The 10 most common recycling mistakes made in Victoria, and tips to avoid them

A person folding down cardboard food boxes for recycling

Nicola Dowse

Posted March 02, 2023

Recycling effectively can help divert millions of tonnes of waste from ending up in landfill, make sure you’re not one of the many people making these common recycling mistakes.

The latest data from Sustainability Victoria shows that Victorian households created 2.37 million tonnes of waste during 2019-2020.  

That might seem like a lot of landfill, however almost a quarter of all of that waste – 0.58 million tonnes to be precise – was made up of recyclables to be processed into new products.  

The good news is that since 2001, Victorians have steadily increased the amount of waste being collected for recycling by 59 per cent, while the amount of general waste being sent to landfill has only increased 10 per cent.

But when it comes to recycling, there are a few things households need to keep in mind to ensure their paper, aluminium, glass and recyclable plastic waste is finding a new life and not unintentionally ending up in landfill.

Contaminated recycling made up 13.3 per cent of the total amount of recycling collected during the 2019-2020 time period, which actually increased by nearly three per cent on the previous year.

Here are some of the most common recycling mistakes and tips on how to avoid them. 

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Common recycling mistakes

Putting your recycling in plastic bags 

Placing your recyclables in a rubbish bag might seem helpful, but it actually contaminates the recyclables. When recycling arrives at the processing centre, these bags can both clog up the sorting machines and pose a risk to workers as the bags obscure any dangerous or sharp objects held within. They also cannot be recycled.  

Bagging your recyclables is one of the most common recycling mistakes, with Sustainability Victoria data showing that 16 per cent of Victorians place their recycling in plastic bags.  

Instead of placing your recycling in a bag, simply place each item loose into the kerbside bin. Recyclable items can be stored loose in a large plastic bin, tub, cardboard box, basket or similar prior to taking out to the kerbside bin.

Not knowing what your council recycles 

Household waste in Victoria is managed by your local council. Depending on your council and where they send waste for processing, there are certain items that may not be accepted for recycling.  

For example, some councils will accept empty aerosol cans for recycling while others say they must be placed with general rubbish

Most councils provide information on what can be recycled via their websites – contact yours if the information is unclear. If you’re moving to a new council, it’s always a good idea to check what items your new council accepts for recycling as they may be different to what you’re used to.


A person putting a cardboard coffee tray into a bin loose

Recycling should be put into your kerbside bin loose, not contained in a rubbish bag. Photo: Matt Harvey.


Not separating your glass 

By 2030, it is expected that almost all Victorian households will have four kerbside bins, including a purple-lidded bin expressly for recyclable glass.  

Many councils have already begun implementing these glass bins. If your council is among them, it’s important you separate your glass recyclables from the rest of your recycling. Having a separate tub to place these items in prior to going into the kerbside bin can help. 

It’s also important to make sure only the right types of glass are going in your bins. Glass jars (i.e. for jam, condiments, pasta sauce) and bottles (wine, beer, juice and oil) are accepted, but drinking glasses like tumblers and wine glasses are not.  

If your council has not provided you a purple bin yet, you should continue to place glass in your yellow-lidded mixed recycling bin. Remove the lids and place in the general rubbish before placing glass in either recycling bin.  

Putting the wrong (or soiled) items into your recycling 

There are many household items that are often, but wrongly, thought to be recyclable. These include tetra packs (the containers UHT milk and liquid stock often comes packaged in), coffee cups, tissues, nappies and paper towel.  

None of these items can be recycled, though tissues and paper towel can be composted. Some councils may also accept them in their green waste bins.  

There are also some items that are usually recyclable, but may have to be binned depending on their condition. 

For example, the cardboard pizza box seems like the perfect recyclable product. However, it can't be recycled if it is overly greasy or has toppings stuck to it. If this is the case the box should be placed in regular garbage. It could also be cut up and added to a home compost bin

Not knowing your plastic numbers 

There are a lot of common plastics used in households but they’re not all the same. Some can be recycled, while others have to go in the general waste bin. Putting the wrong plastic in the wrong bin can contaminate recycling or send a recyclable product to landfill. 

Thankfully, there’s an easy way to tell what household plastics can be recycled. Check the item for a number inside of a triangle made up of arrows. If the number is a 1, 2 or 5, the plastic can be recycled. If it is any other number, or the product has no number, you should throw it in the general waste bin. 


A person putting a tangled pile of headphone wires into a plastic tub where other old electronics are kept

Your old laptops, phones and other electrical appliances are recyclable, but they can't go in your yellow bin. Photo: Matt Harvey.


Recycling your e-waste in the wrong place

E-waste – basically anything with a battery, power cord or plug – can largely be recycled. But that doesn’t mean you can just chuck your old microwave, phone or laptop in your yellow recycling bin at home.  

A number of large retail outlets will accept certain e-waste items for recycling. Your local council may also accept e-waste as part of a hard rubbish pick-up.  

Recycling e-waste helps keep hazardous chemicals from leeching into the soil in landfills and allows the precious metals found in these products to be repurpose, reducing the amount of new metals that needs to be mined.  

Recycling plastic plates, cutlery and cups

Single-use plastic plates, cutlery, straws and drink stirrers were banned across Victoria on February 1, 2023. These items account for a third of litter found in the environment and are difficult to recycle. If you’ve still got these items lying around your home they should be disposed of in your general waste bin. 

Single-use plastic cups (the kind you might get a beer in at the footy) are not currently banned, however, they still should be thrown in the general rubbish.

Shredding your paper 

Paper is one of the most recycled products in Victoria but you might be surprised to learn that shredded paper needs special treatment if it’s going in your recycling bin.

Shredded paper should be contained in a paper bag or cardboard box if going in your kerbside recycling, as this helps sort it at the recovery centre. Keep in mind some councils may not accept shredded paper at all – in this case you can add the paper to your compost bin.


A person rinsing out a glass bottle

Recycling doesn't have to be spotless, but it's best to give food and drink containers a quick rinse or scrape. Photo: Matt Harvey.


Not emptying your containers 

It’s important that all containers are empty before being popped in the recycling. Not emptying containers contaminates the recycling and can potentially clog the sorting machines. 

Food and drink containers just need a quick scrape or rinse before going in the bin, you don’t need to scrub them till they’re pristine.  

Some substances such as anti-freeze, ammonia-based cleaners and fuel are also classified as hazardous and should be recycled through Victoria’s Detox Your Home program.  

Forgetting to turn your foil into golf balls

Metal is one of the most recycled materials in Australia, with 90 per cent of all metals turned into new products. Aluminium – the type of metal used in canned food – is no different. 

But if you’re going to recycle your aluminium foil you should first make sure it’s big enough. Foil should be scrunched into a ball roughly the size of a golf ball or larger – so it’s well worth savings all your Easter egg wrappers and scrunching them together before throwing in the recycling.


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