recycle song, and if they are like mine, sing it every time they see the symbol.

However, (♻) is more complicated than being a catch-all symbol for recycling something.

Here are four items that you probably have tried to recycle but can’t; and what to do with them.

  1. Grocery bags are commonly mistaken as a recyclable item. We assume because it has the recycle symbol on it that it means it can be recycled. Actually, in this case, it means the grocery bag is made up of mostly recycled material.
  2. Grocery bags and other film plastics such as saran wrap clog up recycling factories by getting caught in the machinery. Due to the nature of the material and use, factories are not breaking them down and turning them into new content.
    So, what to do? The most environmentally friendly thing to do is find an alternative such as reusable grocery bags. Since plastic grocery bags aren’t going away in Utah anytime soon, there are ways to dispose of them correctly. Most grocery stores have a bin to return plastic bags so they can be reused. Next time you head to the grocery store, look under your sink or in the closet and round up all those unused grocery bags and bring them back.

  1. Soda cups, lids, and straws are also commonly thought of to be recyclable. They are a product that seems like it could go in the paper or compostable recycle bins, but it’s neither because of the plastic lining on the cup.
  2. There are various alternatives, depending on the situation. For example, at a convenience store, you can often get a reusable cup or tumbler. It costs even less to refill your soda. If you are going to a sporting event, check the stadium rules to see if they allow you to bring an empty bottle or tumbler to fill up inside. Or, if you have a large family or community dinner, and don’t want to do dishes, look at purchasing eco-friendly cups and straws.

  1. Styrofoam is one of the most unsustainable products as it is not recyclable, lasts forever in landfills, and is toxic if burned. Styrofoam does more harm than good.
  2. There isn’t much we can do with styrofoam, so we recommend not purchasing it at all. Paper products are just as durable these days and many stainless-steel products and inexpensive and well insulated.

  1. Food scraps or food-soiled paper should not be recycled in a traditional recycling bin. Ok, so this is a bit of a cheat. Yes, you can and should recycle food scraps and food-soiled paper, but they should NOT mix with traditional recycling.
  2. Utah is a little behind several other states, such as California. Still, there are exceptional food and organics recycling programs for this material. Look for recycling bins labeled “Organic.”

If you are feeling adventurous, consider building or buying a composter and make compos, which is perfect gardening or fertilizer.


We understand that remembering where every item goes and what can and cannot be recycled can be difficult. Atlas Disposal offers sustainability education to help you incorporate recycling into your business process.

Or you can download this Recycling Cheat Sheet to hang up on your home or office.

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