How to ace your recycling game

Let's face it, lots of us are probably a bit guilty of ‘wishful recycling' - putting everything into our recycling bins in the hopes that they'll meet a better end than simply going to landfill. Unfortunately, this can cause added problems for our recycling facilities, and the people working in them.

But who can blame us, when there's so much confusion around recycling in New Zealand? We were confused too. So we decided to get to the bottom of our bins, and share what we found. Because the less confusion, the more stuff that gets a chance at another life, and the less waste going into our landfills.

Depending on where you live in New Zealand, your recycling collection system may differ, but here are a few general guidelines. You can recycle plastic, glass, metal and cardboard packaging containers from the kitchen, bathroom and laundry, as well as paper. Any container going into your kerbside recycling needs to be smaller than four litres (no, we didn't know that either). It's also helpful to rinse and squash plastic bottles, jars and other containers. Glass should definitely stay un-squashed, as broken pieces are a hazard for waste handlers.

Check out this handy video from Auckland Council:

What's in:

  • Plastic bottles and clear plastic food containers from the kitchen, laundry and bathroom
  • Glass jars and bottles
  • Aluminium drink cans and empty aerosol cans
  • Steel and tin cans
  • Tetra Pak® milk and juice cartons
  • Egg cartons - both cardboard and papier maché style (don't forget to take out the eggshells though)
  • Clean paper and cardboard packaging - check these are free from contaminants, particularly food, wax, fat or oil.
  • Newspapers, magazines, advertising mail and envelopes
  • For a more detailed list of what you can and can't put in your recycling bin, visit

What's out:

  • Garden or food waste - here are some handy ideas for reducing your food and garden waste
  • Hazardous waste or chemicals
  • Expanded polystyrene - takeaway containers, meat trays and shipping packaging
  • Nappies, sanitary products or medical waste
  • Clothes, textiles and shoes
  • The glass from windows, drinking glasses, mirrors, and lightbulbs
  • Cookware such as Pyrex
  • Electronic and electrical items, including batteries - visit for disposal options in New Zealand
  • Building waste or paint tins - Resene will recycle or dispose of paint containers responsibly, as well as giving unused paint to community groups

Soft plastics recycling

Soft plastics (like shopping bags and cling film) can get caught in the sorting machines and shouldn't go into your kerbside recycling bin. The good news is you can now collect, rinse and drop them off next time you do the groceries, in Soft Plastic Recycling scheme collection bins at supermarkets in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and most places in the South Island. See if there's a participating retailer near you

Here's what to feed Soft Plastic Recycling bins:

  • Carrier bags
  • Bread, pasta & rice bags
  • Fresh produce bags and netting bags on produce like garlic and citrus
  • Frozen food bags - including frozen veggies, fruit and even the bag around frozen chicken
  • Clear ziplock bags
  • Confectionery bags and ice block wrappers
  • Plastic packaging around toilet paper, kitchen towels, nappies and sanitary products
  • Courier parcels
  • Clear film around newspaper and magazines
  • Muesli bar, chip and biscuit packets and cereal box liners - yes, even the ones that look like silver foil on the inside
  • Baby food squeeze pouches - spout cut off and rinsed well
  • Bubble wrap and large sheets of plastic - cut into A3 size pieces first

Because they begin to break down before they're processed, bags labelled as degradable, compostable, or biodegradable can't be recycled in your kerbside or soft plastics recycling.

The details above are pretty general guidelines, and each council has a slightly different system for dealing with recycling and waste. Visit the links below for info specific to some of our major cities, or search your local council website.