Learning and teaching the younger generations how to recycle their rubbish correctly is like passing the baton to them for a cleaner and brighter future. It teaches them valuable lessons about sustainability, about saving money by avoiding waste and how much you can reuse and put to good use.
But admittedly, and also due to our frequent moving to different suburbs and States, we still have doubts sometimes on some of the most common type of waste, so we thought to create quick reference guide to help all those like us that have stopped in front of their 3-4 household bins, scraping their head and hoping for the best.
Please note that this (alphabetical order) guide is by all means not a comprehensive one but only includes the most common sorting doubts we and our friends had in the past. Also, if unsure, please check the guidelines of your local council as garbage sorting might vary slightly from one to another.
Before starting with the list, one important note: there is a clear difference between the words Biodegradable / Industrially Compostable / Home Compostable (for a full explanation, read our blog here).
To make it simple for the purpose of this guide:
Biodegradable -> Landfill Bin
Industrially Compostable -> Landfill Bin
Home Compostable (Certified) - > Green Bin
Blister Medicine Pack
Blister packs are made of foil and plastic bound together and very difficult to separate. So, unless you’re able to tear off all the foil from the plastic component and make it into a ball of at least 10cm diameter and recycle them separately, then they can’t be recycled. They’ll go into the Landfill bin (Red or Blue Bin).
Metal and plastic buckets can be recycled so can be placed in your yellow bin, while wooden buckets will go to Landfill (Red or Blue Bin), where they’ll eventually break down.
There are two types of butter wrappings: the foil ones, lined with paper, or the bleached (white) paper ones. Either way, they’ll have to go to the General Waste Bin (Red or Blue Bin). If you find a 100% foil wrapper, this can be recycled (scrunched into a 10cm size ball) while if you find a 100% unbleached paper wrapper, it could go in your Green Bin (this because the paper didn’t go through the bleaching chemical process and is safe for your compost).
Cases – DVD & CD
They don’t get recycled because they contain Polystyrene so unfortunately, they’ll have to go to Landfill (Red or Blue bin).
Wire: are recyclable and usually accepted by local recycling centres and scrap metal buyers. However, please double check as some centres are afraid they might jam up their machines and might not accept them. You can also try donate them to your local dry cleaner, if they are in good conditions.
Plastic: cannot be recycled so place them in the Red or Blue bin. Charity organisations don’t accept hangers either so your best bet to get rid of them would be to put them up for free on Marketplace or Freecycle.
If you don’t need new ones, ask the stores you’re buying new clothes from to keep them.
Unless you find a 100% home compostable cup (look for this logo ) then disposable coffee cups need to go in the red or blue lid bin to landfill.
Most cups are in fact made of paper lined with a waxed substance which makes them unrecyclable.
Always remember to take your own reusable coffee cup with you!
You can recycle them at your local Nespresso store or Collection Point. To find a location visit https://www.nespresso.com/au/en/storeLocator.
If you are unable to do so and your coffee pods are not certified compostable (like these ones from Boca Espresso) then your coffee pods need to go to the Landfill bin.
Compostable Cups & Plates
Remember the differentiation between biodegradable, industrially and home compostable? Well that guide works very well in the case of take-away containers, cups and plates. If they are industrially compostable (and your council doesn’t include those items in their green bin), they’ll have to go to Landfill, if home compostable they can go in the green bin. But never put them in the Recycling bin as they need to go to a completely different facility to be composted.
Any empty aerosol containers or bottles can go in the recycling yellow bin. Containers made of different combined materials that cannot be separated (such as plastic and glass) or still with product inside, need to go to the General Waste bin.
Make up / cosmetics squeezable containers need to go in the red (or blue) waste bin, unless you can drop them off to your local Priceline store now accepting Makeup empties in collaborations with TerraCycle (https://www.priceline.com.au/in-store-services/terracycle-at-priceline/)
Plastic cutlery items can be placed in a larger plastic milk bottle and placed in your yellow recycling bin.
Film negatives cannot be recycled, so they should be placed in the general waste bin (red or blue).
Broken glass, windows or mirrors should never go in the yellow bin but into the General waste bin. These types of glass have a different chemical composition than glass bottles and jars and if melted down and mixed together, they can cause abnormalities and fracture points in newly recycled glass, making it hazardous and unreliable.
Items such as Butter and Margarine Containers, Yoghurt containers, Bottles, Milk Cartons and bottles, Flower Pots (empty from soil), Ice Cream Container, Plastic Plants and flowers can be put in yellow Recycle Bin. The exception are CD cases and hard plastic utensil, which cannot be recycled. Remember to take off lids from your bottles (check “Plastic Small Items” entry).
Here’s a nice infographic about different types of plastic and how to recognise them by their number:
While Paper can obviously be recycled in the yellow bin, there are some nuances to take into consideration:
- Staples and paper clips do not need to be removed from paper before recycling (but we still think it’s a good thing to do anyway).
- Shredded Paper and post its are too small to be recycled (unless put in a larger closed paper bag) because they would sneak into larger recyclable items creating contamination issues, but it makes for a great addition to your green bin. Paper is a good source of carbon for your compost and will also help to absorb moisture and smells in your green bin.
- Paper towels and tissues never go into the recycling bin as they’re often wet plus they’re at the end of their ability to be recycled (paper can be recycled up to 7 times). They should go in your green bin (if your council provides you with one) or general waste bin.
- All Retail receipts contain BPA, cannot be recycled or go into the compost so should be placed in the red bin. Please say no to a receipt when they ask you every time you can!
- Greasy pizza boxes: they can go in the green bin and are actually great to line the bottom to keep it cleaner or as a cover to deter small flies. If you have a clean cardboard box, then it can be recycled in the yellow bin.
Plastic bags and wraps
If clean, all household soft plastics, including plastic bags, frozen food packaging, confectionery packaging, plastic and bubble wrap can be taken to any supermarket that has a REDcycle soft plastics recycling bin (find your nearest drop off point at this link: https://www.redcycle.net.au/where-to-redcycle/). If you’re not able to do so, soft plastics should go into your General Waste Bin and never in the recycling bin.
Certified compostable bags (which would have this logo ) go into your green bin. Because they are designed to break down, they cannot be recycled by REDcycle so should not be mixed with the rest of soft plastics.
Meat or Fish plastic trays from the supermarket can be recycled. But please ensure that they are made of plastic and not polystyrene as this material is not accepted by recycling facilities (how to recognise them? Polystyrene trays are identified by the number 6 – see infographic under “Hard Plastic” entry - they would often be of black colour and easy to break with your hands).
Plastic Small Items
Small plastic items such as lids, bread tags, straws, medicine containers and loose plastic strapping can be missed at the recycling facility and could sneak into larger object causing contamination issues. It’s important then to keep them together in a larger plastic bottle (such as milk bottles or laundry detergent bottle) and don’t let them loose in your recycling yellow bin. Remember to put a lid back onto the small items’ container bottle before recycling.
Polystyrene (plastic number 6) can be used for foam meat trays, cups and takeaway food packaging, which can go in the general waste to landfill bin (blue or red bin).
Large pieces of packaging foam are also often used inside flat packs or electrical appliances packaging (such as TV) to protect from damages during shipping. You can try to contact your local Electronics store (Good Guys, Harvey Norman, JB Hifi etc) to see if they can recycle the packaging for you. They usually have a compactor on site and will then send it off for recycling.
If this is not possible, then break it down into smaller pieces to prevent it from become lodged and stuck inside the bin and place it in the general waste bin (red or blue lid).
UHT, Tetra Pak Containers
They can go in the yellow recycling bin but make sure to separate the lids (and collect them in another plastic container as explained above). Look out for the small juice and flavoured milk containers attracting the 10cent deposit (in SA) and drop them off to the recycling stations.
Wipes - Cleaning & Personal
Can you easily tear them apart? Not likely, so it means that they won’t compost in your green bin and can certainly not be recycled. These go in the General Waste Bin.
X-rays cannot be recycled but you can save them from landfill by dropping them off at any Red Cross second hand store. Find your nearest location here: https://www.redcross.org.au/support-us/red-cross-shops/shop-locations.
Coffee grounds, tea bags and leaves
Coffee grounds, tea bags and loose tea leaves can go in the green bin, or your home compost bin. However, make sure your tea or coffee bag doesn’t contain any plastic or staples! Find a list of real plastic free tea bags in this blog: https://www.implasticfree.com/why-you-should-switch-to-plastic-free-tea-bags/
To conclude, the general rule for the green bin is ‘if it grows, it goes!’: if the item is made from a material that grew in nature, then it will compost down to become soil again and therefore can go in the green bin.
Please let us know if we left out something important from this list or if you think we should make some changes!