What can be recycled in your yellow recycling bin and what happens to it?

I often find myself pausing by the bin at home wondering whether I recycle it or bin it. There are the obvious recyclables like paper and cardboard but what about empty spray cans and styrofoam meat trays? So I decided to take a look in to it all and here’s what I found.

What can be recycled varies somewhat from state to state, and even from one council area to another. It seems that what determines whether something can be recycled is quite dependent on the technology of the particular recycling plant the waste is sent to. However there are very common dos and don'ts and general rules when it comes to recycling household waste in your yellow recycling bin.

The following items can be recycled in your yellow curb side bin:

  • Plastic bottles (rinsed out) – milk, juice, soft drink, yoghurt, butter, ice cream, takeaway containers. You can also recycled your shampoo and laundry detergent plastic bottles.
  • Paper and Cardboard – newspapers, wrapping paper, cardboard, waxed cardboard
  • Glass – wine bottles, jars
  • Aerosol and spray cans
  • Pet food cans (rinsed)

The following items cannot be recycled in your yellow curb side bin (but there may be alternative recycling options):

  • Human waste products – food, nappies, female sanitary items.
  • Plastic bags containing recycling – Don’t place any recycling in plastic bags, it should all be placed loose in the recycling bins. The plant can’t determine what is in the bag and not wanting to risk contaminating other recyclable materials these are removed and sent to landfill.
  • Plastic cling wrap – gladwrap etc
  • Clothing and textiles – consider alternative recycling options or check with your council
  • Garden hose and rope – tangles in the machinery of the plant and is removed.
  • Food waste – food waste should not be placed in the yellow recycling bins. Plastic and foil food containers can be recycled if they are rinsed.
  • Polystyrene and Styrofoam like meat trays can’t be recycled by most facilities, these should go in general waste
  • Tyres cannot be recycled in the yellow bin
  • Broken electronics
  • Paint cans
  • Anything you would typically put out for your council’s hard rubbish collection, like timber, carpet, building rubble and broken furniture.
  • Batteries, light globes, mirrors, ceramics and broken glass can’t usually be recycled in the yellow bin but this can be council dependent. There are usually alternative facilities that will take things like ewaste.
  • Hazardous waste – chemicals, electronics

How you can help:

Remove bottle caps and lids and place in the recycling bin. These are usually made from a different material than the container itself so this helps with the sorting process.

Rinse out recyclable containers to remove food waste

Don’t use a plastic bag liner in your recycling bin because sealed plastic bags cannot be recycled regardless of their contents.

What happens to your waste

After your yellow bin has been collected by the council, all the recycling waste is combined and sorted through at a recycling plant. The ABC did a really interesting article on what happens inside one of these facilities recently, you can read that story here.

Essentially the aim of the recycling facility is to sort and separate all the items by material. Although there is still a manual process to some parts of this, machinery and technology is allowing for even greater precision in this process leading to a more refined end product. The greater the ‘purity’ of the end product the more uses and applications it can have in its next life.

What to do with non-recyclables:

Just because many of these items can’t be recycled in the yellow bin, there may still be alternatives. Contact your local council for alternative options for ewaste, tyres, hard waste collection and other materials.

Gumtree or Ebay. Even if you have large items that don’t hold much value and can’t be recycled, like a working fridge or mattress try offering them for free on Gumtree, it’s a win win, you get rid of a difficult to dispose of item and someone else gets an item they need at no cost. Remember one person’s waste is another person’s treasure!

Charities – It is worth enquiring with charities about whether they have a use for your items before dropping them off.

Upcycle – consider repurposing your unused items.

When in doubt, google it! There is almost nothing that can’t be reused by someone for something.

Of course the final option is to create less waste. If you don’t create it you don’t need to get rid of it.