'Taking-away' the recycling confusion

Australians love the convenience of take-away food (we apparently spend around a third of our annual food budgets on it!). But convenience comes at a price – an abundance of plastic and cardboard containers. And even when we look to do the right thing and recycle those take-away items, we often get it wrong.

So just what can and can’t be recycled once you’ve finished your take-away or grab-and-go snack?

Hamburger in a take-away container

Your guide to take-away recycling

These one-the-go vessels and takeaway packaging should ALWAYS be placed in a recycling bin.

Item Extra Notes

Plastic bottles

Empty, lids off

Glass bottles

Empty, lids off

Aluminium cans

Preferably crushed

Hard plastic containers (e.g. those commonly used for Asian-style take-away)

Rinsed

Cardboard (e.g. clamshells, trays, boxes)

Must be food-free

Paper bags

Must be food-free

Coffee cup lids

Rinsed

Plastic cups

Rinsed. Not biodegradable/ compostable varieties

A growing number of venues are embracing commercial organics recycling (you can read more about FOGO here) which is a great way to prevent compostable items from going to landfill.

Keep an eye out for these specially-marked bins where you can place the below items (otherwise they will need to go in the general waste bin)

  Item Extra notes

Commercially compostable coffee + plastic cups

Look for the compostable ‘seedling’ logo. BioPak is the most common brand for this – but note, they do not break down in a home compost mix 

Paper straws

 

Food scraps

 

Plates and containers made with cardboard

These do not need to be clean

Butchers paper

Check it doesn’t have a plastic lining

Popsticks 

These do not need to be clean 

These items below should ALWAYS go in the general waste (or landfill-destined) bin.

  Item Extra notes

Plastic straws

 

Coffee cups

Check to see if they are compostable first

Soft drink cups (coated paperboard)

 

Foam-based containers and cups

 

Anything with food residue (including paper, cardboard and plastic items that can’t be washed)

An item that has a small smear of sauce wiped off or a little bit of grease can still be recycled

Napkins

 

Plastic utensils

 

Soft plastic (chip packets, chocolate wrappers)

If you can, pop these lightweight items in a pocket or bag, and recycle via your local supermarket’s REDcycle collection point later

Plastic lids

You can also take these home and recycle them through a specialist program 

Juice boxes and any other silver-lined drink

 
Popsticks If you don't have access to a bin for compostables you'll need to place these in the general waste bin

Frequently asked questions

Close up man holding a takeaway cup and takeaway bag of food

Aussies spend a third of their food budget on take-away food and drinks so it’s important to dispose of packaging in a way that will maximise recycling potential.

Are McDonald’s cups recyclable?

Most are not. Coffee cups and cardboard-based soft drink containers need to be placed in a general waste bin.

McDonald’s has pledged to have 100% recycling rates for its packaging by 2025

Can pizza boxes be recycled?

Yes – if they don’t have food residue on them. A small amount of grease is OK. The same goes for the cartons you get your fries in.

Can takeaway coffee cups be recycled?

In most instances, no. Even though they may look like cardboard, they typically contain a thin plastic lining, which makes them difficult to recycle.

There are some specialist programs available such as the partnership between Simply Cups and 7-Eleven, Detpak’s RecycleMeTM program and BioPak’s composting solution for their BioCups and lids.

If you can, BYO reusable cup and this won’t be a worry any more. (For more tips on how to give up single use plastic read this article)

What can I do with BOTTLE lids?

Plastic lids are too small for many large recycling plants to process, however you do have options to keep them out of landfill.

  1. If the cap is the same colour AND the same type of plastic as the bottle (there will be a number between 1-7 on each) it can be pushed inside the bottle and placed in the recycling bin.
  2. Start a plastic lid collection
  3. Take them to an Envision collection point where they could be turned into prothetheic limbs, or to a locally-based, specialist plastic recycler such as Greenbatch and Precious Plastic Perth.

Metal lids can be placed in the recycling bin (the sorting process can separate these, even though they are small).

Is there an alternative to take-away in single-use packaging?

Closeup of lady holding a reusable metal lunch container

Your voice is powerful – just ask for your takeaways to be placed in a container you already own

Absolutely! A lot of the time it is just a case of asking for something different. If you choose to refuse by using your own reusable containers, cups and utensils instead you’ll prevent a lot of waste from being created in the first place!

The Trashless Takeaway website is a great way to locate outlets near you that are happy for you to bring your own containers.

Where should i put popsticks?

Stumped by where these little bits of wooden waste go, you're not alone. If you have access to food scraps, FOGO bin, or compost heap they can happily placed in there. Otherwise they need to be placed in the general waste bin, never the recycling bin. 

Got questions?

We’re here to help – if you have a question about what you can and can’t recycle please send us an email.


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