12 most common recycling mistakes

If you have been a regular reader of our blogs, you know by now how much we stress the importance of reducing the amount of waste your house generates before actually starting to talk about recycling.

Reduce and Reuse are the best part of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” motto when it comes to lower your environmental foot print but when it comes to the third word, “Recycle”, how many of us are actually doing it correctly?

Even if you have the best intentions, improper recycling (or "wishcycling") has consequences for the whole waste management system, so we have put together a list of the 12 most common mistakes and questions we are sure we have all asked ourselves at least once.


1. Soft plastics 

We have a full blog about this and how much impact soft plastic has on the landfill waste. Most of the food we buy in main grocery stores comes wrapped in some sort of film or in soft plastic bags, think about tomatoes, chips, cookies, toilet paper. Basically, almost everything we buy is wrapped in soft plastic.

How to recognise it? If you can crunch it, it’s soft plastic. If when you let it go, it springs back into shape than it’s not categorised as soft plastic.

While it’s great to prevent food contamination, soft plastic cannot be recycled in standard plastic recycling plants and therefore should not go into your recycling bin.

Luckily, biggest supermarkets chains like Whoolwhorts and Coles have partenered with Red Recycle and offer soft plastic recycling bins at the entrance. Red Recycle will then collect it and transform it into outdoor urban accessories like benches and playgrounds’ soft tiles.


2. Coffee cups

Especially in times of lockdowns, the trip to the local café was one of the highlights of our days. Unfortunately, even if some coffee shops have opted for the Bioplastic alternative, these cups are still lined in a plastic film that make them non-recyclable by standard recycling plants.

The film can only be removed by special machines so you will have to dispose of them in your general waste (knowing that they will not decompose in many years to come).

The lid instead is made of plastic which can normally be recycled (look for the number identifying the type of plastic used and check your local council’s rules).

The Simply cups program  offer businesses and schools to arrange proper disposal bins, collection and recycle of coffee cups and lids. Unless your business adheres to this program or you find a collection point near you, the best alternative really is to get that fancy take away coffee cup!


3. Bread Tags and Small pieces of plastic

Some companies like Tip Top have pledged to swap their plastic bread tags for a paper version and we can’t wait to see this change adopted by all companies out there.

In the meantime, bread tags and all other small pieces of plastic should not be loosely disposed in your recycling bin as they are too small to be detected by recycling machines. We suggest collecting them inside a plastic bottle you are going to throw away or, even better, donating your bread tags to programs like Aussie Bread Tags for Wheelchairs.


4. Shredded paper and store receipts

Similarly to small pieces of plastic mentioned above, shredded paper is too small to be recycled but there’s good news: it can be disposed in your green bin as it is great for compost.

Another common recycling mistake are store receipts due to the ink used by most of them. The ink’s chemicals are easily transferable too, so they have to go in the general waste bin because if placed in the recycling bin or compost bin they would contaminate other waste. The best thing to do? Say “no, thanks” if they ask you if you want a receipt!

Paper with staples and paperclips is still accepted by recycling companies but it might be a good idea to get into the habit of removing them.

Other types of paper that cannot be recycled are used paper towels, tissues or napkins, which are made of very short fibres, making them hard to recycle, so should all go into general waste.


5. Nappies and sanitary items

Unfortunately, these items are all made with different materials, some recyclable and some not. But regardless, the fact that they are contaminated with human waste material, make them a sanitary problem for the recycling plants so they must go into general waste and, sadly, landfill. If you think about the amount of nappies or sanitary items we used in our life, you’ll understand the importance to look into alternatives like reusable washable nappies, menstrual cups or underwear.


6. Broken glass (kitchen glass)

Drinking glasses have a different chemical composition and melting point compared to glass jars and bottles. If melted down and mixed together, they can cause abnormalities and fracture points in newly recycled glass, making it hazardous and unreliable.

Therefore, broken glasses cannot be recycled, they should always be wrapped in newspaper to avoid injuries and thrown in the trash. If your drinking glasses are unbroken and reusable, consider donating them to your local charity Op Shop.

As for glass container, they have to be separated from the rest of recyclable materials as they can break during transportation into pieces too small to be differentiated and could become also dangerous for the plant’s operators. Remember to empty and clean your glass jars before disposing them.


7. E-waste 

It’s considered E-waste any item with a plug, battery or power cord that's no longer working or wanted. They could be refurbished, reused, resold or partly recycled through material recovery but only if they are disposed of in the appropriate E-Waste drop-off points.

E-waste should therefore not put in your rubbish or recycling bin. To find your closest e-waste drop-off point, use the Recycling Near You directory. If there are no e-waste drop-off points near you, contact your local council for other disposal options in your area or have it collected from your home through eMeals. For every recycling booking made, they donate 5 meals to SecondBite and go towards feeding people across Australia.

As for household batteries, they can be recycled at no cost at participating Aldi stores.

8. Aerosols Cans

Aerosol cans are made of either steel or aluminium so they can be safely recycled when they are empty. If the aerosol can isn't empty, it is considered a hazardous waste as the pressurised gas inside can cause the can to explode. It should therefore be disposed of through your council's hazardous waste program.

Remember that butane aerosol cans or canisters such as those used for camping are highly flammable if there is still even a small amount of gas inside so they should be recycled through your local household chemical drop-off service.


9. Biodegradable and compostable plastics

As the name says, these plastics are designed to eventually degrade so they shouldn’t be put in your recycling bin as they cannot be recycled. Unfortunately, these so called bio-plastic labelled as being bio-degradable or industrially compostable require very specific conditions to decompose, which can be achieved only in plants built for this purpose and not in normal landfill conditions. So, when thrown away in the landfill, they will eventually break down into smaller pieces of plastics that will then pollute the ground and streams. The solution? Choose products sold in true Home compostable packaging (or, even better, sold in bulk refills stations with no packaging at all!).


10. Food contaminated materials (even if recyclable)

Your take-away pizza box? Even if it’s made from paper, it cannot be recycled. The oil would have penetrated the cardboard, combined with the paper fibre and lowered its quality for recycling, so it must go straight into your general waste.

The lid tough will probably still be clean so break the box up and recycle the clean parts.

As for other jars and containers, like your yoghurt tub or mayo jar, give them a good rinse to ensure they get recycled and never throw jars in the recycling bin with food still inside (yes, we know that empty those expired olives or sauces is a pain but it must be done!).


11. Drink cartons

Food and drink cartons – including milk, juice, soy milk and stock cartons are made from a material called liquid paperboard (LPB), which is constructed from paperboard with layers of plastic, and in the case of long-life products, a thin layer of aluminium foil.

Unfortunately, most Councils do not accept them in the recycling bin. In the event they cannot be recycled in your area, check out if they are accepted by the Container Deposit Scheme or swap for glass containers (or, if really there are no other options, for plastic containers that can be recycled).


12. Aluminium foil

The beauty of aluminium foil is that it can be recycled infinitely, provided that it’s clean.

However, it’s important to collect your afoil pieces and crunch them into a ball of at least 10cm diameter (approximately the size of your fist) to make sure that it can be recognised and properly differentiated in the recycling plant.

The butter wrappers made of foil and paper laminate are not recyclable or compostable, but a good idea is to at least reuse them in place of foil for your baked potatoes.



Recycling is really important for the environment but so it’s knowing how to do it properly.

Non-recyclable materials can cause recycling plants to jam up or break down. Items such as plastic bags can work their way into the belts and joints of the machinery. And even things like small pieces of broken glass can cause danger as the people working on the sorting belts have to hand-pick them.

So make sure to know your local council’s rules and, if you want to be an eco-friendly champion, look into ways to reduce your waste altogether!


Cover photo by by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

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