5 common recycling mistakes in Australia

Recycling is fantastic, but it has to be done correctly to make a difference. If we aren’t careful and inadvertently contaminate a load of recycling it may be sent to landfill! Recycling mistakes are easy to be made, but armed with the right knowledge the solutions are equally as simple.

Read on to find out about 5 common recycling mistakes we are making in Australia, and how to solve them. . .

Recycling Mistake #1: Putting our recycling into plastic bags in the recycling bins.

According to a council survey carried out by Plant Ark, plastic bags in kerbside recycling bins is the biggest recycling mistake made by Australians. Any sort of plastic contaminates the recycling load as the recycling facilities are not geared to (and will not) handle plastic bags of any type.

If your recyclables are inside plastic bags they will go straight to landfill as staff at sorting facilities are not able to open these bags for safety reasons.[1]


  • Make sure your recycling is loose in the recycling bins.
  • Recycle your plastic bags at your local supermarket through the REDcycle programme.

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Recycling Mistake #2: Putting recyclables into the general waste bins.

While this type of mistake does not interfere with the recycling process like recycling mistake #1 does, it is a waste to unnecessarily send something to landfill that could otherwise be put through a recycling process. In Melbourne the landfill capacities are a real issue, so we should be very mindful of this.


  • Make sure you are familiar with what can and cannot be recycled. Click here for a list of Click here for an easy reference guide. Most kerb side collections will accept the same items but to be sure check your local council website.
  • If you are unsure of whether an item can be recycled or not, there are a couple of apps to check out: RecycleSmart (Australian wide app) and The Sustain Me app (Melbourne only).

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Recycling Mistake #3: Food contamination in recycling bins.

While you are doing the right thing putting your cardboard pizza box into the recycling bin, if it is laden with cheese and food scraps this will combine with the paper fibre lowering the quality for recycling, meaning it will likely be sent to landfill.


  • Empty and rinse out any food from takeaway containers before putting them into the recycling bin.
  • With a pizza box, recycle only the clean cardboard. Anything that has grease or residue cheese should be put into the general waste. Break the box up if you can and recycle the clean part (probably the lid).

Recycling Mistake #4: Coffee Cup disposal.

The issue around coffee cup recyclability has been a grey area but this is certainly a topic that has been increasingly in the media since the War on Waste show in May.

Due to the physical make up of the take away coffee cup – these are NOT recyclable (unless through a Simply Cups programme).


  • Invest in a reusable coffee cup.
  • Look into the Simply Cups scheme to see if it might be feasible for your business simplycups.com.au
  • Use the general waste for used takeaway coffee cups.

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Recycling Mistake #5: Aluminium foil.

A lot of us may not know that our alfoil (provided it is clean) can actually be recycled so it doesn’t need to be disposed of into the general waste. Aluminium can be recycled almost infinitely, click here to find out about the recycling process.


  • Scrunch your clean alfoil into a fist sized ball and place this in with your recycling.

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In your workplace you might have further recycling options available to you – for example food waste recycling. Or you might want to explore what else  you could be doing, if you would like some advice about commercial recycling, please contact us.

Sources: Planet Ark, Sustainability Victoria

[1] http://recyclingweek.planetark.org/recycling-info/commonmistakes.cfm