Download the plastic bags poster © Planet Ark

Download the plastic bags poster

What are the most common recycling mistakes?

Contamination is one of the biggest challenges faced by the recycling industry. As well as physically clogging up the sorting machines, it also increases the cost of recycling. Furthermore, if unwanted material manages to make it through the sorting process, it can ruin the new material being produced.

Planet Ark surveyed 115 councils across Australia to find out the three most common recycling mistakes by residents.

Council survey

1. The number one mistake by far was plastic bags being put into kerbside recycling bins, with 92% of councils saying that it is a big problem for them.

  • All recycling wrapped in plastic bags goes straight to landfill, since staff at sorting facilities are unable to open the bags for safety reasons.
  • Bags get caught in the wheels and cogs of the sorting machinery sometimes causing serious damage.

2. The second most common mistake, is recyclable items being put into the general waste bin.

  • These items represent a wasted resource as they end up being sent to landfill rather than being reclaimed.

3. The third mistake highlighted by a quarter of councils was food contamination. This means that residents are placing items into the recycling bin with too much food waste still attached to them.

  • A common food contaminant is in pizza boxes. While a clean box can be recycled; if chunks of cheese, oil and grease remain, they combine with paper fibre, lowering the quality of recycling and will likely be sent to landfill.

Take action

  • Check what can and cannot go into your kerbside recycling bin by visiting and your local council’s website.
  • If you share your bins with other residents and notice a problem with contamination, find out if your local council can provide you with bin stickers detailing what should be put into the recycling bin. You can also print off the poster on this page and stick it on or near the bin. 


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