What can I recycle?

Recycling can be complicated so answering the question, “what can I recycle?” is one of those annoying “it depends” answers.  Unfortunately, just because something has the chasing arrows symbol, it doesn’t mean it is recyclable.  For the most part, though, there are some pretty standard recycling services in many western countries such as the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Key things to remember when recycling;

  • Separate mixed materials – i.e. take the lids off glass items
  • Clean items enough so they won’t contaminate other items – food and liquids should be removed, so they don’t spill over to other items.  They don’t need to be spotlessly clean though.  Containers that are marred by food (I’m looking at you, pizza box) are not recyclable.  
  • No plastic bags – don’t put your recyclables in plastic bags and don’t put plastic bags in your recycling bin
  • Compostable doesn’t mean recyclable – unfortunately, compostable plastics aren’t recyclable by most of our recycling facilities.  They need a special process to break down and putting them in with our normal plastic recycling can be a real pain to remove for the sorters so don’t put it in the recycle bin – yet.  
  • No tanglers – don’t recycle any garden hoses, ropes, christmas lights etc that could get tangled in the sorting machine

Here is a general list of material that can usually be recycled but if you want to be really sure, you need to check what your local facilities accept:

Paper & Cardboard

OK – letters, office paper, envelopes (usually need the window removed), clean paper packaging, cardboard boxes, egg cartons, newspapers, 

Not OK – pizza boxes and food packaging that is soaked in oil and has food stuck to it.  Tissues, paper towels, that notepad you spilled your coffee on.  


OK – clean food jars, bottles, picture frame glass (removed from the frame)

Not OK – drinking glasses, light globes, mirrors, windows – these have usually all been treated with chemicals and so have a different melting point to other glass types


OK – bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs

Not OK – Plastic food wrap, disposable cups with plastic or wax coating, polystyrene foam, “to-go” containers, and cups


OK – Aluminum cans, tin cans, empty aerosol cans – remove the lid

Not OK – Aerosol cans that have contents still in them (these can cause explosions!).  Scrap metal, car parts, other garage style waste

There so much information available about recycling and it’s constantly changing.  Recycling correctly does take some effort but I believe that the effort is worth the reward.  Taking the time to learn what the nuances are in your local area is just a small task you can do.  A simple google search for recycling in my area will return a number of resources.  

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