10 Unrecyclable Paper Products and What to Do with Them

Have you ever heard of the term “wish-cycling”? It’s when a person puts an item that cannot be recycled in the recycling bin with the hopes that it’ll magically end up recycled anyways. Some examples might include pizza boxes (with food on them), paper cups, or plastic bags. Putting items in the recycling bin when they cannot be recycled causes problems. It has to be disposed of creating more work for the recycling center. Sometimes it’s unclear what can and cannot go in, so it’s important to contact your recycling services to get a clear answer of what you can put out for recycling pick up. Recently, I started reading about paper products and was surprised to find that nearly 70% of the paper and cardboard produced gets recycled. I’m glad the number is as large as it is, but I’m hoping we can increase it as more and more businesses decide to go green and separate their trash from recyclables. However, not all paper products are alike. Some cannot go in the recycling bin. What are they and what do we do with these items?


Hardcover and paperback books cannot always be recycled, but I don’t see any reason why they should be thrown away either. Books can make for good décor, especially hardback books. They can also be donated or given away for free.

Paper Towels, Tissues, Napkins

These delicate paper products may contain traces of food on them. They cannot go in the recycling bin. However, they can be burned or ideally, put in the compost bin. I love composting. It’s super easy and great for gardening.

Wax Paper

Paper with a waxy coating cannot be recycled or composted. It’s best to avoid these altogether. You can switch to an organic option like wax paper coated in beeswax. These can go in the compost bin.

Disposable Paper Cups

These disposable cups like coffee cups cannot be recycled on account of their waxy coating. The best alternative is to use a reusable cup and ditch the disposable items altogether. Currently, if I do have disposable paper products, I burn them in my firepit, but this also isn’t ideal.

I try to keep my reusable mug handy to avoidable disposable cups

Gift Wrap

Wrapping paper has a plastic film or other decorative embellishments. A reusable gift bag is a much better option, or even better, a reusable grocery tote. I’ve started giving gifts in nice reusable totes so that they can be reused and prevent plastic bag waste.

Last Christmas I used coffee mugs instead of gift wrap

Food Containers

Pizza boxes or other paper products that have food residue are not fit for recycling. Again, I just burn these because there really isn’t a good alternative for reusing or recycling them. Pizza boxes tend to make great kindling since their full of greasy cheese residue. Similarly, beverage cartons are not good for recycling because they contain either plastic or metallic linings. The best thing to do is to avoid them entirely or cut the top off and use them as a planter or other container.

Food Wrappers

Paper food wrappers that you see commonly with hamburgers and other fast food products cannot be recycled or composted. These also make for good kindling. I try to avoid fast food when I can because it’s not good for the environment in general, but when I do eat out, I save the paper wrappings for the bonfire.


Most receipts are printed on thermal paper which resists decomposition. They cannot be composted. If I’m not saving them, I toss them in the burn pile. You can avoid them completely by opting for electronic receipts.

Shredded Paper

Don’t put shredded paper in the recycling bin. The small bits can easily be blown out, and they cannot be processed at a recycling center. Shredded paper is a great alternative to Styrofoam or bubble wrap when it comes to packing items.

Sticky Notes

Anything with a sticky residue like post it notes, cannot go in the recycling bin. I use these in the office, but I try to use them sparingly.



Published by That Hippie Looking Chick

I'm a traveler, adventurer, upcycler, and bus dweller.

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