Four things you can recycle and four things you can’t

04 June 2020

As you may have heard, recycling programs in Australia are facing some steep obstacles these days. China and other countries have tightened restrictions for importing recycled waste, so Aussies have had to figure out how to expand our efforts domestically.

At the same time, figures released last year from the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation revealed that only 32% of plastic packaging is recovered, and plastic that is sent to landfill continues to pollute the environment.

All of this is to say that smart recycling habits are some of the best ways you can practise sustainability in your everyday life.

With that in mind, we thought we’d lend a helping hand by sharing some information about several items that you might not know are recyclable.

In addition to those listed here, this page from Sustainability Victoria can help you answer some common recycling questions, no matter where you live, and it provides suggestions about what to do with troublesome items other than dispose of them. For instance, some products have specific recycling alternatives, or you could donate used goods to a secondhand store.

Still, it’s very important that you always verify recycling recommendations with your local council and associated services.

There are many items that can be recycled besides standard plastic bottles and aluminium cans.

1. Surprisingly recyclable item: Most bottle tops, depending on where you live

Have you ever tossed a glass or plastic bottle in the recycling bin while placing its cap on the rubbish pile? You might want to think twice about that. Depending on your council guidelines, you may be able to recycle metal and plastic bottle tops.

2. Surprisingly recyclable item: Wrapping paper

Exchanging gifts can be so exciting that it’s easy to lose track of wrapping paper as soon as it’s torn off, but don’t forget that it’s usually recyclable! Just remove adhesives and decorations that can’t be recycled, like flimsy plastic bows or ties. Purchase recycled wrapping paper if you can, or try wrapping presents in newsprint for an exceptionally sustainable gift.

3. Surprisingly recyclable item: Plastic toys

Check to make sure that old plastic toys, like simple construction blocks or teething rings, are made with the kinds of plastic that are accepted by your local services, but don’t send these to the landfill unless you have to! Make doubly sure to remove any batteries, too, since those will need to be recycled as e-waste.

4. Surprisingly recyclable item: E-waste, though not through kerbside pickup

Old batteries, broken mobile phones and out-of-date computers can all be recycled, but you’ll have to do a little bit of the legwork yourself. Find an e-waste drop-off point near you that accepts the kinds of items you need to recycle.

What happens if I try to recycle something that can’t be recycled?

Now that you know what can be recycled, being environmentally friendly means it’s equally important to keep in mind what can’t be. Nonrecyclable materials can potentially contaminate recyclables. When that happens, everything goes in the landfill together. In fact, high contamination rates are a core reason that other countries stopped accepting shipments from Australia.

Some contaminants can be downright hazardous for the health and well-being of workers in recycling centres, too.

You’re likely already aware that food scraps should be left to the compost bin and that used tissues and nappies can’t be recycled, but some of the following entries may be more surprising.

If you can’t avoid using these items in the first place, make sure you simply throw them away.

pizza box
Geasy pizza boxes can spell problems for recycling organisations, so it’s tricky to determine whether they can be recycled or not. Check with the services in your area.

1. You can’t recycle this: Plastic bags

You likely know by now that lightweight plastic bags are a real environmental nuisance. Were you also aware that they can’t be recycled? Keep in mind that this includes bags used as liners, too. If you take your recyclables out to the kerbside bin in a plastic bag, there’s a good chance that the whole bag, and everything inside it, will end up in a landfill. Supermarkets like Woolworths and Coles have bins in all stores that accept soft plastics for recycling - they accept single-use plastic bags, bread bags, biscuit wraps and frozen food bags.

2. You can’t recycle this: Coffee cups

Paper and cardboard are recyclable, right? So why aren’t takeaway coffee cups? The fact is, disposable coffee cups are usually coated with plastic, which would contaminate other recycled materials when it’s broken down. Consider purchasing a reusable mug, or find out if there’s a drop-off location near you where you can recycle used coffee cups.

3. You can’t recycle this: Broken glass

This one might come as a surprise if you’re already used to recycling your glass bottles and jars, but broken glass - and for that matter, reusable glassware for cooking and serving food - should stay far away from your home recycling bin. Make sure you dispose of this debris safely. Put it in a box or wrap it in heavy paper.

4. You can’t recycle this: Pizza boxes, under most circumstances

This one definitely depends on where you live, but many places won’t accept whole pizza boxes, since they tend to absorb grease and food waste. Check with your local council. You may be able to recycle at least the food-free top of the box!

If you’re looking for more opportunities to make a positive impact on the world around you, think about how your super is invested. Learn more about LGS’ stance on responsible investing.

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