You’re probably familiar with the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ motto of Australia’s waste system, but as our efforts to recycle better have expanded, being a responsible recycler has gotten a bit more complicated.
So we decided to put all your questions and queries in one place, making it easier to keep showing up for the environment with your habits at home.
Here’s everything you want to know about recycling correctly in Australia.
What can be recycled at home?
Australia has come a long way with its recycling efforts, with countless items being diverted away from landfill and into recycling or reusable programs. Depending on where in Australia you live, you’ll have different bins assigned for curbside collection.
In cities such as Sydney, you’ve got one recycling bin, plus the introduction of green organic waste bins alongside your general waste bin. In other regional areas, recycling is split between paper/cardboard, and glass/plastic/aluminium.
And for the more rural dwellers among us, the nearest local council tip provides a drop-off point if curbside bin collections aren’t accessible. So there’s plenty of ways to play your part in recycling!
Let’s break down what you can actually recycle in your household recycling bins.
Paper and Cardboard
Newspapers, magazines, office paper, cardboard boxes, egg cartons, and longlife liquid cartons are all examples of recyclable paper items. While lots of companies are improving the recyclable content of their products and packaging, be sure to check the instructions on each item to separate anything that doesn’t belong. For example, a carton of oat milk might be recyclable, but the plastic lid is not.
How to Recycle: Flatten cardboard boxes, remove any plastic tape, and keep paper dry and clean. Avoid putting heavily soiled or wet paper in the recycling bin.
Glass containers such as bottles and jars are recyclable, but if you’re trying to follow the ‘reuse’ principle, glass also makes for excellent storage for everything from milk and sauce to bobby pins and pens.
Some states, like South Australia, have container deposit schemes where you can return glass bottles for a refund. Otherwise, into the recycling bin they go!
How to Recycle: Rinse glass containers and remove caps and lids. Colour doesn't matter; all glass can typically be recycled together.
Curbside recycling programs accept many types of plastic, but check your local guidelines for specific rules. Not all plastics are created equal, so familiarise yourself with the numbers on the package.
When it comes to plastics allowed in curbside bins, look for numbers 1 to 7 in the recycling triangle on the packaging. These plastic variations cover everything from soft drink bottles and ice cream containers, to shampoo, takeaway containers, yoghurt and butter containers.
Another big one is the takeaway coffee cup. The general rule is to clean and recycle the plastic lid, and dispose of the cup itself into general waste.
How to Recycle: Look for the recycling symbol and number on plastic items. Clean and sort plastics by type.
Aluminum and Steel Cans
Aluminium and steel cans include all those tinned beans and tomatoes in your cupboard, drink cans, tins of tuna and more. Among the most recycled material of all, by adding these metals to your weekly recycling bin, it saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Some states have container deposit schemes for beverage cans, providing a financial incentive for recycling.
How to Recycle: Rinse cans to remove any residue. Both aluminium and steel cans are recyclable, so you can combine them.
What about recycling less common items?
Are you looking to get rid of your old electronics, batteries, clothes or other items that don’t fit in traditional recycling bins? Before you skip straight to rubbish, take note of ways you can sustainably recycle the following items…
Soft plastics - like bread bags, pasta packets, and flexible packaging - are not able to be recycled in your household bins. And while the REDCycle soft plastics recycling program recently came to a halt, thankfully the ACCC granted conditional authorisation for Coles and Woolies to resume in-store collections. This was allowed as an interim plan to restore community access to soft plastics recycling through Australian supermarkets, so check in with your local supermarket if they’re continuing to offer this option.
A better, long-term strategy is to reduce your soft plastic consumption. This can mean buying less pre-packaged produce, and swapping plastic bags for reusable ones when buying loose items. If you buy bread, try going to a bakery and using your own bag/asking for a paper one - even some butchers will let you BYO containers to pack your meat in to avoid unnecessary plastic.
How to Recycle: Check if your local Coles or Woolies are offering soft plastic recycling. Then save up your soft plastics in a bag at home to drop off to the supermarket collection bins.
Electronic Waste (E-Waste)
This includes old electronics like mobile phones, laptops, computers, and televisions. E-waste recycling helps recover valuable materials and prevents hazardous substances from leaching into the environment. Many manufacturers and retailers have e-waste recycling programs, allowing you to return old electronics for responsible disposal, including IKEA, Australia Post, and Officeworks.
How to Recycle: E-waste collection points are often available at electronic stores or participating retailers, recycling centres, and local government facilities. When disposing of e-waste, ensure that your personal data is securely wiped. Follow local council guidelines for drop-off locations or collection services.
Batteries, both rechargeable and single-use, can be recycled. Proper disposal of batteries prevents toxic chemicals from contaminating the environment. Battery recycling drop-off points are commonly found at electronic stores, recycling centres, and some libraries, while many battery retailers also offer take-back programs for used batteries. Places that accept batteries include Bunnings, ALDI, Officeworks, IKEA, and Battery World.
How to Recycle: Tape the ends of 9-volt batteries and place them in a plastic bag to prevent short-circuiting. Store batteries in a cool, dry place until recycling.
Most councils now offer residents a green bin to compost organic waste, such as food scraps and yard debris, rather than adding to landfill.
If you’re a bit of a green thumb, then we highly recommend giving at-home composting a go or using a Bokashi bin for your food scraps, as composting produces nutrient-rich soil for gardening - that means your plants will love it, which is another win for the environment!
Some local governments even provide composting bins or offer composting workshops.
How to Recycle: Collect food scraps, yard waste, and other organic material in your council approved bin liners and add to your weekly bin roster as usual.
Clothing and Textiles
While donating clothes is certainly a way to reuse textiles, recycling old clothes or materials isn’t necessarily the same. Thankfully, there are companies that will happily accept your used or unwanted textiles to extend their lifespan and recycle into future clothing production. Planet Ark has a neat search tool that locates your closest clothing recycling point. More specifically, you can recycle textiles with UPPAREL, where you can box up your old clothes and book a collection straight from your door, as well as H&M and Zara, which offer collection for any clothes, or Patagonia and UNIQLO for their own branded items.
How to Recycle: Ensure clothing is clean and in good condition when donating. Damaged or worn textiles can be recycled into rags or insulation at home, or dropped off at one of your local collection points.
Used medication packs
Blister packs of things like Panadol, Nurofen, hayfever medication or the pill can all be recycled thanks to the return and recycle initiatives of Aussie chemists. Pharmacycle lets you drop off empty medicinal blister packs at one of 200+ participating pharmacies across the country. And by using specialised recycling technology, these blister packs are sorted and recycled right here in Australia.
How to recycle: Collect your old medicine blister packs and drop off at any participating chemist or pharmacy in Australia. Ask your local ones to see who offers this service.
How can we recycle more sustainably?
The best way to bring more sustainability to your home waste setup is to reduce waste at the source, by opting for reusable items whenever possible. This includes shopping bags, water bottles, and containers.
Following that, here’s a few more tips to keeping your household in good stead with the planet.
Know Your Local Recycling Guidelines
Different regions may have varying recycling requirements. Familiarise yourself with local guidelines to ensure you're recycling the right materials in the correct manner.
Clean and Empty Containers
Rinse containers to remove food residue and empty liquids. Clean items are easier to recycle and less likely to contaminate other recyclables.
Dispose of Hazardous Materials Properly
Items like batteries and electronic waste contain hazardous materials. Find appropriate disposal locations for these items to prevent environmental harm.
Support Product Stewardship Programs
With so many industries offering programs that promote responsible disposal of their products, such as mobile phone take-back programs or clothing recycling, it’s important to support them in order to keep them going. And if it feels like an extra mental load to save and drop off items to varying collection points, remember you’re doing it for the planet - and any effort is better than no effort at all!
Share your knowledge with friends and family - especially your older family members who might not be as quick to adopt new systems. Encourage them to recycle responsibly and reduce their environmental impact.
Buy Recycled Products
Support the recycling industry by purchasing products made from recycled materials. This creates demand for recycled goods and closes the recycling loop.
Keep up to date with the latest recycling news, technologies, and initiatives so you can pivot and keep recycling appropriately. And wherever possible, support and advocate for policies that promote recycling and sustainability.
Recycling in Australia is a big part of our sustainability commitment to the planet - and with so many avenues, it’s one of the easiest ones for us all to maintain.
By understanding how recycling processes work, and how most of our consumer items can be recycled in one way or another, we can contribute to a greener future and play a vital role in reducing our ecological footprint.