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Mysteries of the recycling bin revealed

OK, so that sounds a bit dramatic, but it can be confusing to know what should go in the recycling bin and what should go in the general rubbish.

And with horror stories of whole truckloads of recycled items having to go to landfill because one person put the wrong thing in their bin, sometimes you get the ‘not sure – better leave it out’ wobbles.

So with a small mountain of broken and worn-out stuff in front of me from the cupboards I’ve emptied so far, I thought I’d investigate further what can and can’t go in the recycle bin.

The information below is particular to Brisbane City Council (where I live). Many councils will be the similar, but it’s worth checking your local council website out first, they can be a mine of info on the subject!

Top tips for the recycling bin

  • Keep separate bins in your kitchen for rubbish and recycleables (and if necessary, continue this practice in other rooms of the house – particularly the office or laundry)
  • NEVER put plastic bags in the recycle bin – if you use plastic bags to collect your rubbish in the house, empty the rubbish into the recycle bin from the bag and then keep the plastic bag to dispose of otherwise. Alternatively, use a cardboard box, cardboard bag or reuseable plastic box or bucket to collect your recycleables


Can go in the Recycle Bin Can’t go in the Recycle Bin
newspaper, junk mail, brochures, office paper, wrapping paper, used note books, unbleached paper, packaging paper, glossy paper, magazines, envelopes (including window envelopes), phone books, greetings cards, coloured paper, paper bags, scrap paper and clean paper towels padded envelopes, thermal fax paper, wax-coated paper, disposable nappies, tissues, serviettes

Paper recycling tips

  • Remove staples
  • Use the reverse of letters for scrap paper, shopping lists and notes-to-self
  • Used tissues and serviettes can’t go in recycling, but you could put them on your compost heap


Can go in the Recycle Bin Can’t go in the Recycle Bin
cardboard boxes, milk/juice cartons (tetra-packs), pizza and cereal boxes, detergent boxes, tissue boxes and cardboard coffee cups waxed cardboard boxes

Cardboard recycling tips

  • Want to know if your cardboard or paper is ‘waxed’ or ‘wax coated’?  To tell the difference between valuable liquid paperboard and wax cardboard, scratch your finger along the surface of the item. If your fingernail is clean and no wax lifts off, it’s liquid paperboard and can be recycled
  • Pizza boxes are fine to recycle – just remove any food scraps first


Can go in the Recycle Bin Can’t go in the Recycle Bin
all rigid plastic containers such as soft drink bottles, takeaway containers, margarine containers, moulded plastic, milk bottles and juice bottles, yoghurt tubs, biscuit and sushi trays, detergent and shampoo bottles plastic bags, disposable nappies, bubble wrap, styrofoam or polystyrene products, straws, plastic film or cling wrap, and bubble wrap, crisp packets

Most plastics have a numeric symbol on them. Plastics with 1 – 5 can go in your recycle bin. Only SOME items with a 6 on can be recycled – the rigid plastics like yoghurt pots can go in your recycle bin – but the softer ones, like chip packets and expanded polystyrene (the crumbly stuff) CAN’T go in your recycle bin and must go in the rubbish bin.

Plastic recycling tips

  • Remove tops from bottles and jars – removing the tops makes it easier to compact and containers and if the top is made from a different material to the bottle, separating ensure that both parts are recycled properly. For example, I’ve just looked at our Peanut Butter plastic jar – the jar is a 1, but the lid is a 5. Both can be recycled, but if I’d left the lid on, when compacted, the 5 from the lid would have contaminated the plastic type 1 from the jar.
  • Rinse out plastic bottles and jars before placing them in your recycling bin. Food scraps can contaminate the recycled product
  • Labels don’t need to be removed from bottles or containers
  • Although plastic bags can sometimes have a 4 classification, they still shouldn’t be put in the recycling bin. Reuse them or take them to your local supermarket (most have a plastic bag recycling collection bin)


Cool fact (from BCC website): Did you know that aluminium and steel are the perfect recyclable materials? Out of the common recyclable materials that clutter up our landfills, they are the only materials that are endlessly and 100% recyclable in their current state. However, if sent to landfill, aluminium cans take more than 400 years to break down.

Can go in the Recycle Bin Can’t go in the Recycle Bin
vegetable and food cans, pet food cans, soft drink cans, paint tins (must not contain paint), pie trays, empty aerosol cans and aluminium foil batteries, gas bottles, wire, scrap iron or tin, wire coat hangers, saucepans, cutlery and white goods


It’s important to get the correct glass in the recycling bin as just 5g of the wrong glass can contaminate a whole tonne of recycled glass, resulting in the whole tonne going to landfill.   Drinking glasses, for example, can’t be recycled via your recycle bin.

Can go in the Recycle Bin Can’t go in the Recycle Bin
bottles and jars drinking glasses, ceramics, window glass, light bulbs, mirror glass, heat proof glass and glass cookware

Glass recycling tips

  • Remove the lids from any bottles or jars – since these are not likely to be made of glass, they need to be recycled separately if it is made of recycleable material.


In the meantime, I’m off to the kitchen right now to check out the plastic symbols on our containers and work out a way to teach my kids how to recycle!

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2 comments so far -

  1. Hey guys!

    While some coffee cups are able to be recycled – such as the BioCup, most others actually aren’t, as they’re coated in plastic! They should therefore always be put in the mixed waste bin unless labelled otherwise!
    If you’re wanting to find out some more information on reusable coffee cups please visit our campaign page – Keep Your Cup 2015 – on Facebook or WordPress.



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