From Pens to Razors: How to Recycle the Unrecyclable


Ahead of Planet Ark’s National Recycling Week, which runs from November 9-15, we’re looking at ways to reduce our footprints further, by reducing unnecessary waste.

We’ve already started a compost bin, recycle our soft plastics at the supermarket drop-offs, and opt for reusable accessories in lieu of single-use alternatives, but what are we to do with those ‘unrecyclable’ items — the ones that aren’t suitable for the yellow-topped recycling bins?

Thankfully, a number of ‘unrecyclable’ items can actually be repurposed and reused. You just need to know how to dispose of them correctly. In the lead-up to National Recycling Week, social enterprise TerraCycle is equipping Australians with the information they need to recycle common landfill items for free.


Pens can be easily recycled in Australia. Keep all used-up pens in a safe place until you next visit an Officeworks store or Post Office. At the front of the store, you’ll find a box for recycling pens. With this initiative, Terracycle predicts it could save an estimated 700 tons of pens from reaching landfills in Australia.

Pens collected are then mechanically and/or manually separated into metals, fibres, and plastics. Metals get smelted so they can be recycled, and plastics undergo extrusion and pelletization to be moulded into new recycled plastic products.

Dental care

Toothbrushes, electric toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, floss canisters; they can all be recycled. TerraCycle’s partnership with Colgate means everyday Australians can recycle the some 300 toothbrushes they use in a lifetime.

Once collected, the used dental amenities are separated by composition, shredded and melted into hard plastic that can be remoulded into new recycled products.

Plastic razors

TerraCycle says Australians go through millions of disposable razors each year, so many of which end up in landfill because people just don’t know what to do with them. TerraCycle has a partner program with Gillette to recycle plastic razors and the packaging they come in. Once you have a little stash of materials, from any brand, you can download a postage label for free and send your parcel to be repurposed.

“Once collected, the razor blades and their packaging are broken down and separated by material. Plastics are cleaned and pelletised to be recycled into new products, and metal materials are sent for smelting and conversion to new alloys,” TerraCycle says.

Coffee capsules

Australians used three million coffee capsules in 2019, and no doubt that number grew exponentially in 2020. While admittedly a more wasteful way to drink coffee, thankfully, coffee capsules are recyclable through speciality programs.

Brands like Nescafe, L’OR, Moccona, Illy, Seven Miles, Green Barista and Di Stefano all have capsule recycling programs. Like razors, you collect your capsules and once you have a stash going you can print a free label and send them in to be recycled.

Once collected, the “capsules are shredded to separate the coffee ground from the aluminium. The aluminium is then melted in order to be remoulded to make new recycled products”.

The TerraCycle website is completed by a #RecycleAnything widget, that allows you to search any item and find a way to recycle it.

With the search tool, you can also find out if your favourite brands have packaging recycling schemes in place.

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