Seven common recycling mistakes and how to avoid them

Do you ever have that nagging feeling that perhaps what you’re about to dispose of in the recycling bin can’t actually be recycled? All recycling has to be sorted and if you put the wrong thing in, there’s the risk of cross-contamination.

In 2018, a spotlight was shone on the unsustainable way Australia deals with rubbish and recycling. China announced it would stop accepting our recycling waste due to the low quality and Malaysia followed suit shortly afterwards.

Read: Time to admit our recycling dream is a load of rubbish

This caused a recycling crisis, and an overwhelming amount of recycling was instead sent straight to landfill.

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So, if you’re guilty of making the following mistakes at home, you’re unwittingly contributing to unnecessary items going to landfill.

Here’s how to get the ‘three Rs’ – reduce, reuse, recycle – right.

1. Not properly washing off leftover food
It’s important to rinse, and rinse again. Glass bottles and jars, water bottles, milk cartons, drink cans, ready-meal aluminium foil trays and plastic tubs can be recycled – but if they’re not washed properly, they can contaminate other stuff such as cardboard or paper, and the whole lot ends up in landfill.

2. Putting chip packets into the recycling bin

Empty bag of crisps
(Alamy/PA)

Unfortunately, chip packets, lolly wrappers and the airtight bag your mixed salad came in are hard to recycle. The composite plastic they’re made from (which keeps the food fresh and airtight) needs to go into your general waste bin, or taken to your nearest soft-plastic recycling location.

Read: Things we really should be recycling

3. Pyrex dishes and beakers

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There’s glass and then there’s glass. Pyrex glass is specially treated to withstand hot temperatures, which means it can’t be recycled. So make sure it goes out with the general rubbish. If it’s still in good condition but you don’t need it anymore, try taking it to an op shop or offering it to friends and family.

4. Not separating takeaway coffee cups from the protective sleeve

Tossing the sleeve into the recycling bin is fine (if you’re not sure, look for the recycling mark), but some takeaway coffee cups are treated with a special coating to handle your hot drink, and therefore can’t be recycled. So even though you’ve done the right thing by not littering and brought the cup home, it’s important to check the small print.

5. Wrapping paper, tissues and kitchen roll

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Brown paper you’ve used for gift wrapping can be recycled (as long as there’s no sticky tape), but anything with glitter, laminated foil, tissues and kitchen roll (the fibres aren’t sufficient quality to make new paper products or to be reused) can’t be recycled. Most clean cardboard is okay such as the inner tubes of toilet roll, but anything with a stain or dirt needs to go in your normal bin.

6. Household electrical items
It’s an easy mistake to make but any electrical items such as kettles, electronic devices, cables, headphones and anything with a plug can’t be put in your recycling bin. These items need to be taken to your nearest recycling point. This includes general kitchenware such as cutlery, old pots and pans. Batteries should be removed (a fire hazard) and taken to specific battery collection points.

Read: How to make the technology in your home tidier

7. Plastic shopping bags can’t be used for your recyclables

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They’re easy to amass and chances are, every time you have a clear out those plastic shopping bags end up in the recycling bin – which is a big no-no. No matter how tired they look, it’s really important to reuse them until they can’t be used anymore, and then return them to your nearest supermarket or recycling centre that accepts soft plastics.

– With PA

Written by Sam Wylie-Harris

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