10 Things That (Surprisingly) Don’t Belong in Your Recycling Bin

Shampoo bottle

Wanting to do right by the planet and recycle is only the beginning. The work then comes in learning how to do so properly. Because, though recycling may seem straightforward, it’s actually a lot more complex than you might think.

And while we wouldn’t want to deter you by leaving you feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to be aware of a few items commonly thought to be recyclable, when in fact, they aren’t. From the tops of pizza boxes, to black plant potters and your empty shampoo bottle, Jean Bailliard, General Manager of TerraCycle ANZ, shares with us 10 things you shouldn’t be recycling, along with tips for what you should be doing with the items instead.

Greasy Takeaway Boxes

“Because takeaway boxes are made of cardboard, it’s easy to assume that they are recyclable. But while it is true that cardboard is recyclable, everything changes when it’s covered in grease. The reason for this is that when the cardboard is being recycled it goes through a pulping process — and if it’s greasy, the paper fibres will not separate from the oils, ruining the quality of the end product.

“Tip: You can cut your pizza box in half and throw the greasy side out and recycle the non-greasy side.”

Black Plastic

“Black plastic can be a bit confusing, and it is probably a good rule of thumb to avoid it – because it also confuses recycling machinery. The infra-red detectors at recycling facilities can fail to detect black plastic, which interferes with the sorting process, resulting in contamination.

“Even when packaging is made from a type of plastic that can typically be recycled — such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) which is commonly used for single-use products like ketchup bottles, soft drinks and mouthwash — a black container can cause problems for processors. While new technology has been developed to help detect black plastic, opting for clear or light containers will improve recycling outcomes.

“Tip: If you can’t avoid a product that is packaged in black plastic, contact your local council to understand what their advice is for recycling black plastic.”

Empty Beauty and Hair Care Products

“It may be surprising to learn that the majority of products our skin, haircare and make-up come in are not recyclable. This is because they’re made from a complex mix of materials. Take for example a make-up compact, which might have a glass bottom, a plastic top and a mirror. Each of these parts would require a unique recycling process, which means they can’t be placed in your curbside bin.

“Tip: As a rule, bottle lids and pumps are not curbside-recyclable. However, it’s always worth pulling apart beauty products and checking to see if the bottle can be recycled. Otherwise, TerraCycle has loads of beauty recycling partnerships with brands that are taking responsibility for their packaging. These include in-store drop-offs with Maybelline at all Priceline stores, plus recycling stations at David Jones, MECCA, L’Occitane, Kiehls and Jurlique. If you can’t visit a participating store, you can ship your beauties empties for free to TerraCycle with programs from Sukin, Schwarzkopf, Garnier, Jeuneora, Burts Bees, Edible Beauty and Rodan and Fields.”

Small Strips of Foil and Paper

“Foil and paper can be recycled but size matters. Small strips of paper and foil can’t be recycled because it’s too hard for the machines to detect these small objects for recycling. If you continuously put lots of small bits of paper and foil into your recycling, you may contaminate your entire recycling bin, causing more rubbish to go to landfill.

“Tip: Bunch up any paper or tin foil into balls no smaller than both of your fists together before tossing it in your recycling bin. Then they can pass safely through the processing machines.”

Broken Glass

“You should never place broken pieces of glass into your recycling bin. The glass shards can contaminate other items in your recycling bin, and cause harm to others in the waste collection or recycling process. It is safe to put glass jars or containers in your recycling as long as they’re still intact.

“Tip: Make sure you safely wrap or bag any broken glass in paper before throwing it away in your regular rubbish bin.”

Single-Use Face Masks

“Over the past few years, I’m sure we’ve all lost count of how many single-use face masks we’ve used and, given they are recommended as the best source of protection against the spread of COVID-19, the numbers will keep going up. Where does this leave the environment? Single-use face masks cannot be recycled through curbside recycling and should not be placed in your yellow top bin. Instead, they should go in your everyday rubbish bin.

“Tip: You can recycle your single-use face mask through a TerraCycle Masks Zero Waste Box. The cost of a Zero Waste Box covers the box itself as well as the shipping, safe storage and recycling of the masks. This is a solution that can benefit the wider community and many schools, local councils and small businesses have purchased a Zero Waste Box on behalf of the local community, to help divert masks from landfill.”

Biodegradable or Compostable Plastic

“When you see ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ on packaging such as coffee cups and take away containers, your eyes may light up — but this packaging cannot go in your curbside recycling bin.  Biodegradable plastics need to go to an industrial recycling centre, and likewise, compostable items need to either be disposed of in your home compost or sent to an industrial waste centre.

“Tip: Do not put biodegradable or compostable plastics in your curbside recycling bin; they need to be sent to a high-temperature industrial composting facility. Biodegradable materials will contaminate your plastic recycling stream and end up in a landfill. Look for products that state they are 100% biodegradable and that show the disposal method.

Coffee Pods

“If you’ve decided to purchase aluminium coffee pods because you think you can recycle them in your home recycling bin, think again. Coffee pods, whether they’re made of aluminium or plastic are not recyclable in your kerbside bin, because they’re too small for the machines to process.

“Tip: You can sign up to multiple free national recycling programs through TerraCycle to recycle coffee pod brands including L’OR, Moccona & illy and NESCAFÉ Dolce Gusto.

Coffee Cups and Takeaway Cups

“This may seem like an obvious one if you’re an avid recycler, but it’s a really common mistake people make. Single-use coffee cups and takeaway cups have a plastic lining so that liquid doesn’t seep out and hot drinks can be carried safely. Although your drink container may look like it’s made from cardboard, this coating makes it non-recyclable. This also applies to cups marked biodegradable and/or compostable.

“Tip: Carry a reusable cup or drink bottle with you so you can say no to single-use cups altogether. If you forget your reusable cup or bottle, you can reduce the impact of your takeaway drink by asking for no lid.”

Blister Packs

“It can be a bit unnerving to think about all the blister packs we use in our lifetime. Unfortunately, blister packs can’t be placed in our curbside bin because they’re made of a mix of complex materials including a soft flexible plastic covered with a foil or film. This mixed material requires a unique recycling process.

“Tip: TerraCycle has launched a trial for free in-store blister pack recycling with Chemist’s Own at certain Pharmacy Alliance stores in Australia. If you don’t live within reach of a Pharmacy Alliance store, your local pharmacy may be interested in buying a Blister Packs Zero Waste Box. You can also write to other pharmaceutical brands to encourage them to follow in the footsteps of Chemists’ Own and offer their own free recycling program.”

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