10 common yellow bin contaminants

Placing landfill and organic waste items in your yellow recycling bin can contaminate the valuable recycling materials that have been correctly placed in there.

And it’s not just your recycling that might become contaminated, it’s the materials from other households that are taken along with yours to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for sorting. 

If recyclable items become contaminated it becomes difficult for them to be recycled, and this might lead to them being sent to landfill – so it’s important to recycle right.

Here are 10 common contaminants to keep out of your yellow recycling bin:

1. Soft plastics

Soft plastics can cause many issues when they arrive at the MRF, including getting tangled in machinery, preventing it from working effectively.

All soft plastics should be placed in your red/blue landfill bin only.

2. Nappies

Nappies are not recyclable, and in South Australia no nappies can go in your green organics bin.

Nappies, clean or dirty, must always be placed in your red/blue landfill bin.

3. Ropes, hoses and strapping

At the MRF, materials like ropes, hoses and strapping can become entangled with other materials and with the sorting machinery itself, causing contamination and increasing the risk of mechanical breakdown.

Ropes, hoses and strapping that can no longer be used should be placed in your red/blue landfill bin.

4. Broken crockery and glassware

Ceramics that get mixed in with recyclable glass will weaken the product, so crockery like plates and mugs – broken or not – cannot be placed in your yellow recycling bin.

And while whole, unbroken glass bottles and jars can be placed in your yellow recycling bin, any broken glass cannot, as when it reaches the MRF it will continue to break into even smaller pieces of glass which are difficult to collect, and can contaminate other recyclable materials like cardboard and paper by becoming embedded in them.

Broken crockery and glassware should be wrapped in something like newspaper and placed in your red/blue landfill bin.

5. Unwanted clothing, bedding, and other textiles

Unwanted clothing, bedding and other textiles, such as rags and towels, cannot be recycled through your yellow recycling bin.

If the items are still in good, usable condition, donate them to your local charity store. Your local animal shelter may also accept donations of towels and blankets to be used as bedding.

If the items are not in good enough condition to be passed on to someone else, they should be placed in your red/blue landfill bin.

6. Expanded polystyrene

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), also known as Styrofoam, is used to produce items like meat trays and foam packaging.

Styrofoam can’t be recycled through your yellow recycling bin as it causes contamination by breaking up into many small pieces. At the MRF, it also gets caught up in the paper/cardboard stream.

Styrofoam used for packaging things like electronics, furniture and homewares can be recycled by taking it to one of these drop-off points.

Foam meat trays and any packaging foam you can’t drop at a recycling centre should be placed in your red/blue landfill bin.

7. Bagged recycling

Bagged recycling poses a safety risk for MRF employees as there may be harmful contaminants, like needles, inside the bag. As a result of this safety risk, all bagged recycling is sent to landfill.

Always place your recyclable items loosely in the bin so they can be sorted and recycled easily and safely. 

8. Building materials

Building materials such as bricks, cement, tiles, wire and scrap metal damage trucks and machinery, and cannot be placed in your yellow recycling bin.

Instead, take these materials to your nearest transfer station for processing and recycling, but note there will be a cost involved in this. 

Contact your local council or visit their website to find your nearest transfer station.

9. Food and liquids

Foods and liquids placed in the yellow recycling bin cause a mess and can contaminate any recyclable materials in the bin.

Any containers and bottles should be emptied of food and rinsed off before they’re placed in the yellow recycling bin.

Unwanted food should be placed in your green organics bin.

10. E-waste

Electronic waste or e-waste like TVs, phones, computers and cables can be recycled – just not through your yellow recycling bin.

There are a number of specialised recycling centres equipped to handle e-waste. Learn about the drop-off options.