We love to be as eco-friendly as possible, and recycling is a big part of that. However, sometimes it can be hard to know what you should recycle, and what should go in the trash.
Are plastic bags okay? Cling wrap? Glass? It can be hard to know, and it’s important to get it right, as sometimes putting in the incorrect item can pollute an entire section of recycling.
We’ve put together some answers to these commonly asked questions when it comes to what can go in your recycle bin. But make sure you check with your local council as the answers aren’t always black and white, and can differ from state to state, and from country to country.
When it comes to recycling, putting your rubbish in the right bin is just the start.
I can recycle glass bottles – does that mean all types of glass is okay?
You can recycle glass bottles – beer, wine and soft drink. Glass jars and pill bottles too, are good for recycling. But, if they’re broken they shouldn’t be recycled.
Unfortunately, drinking glasses and window glass are made from a different kind of material, one that can’t always be melted down and reused. So you can’t recycle those.
Do I need to wash what I’m recycling?
Not necessarily! But all items must be empty and free of food scraps.
Do I have to remove the plastic windows from envelopes?
No, you can recycle paper envelopes without removing the window. A few staples are alright too!
Can I recycle coffee cups?
Not always. Sadly most coffee cups have a plastic waterproof lining on the inside, which means they can’t be recycled and also have the potential to contaminate a load of recycling.
If you need your caffeine fix but want to do the right thing by the environment, make sure to bring your own keep cup from home, or visit a café with bio-degradable cups (however, these need to be composted – not put into the recycling). Take it a step further and make your own coffee at home to save on money and rubbish.
Soft plastics are actually the top form of contamination in our recycling plants. Sadly, they can often get tangled in the machinery at recycling plants, forcing the conveyor belts to stop. Plastic bags are the main cause of this, and should not be put in the recycling bin.
So then what do I do with these ‘scrunchable plastics’ like plastic bags and cling wrap?
While you can’t put cling wrap in your recycling, there are some great recycling programs like REDcycle that recycle them for you.
Bubble wrap, chip packets, bread bags, and the plastic film that covers your magazine and newspaper subscriptions; none of these can go in the recycling, but REDcycle can turn them into new products!
According to REDcycle: 'Simply collect up all the soft plastics that can’t be recycled at home, and then drop them into the REDcycle collection bins at participating supermarkets. There are drop-off bins near the checkouts in 480 Coles stores and 100 Woolworths stores around the country, and you can find your closest drop-off point using the store locator on REDcycle’s website. Generally speaking, if the plastic can be scrunched up into a ball, it can be placed in a REDcycle collection bin.' (Source: REDcycle)
How about plastic bottles?
Nearly all plastic bottles can be recycled, however, their tops cannot be.
Make sure you remove all plastic bottle tops before putting the actual bottle in the recycling bin – otherwise the air inside the bottle can cause problems at the recycling plant. When they’re crushed, the air cannot escape from the bottle and builds pressure.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to bottle tops/lids is to measure it against a business card – if it’s bigger than the card than put it in recycling if it’s smaller than pop it in the trash. Bottle beer caps are too small to get collected in the recycling process, however, they can be recycled if they are placed inside a can of similar material. That way they can’t jam the machinery!
I just threw an awesome party. What do I do with my plastic cutlery and bowls/plates?
While some councils deem plastic plates acceptable, not all do. Plastic forks, spoons and knives, on the other hand, are unable to be processed by recycling plants due to their shape - so make sure you put them in the bin!
If you don’t want this waste, next time, borrow a few sets of cutlery and plates from your neighbours or some friends who are coming along so you don’t have anything you need to throughout!
Can bathroom products be recycled?
Absolutely! In fact, according to Mamamia: 'shampoo bottles, cream containers and other plastic toiletry products can all be recycled. Not to mention non-electric toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and dental floss containers.' (Source: Mamamia)
So make sure you collect these up and pop them into your recycling bin in the kitchen. When it comes to make-up products and toothpaste containers, Terracycle has some really cool recycling programs you should check out. Their mission is to eliminate the idea of waste by recycling the “non-recyclable.” Take a look at their programs here.
Paper towels & Tissues
In this case, the fact that they’re made out of paper actually disqualifies them from recycling. From SBS Science:
'Paper towels and tissues are produced using a method that improves the “wet strength” of the paper.
Typically water breaks up the hydrogen bonds holding together cellulose fibres in the paper; the addition of certain chemicals can improve this, causing the paper to hold together better. This is why a paper towel doesn’t melt in your hands – but it’s also why the fibres are then much harder to recycle, so typically have to be put in the trash or organic waste for composting, unless your council is an exception.'
- SBS SCIENCE
What’s the go with foil?
Aluminium foil is 100 percent recyclable, but this is another case where it differs per council. Some councils don’t allow used foil as sometimes it isn’t cleaned properly, but as long as it’s cleaned then you’re good to go!
Try to make sure there are no tiny pieces of foil though, and if there are, squeeze the separate pieces into a ball and then put it in recycling.
I just had pizza for dinner – what do I do with the boxes?
This varies a lot based on where you are – some councils accept pizza boxes and some do not. This is because people frequently leave food on the cardboard, which contaminates the recycling load. But if you make sure the box is completely free of food, then recycle away!
The taste of pizza is pretty sweet, but know you’ve made a difference to protecting the environment is even sweeter.
How about those soy sauce fishes from my local sushi place?
Nope! They’re too small, and so they can potentially jam machinery. However, just like beer bottle tops, you can put them in a container made of the same material, and then recycle it.
Yes, aerosol cans can definitely be recycled! This is potentially the biggest misconception around recycling in Australia. However! The can must be empty.
Still got more recycling questions but feel like this article is getting pretty long? Me too! Let’s smash out the rest of this with….
Easter egg foil?
Take out containers?
Foil inside cigarette boxes?
No, but you can still donate them (if they’re not broken)!
Of course, as we’ve stated, this is just a general guide, and your council may have slightly different rules. Always check with your council when you’re not sure!