7 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Recycling

This morning, I was listening to some chatter on the radio and was horrified to hear the show hosts’ attitudes and misconceptions towards recycling. They were under the belief that just because they were putting a lot of things in the recycling bin, there were doing a good job. Not only were they not aware of what can, and can’t, go in the recycling, they also had no idea of the implications of putting non-recyclables in recycling bins.

Here’s the thing – whatever we put into our recycling bins has to be sorted at the recycling centre. Any sort of contamination requires more effort to manage. So, the two seconds it takes you to decide which bin your household waste should go into, can save someone down the line a lot of effort. (Not to mention the waste of energy required to relocate your non-recyclables to landfill).

Recycling is an amazing way of reducing our impact on the environment. However, we make the whole process a lot more inefficient and costly when we don’t make an effort to do it right. Your recycling bin should have a label on it as to what can and can’t go in there, but to clear up some confusion, here are some common misconceptions about what is recyclable.

1.       Not all plastic can be recycled at all local recycling centres.

Although you can be pretty certain that plastic milk containers, ice-cream containers, drink bottles and takeaway containers can be processed by your recycling centre, not every bit of plastic can. ESPECIALLY PLASTIC BAGS!!! (Mind you, many big supermarket chains now have plastic bag recycling bins that you can deposit yours in).  Anything in a plastic bag cannot be sorted which means all that recyclable material will go to landfill.

Check your plastic item for a plastic code of 1-7 and ensure that your local council accepts that type.

2.       Tissues, napkins, paper towel, wet wipes and tissue paper cannot be recycled.

Having an ‘Oh shit!’ moment right now? Don’t worry, most people don’t realise that these things can’t be recycled. Now you know, you won’t make the same mistake again. And you can pay your penance for doing the wrong thing all this time by spreading the word!

3.       Remove the lids.

Planet Ark advises we remove all plastic lids from liquid containers and place them in the general waste. This is because the lids retain any leftover liquid in the bottles and if the bottles are considered too heavy to be a normal, recyclable bottle, at the sorting station, they will be discarded. In addition, the lids trap air in the containers which prevents them from being bundled properly in the recycling process.

Lids by themselves are too small to be captured by the recycling machines and are therefore also discarded. Steel lids (i.e. beer and jam jar lids) are recyclable so it is suggested that you gather a whole heap together, place them in a steel can and then lock them in there by squeezing the top of the can together.

4.       Rinse out the containers.

Remove any leftover waste from the containers by rinsing them out. This ensures they do not become a bio-hazard when the waste goes off, they take up less space, and they won’t be considered too contaminated to recycle.

5.       Ceramics, light bulbs, drinking glasses, cookware and nappies are NOT recyclable.

Seriously, would you put a pooey nappy in for recycling? What exactly would you hope it got recycled into? A drinking container? Carpet? No thanks! It seems obvious to me but apparently it’s a common misconception.

6.       By recycling your old mobile phones, you can help save chimpanzees.

Currently, the habitats of endangered chimpanzees are being threatened by mines mining for coltan – a key material used in mobile phones and other electronics. Dr Jane Goodall (my hero) is running a campaign to raise the awareness of this issue and to get people recycling their phones. Check Mobile Muster for local drop-off points or Phone Cycle to organise collection.  

7.       Just because something can’t be recycled at your local waste facility, does not mean it can’t be recycled.

There are so many different ways to recycle and upcycle. Best of all, doing so saves us money. Here are some novel ideas from Pinterest to get you thinking: recycling ideas

And remember, recycling is great, but not having to recycle in the first place is even better! In order of priority, we should be cutting down our waste by, refusing, reducing, reusing, recycling and then, as a last resort, place things in general waste for landfill.  

Do you know any useful recycling facts? What are they?