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The Mystery Materials in 6 Common Household Items, Revealed

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Ever wonder what various common things around the house are made of, and if they’re recyclable? We put on our sleuthing caps to find out!

Don’t you ever wish that everything — not just food — came with an ingredient list? There are so many things in my house that I have no idea what they’re made of, and hence, if they can be recycled.

I decided to make a list of the most mystifying household goods and do a little sleuthing to see what they’re made out of, and if they should be trashed, repurposed, or recycled.


  1. Cereal Bags: Obviously the cardboard boxes can be recycled, but what about the plastic bags that hold cereal? I learned that most cereal bags are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is #2 in the plastic numbering system. But most curbside recycling programs accept only the rigid #2 plastic, not the film. However, clean and dry cereal bags can be dropped off with plastic grocery bags in plastic film recycling drop-off boxes at grocery stores. Or, you can send them to Terracycle’s recycling program.


  1. Juice Boxes: During the summer, when we’re at the pool and park a lot, my kids go through a LOT of juice boxes. It turns out that juice boxes and other cartons are made of thin layers of paperboard and polyethylene plastic, and aluminum, too, if the contents are shelf-stable. I was surprised to learn that these cartons, despite the combination of materials, can be recycled in many parts of the country. The Carton Council has a searchable map so you can see if your curbside recycling accepts cartons. Sadly, mine does not yet. If you’re in the same boat, there’s a mail-in recycling program.


  1. Disposable Eating Utensils: While I don’t often use them, sometimes I just don’t want to risk losing my good flatware at a picnic. At least I can try to recycle the disposables, though that can be difficult since few of them are marked with a plastic number. Most disposable utensils are made from #5 polypropylene or #6 polystyrene, so if your curbside program accepts these types of plastic, add them to the bin. Don’t forget to wash off excess food residue first to prevent contamination.



  1. Yoga Mats: Most mats are made of #5 polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which makes the mats difficult to recycle. Although some areas accept rigid #5 plastic for curbside recycling, you should first check with your waste hauler if flexible PVC (which covers yoga mats, and other durable plastics like bedsheet bags) belongs in the bin. If you can’t recycle the mat, the Boulder Mat Company has a state-by-state list of charities that are seeking mat donations. And there are plenty of ways to repurpose your yoga mat yourself. Now that I know what yoga mats are made of, I feel like I need to use my mat as long as I can. Next time I have to replace it, I’ll pick an earth-friendly version like the rubber ones from Jade Yoga.


  1. Kitchen Sponges: My husband and I often have a battle about how long to keep using a kitchen sponge before it’s deemed gross enough to replace. I learned that my favorite classic Dobie sponges are made from polyurethane, a form of plastic, and they’re not recyclable as far as I can find. I like these ideas on how to reuse your sponge, and I’ll be sure to extend the life of my sponge by rinsing it out and microwaving it to kill bacteria, or by retiring it from the kitchen to grungier tasks in the garage or bathroom. And much as I love my favorite brand, I think I’ll be switching to biodegradable and compostable cellulose options, such as those from Full Circle.
  2. Tooth Floss: You only use a little each week, but it can add up over time, especially if we all flossed as much as our dentists recommend! Just what is dental floss made of, and what’s the best way to dispose of it? According to Oral B, modern dental floss is made of nylon, Gore-Tex, or other plastic fiber (even eco-friendly versions we found, such as Eco-Dent, seems to be made of nylon). It’s not recyclable, but if you really are concerned, you could buy compostable dental floss.

What household goods mystify you, in terms of what they’re made of and whether they’re recyclable? Share your head-scratchers in the comments below, and we’ll try to help you solve the mystery in a future article!

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • Audrey N. 3 months ago
    I was just reading an article in the newspaper about a new company that’s going to deliver reusable household supply’s, (everything from groceries to hygiene and cleaning) milkman style. When your done with the reusable container you send it back the next order and they’ll sanitize it and refill it. It’s all name brand stuff too.
  • Marion S. 1 year ago
    So much plastic-ware is handed out when I get take out. Lots of places I don't even pick it up if I have the choice but some places even when told put it in my sack. If the utensil is sturdy enough I pop it in my dishwasher and take it with my when I pack my lunches. Then it goes back home and gets washed again. But, if it does break then I feel a bit guilty but will toss it when I can't use it any more. I also save packages and donate them to a family member that uses them for a big picnic her church has. They do get disposed of but this keeps them from buying more than they need and I haven't put them in the trash.
  • Linda P. 2 years ago
    I use cereal bags to cook a baked potato in the microwave
  • Emily A. 2 years ago
    Can wax coated cardboard milk cartons be recycled?
  • Steven C. 2 years ago
    Cereal bags make a great shaker bag for seasoning chops.
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