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Recycling in New Zealand

Posted by Lisa Madarasz & Michelle Andrews on

Council Recycling 

Have you ever stood staring at that plastic container wondering if it can be recycled and then panicking once you put it in the recycling bin may have just contaminated a whole bin by putting the wrong one in? Probably not to that extent – I need to get a grip but I have to admit I keep getting conflicting information as to what can and cannot be recycled so I have included below some information from our friends at council.

But don’t forget that recycling isn’t just done in our bins. There are plenty of other ways we can minimize what we put in our landfills.

Food scraps can be composted to use in the garden. Really easy to do – even I can manage it – and the kids love it, especially all the worms.

Preloved clothing, furniture & toys can be donated to charities or second hand shops.

Refuse plastic bags and bring your own.

Choose products that are packaged in a way that can be recycled, Chelsea sugar have brought out old fashioned paper sugar bags, Ansell have started making natural rubber latex gloves and more and more companies are using recyclable/biodegradable packaging like good old card or glass.

So let’s support these businesses that are implementing environmentally responsible practices and making positive change.

The below is a guideline for recycling in Auckland but each council will have details on their website.

What can be recycled in the Auckland area

Glass bottles/jars and their lids only.

Please ensure that items are cleaned. Lids are to be left on except for on Great Barrier Island where the lids need to go in your rubbish bag.

Please note: broken glass bottles and jars can be placed directly into your blue-lidded recycling wheelie bin. However, if you have a bag for your recycling collection, broken glass must be wrapped in paper and placed in your rubbish bag to prevent injury

Tin, steel and aluminium cans only (incl empty aerosols) - rinsed, squashed and with can lids safely inside
Plastic bottles and containers, and their lids (grades one to seven from the kitchen, bathroom and laundry only), excluding bottles that may have been contaminated with oil, fuel, weed killers, etc, or are larger than 4 litres capacity.

Please keep the lids on, except for on Great Barrier Island where the lids need to go in your rubbish bag, rinse and squash container.

The grade is indicated inside the recycling symbol (triangle) on the item. Examples of bottles/containers in each grade are:

1 - soft drink bottles

2 - milk, cream and detergent bottles

3 - food and cleaning material bottles

4 - flexible squeeze bottles

5 - ice cream, yoghurt, margarine and chinese takeaway containers, strawberry punnets

6 - shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser bottles, dip containers

7 - squeezable tomato sauce containers


All cardboard and paper (including window envelopes and Tetra Pak cartons eg. juice and milk cartons, except for on Great Barrier Island) except those items listed under What can't be recycled

Pizza Boxes & egg cartons
Except for on Great Barrier Island where they should be bundled or bagged and put out next to your crate.
Ensure that you remove all leftover food from the pizza boxes first

What can't be recycled

Glass - these types of glass all contain other materials that make them unsuitable to recycle:
  • broken glass. Please note: broken glass bottles and jars can be placed directly into your blue-lidded recycling wheelie bin. However, if you have a bag for your recycling collection, broken glass must be wrapped in paper and placed in your rubbish bag to prevent injury.
  • window, mirror, frosted, crystal and reinforced glass
  • light bulbs
  • pyrex and arcoroc tableware

Plastics - the following cannot be recycled:

  • plastics with no grade (number in a triangle)
  • cling film
  • disposable nappies
  • fuel oil containers - the fuel oil contaminates the plastic container
  • toys, buckets, baskets
  • any container or bottle larger than 4 litres. The truck's compactors are unable to deal with the size of the container or thickness of the plastic
  • polystyrene eg meat/food trays, cups and packaging
  • plastic bags

Aluminium or tin

  • aluminium foil and food containers eg meals on wheels containers
  • paint tins
  • fuel oil containers
  • fridge parts
  • garden tools
  • aluminium pots and pans


  • shredded paper
  • paper that has plastic, wax or other greaseproof coating eg
    • carbon paper
    • photocopy paper wrappers
    • food wrappings/containers - as food is a contaminant

Shredded paper can not be put out for recycling as it will clog the machines at the Materials Recycling Facility. Household quantities of shredded paper can be used in the garden compost as a mulch. Businesses with large quantities will need to contact a private collector.

Plastic bags

Plastic bags are not recyclable through the council kerbside recycling collection. 

Plastic bags can clog the machinery at the recycling facility and cause equipment failures. If an entire load is contaminated with plastic bags it will go to landfill rather than be recycled.

Plastic shopping bags are a problem in our environment for a number of reasons:

  • they can take up to 1,000 years to break down. As plastic bags are lightweight and moisture resistant, they can also travel long distances and cause environmental problems in many places over time
  • plastic shopping bags end up as litter in our environment each year which can block drains, trap birds and kill marine life. These bags end up as waste on our beaches, streets and parks. When a plastic bag enters the ocean it becomes a harmful piece of litter. Many marine animals and birds mistake plastic bags for food and swallow them, with painful and often fatal consequences. Bags also end up in stormwater drains where they can cause blockages
  • the over-consumption of plastic bags is an unnecessary use of resources, such as energy and materials.

New Zealand uses approximately one billion plastic bags per year. Try to minimise your use of plastic bags by taking reusable bags with you when you go shopping.

Some supermarkets and Warehouses offer drop-off programmes that allow customers to return their plastic bags to be recycled. Check with retailers to see whether they offer this programme. Alternatively you can dispose of them with your household rubbish.

Recycling symbols

This table shows the types of plastic indicated by the different numbers and how they are used. Makes for interesting reading!

Symbol Type of plastic Typical container types .... Recycled as ....

Polyethylene Terephthalate
Soft drink bottles Pillow and sleeping bag filling, clothing, soft drink bottles, carpet

High Density Polyethylene
Milk, cream and detergent bottles Recycling bins, compost bins, buckets, detergent containers, posts, fencing, pipes

Unplasticised Polyvinyl Chloride PVC-U
Plasticised Polyvinyl Chloride PVC-P
Food and cleaning material bottles Flooring, film and sheets, cables, speed bumps, packaging, binders, mud flaps and mats

Low density Polyethylene
Flexible squeeze bottles Rubbish bin liners, pallet sheets

Icecream, yoghurt, margarine and chinese takeaway containers, strawberry punnets Pegs, bins, pipes, pallet sheets, oil funnels, car battery cases, trays

PS Shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser bottles, and dip containers
Please note: this does not include the white block material used for packaging
Coat hangers, coasters, white ware components, stationary trays and accessories

Letters indicate ISO code for plastic type eg SAN, ABS, PC, Nylon
Squeezable sauce containers Car parts, concrete aggregate, plastic timber

Recycling Other Items

We were wondering if maybe there were other items that can be recycled through different avenues, so we did some research. So many things in our households are sent to landfill when in fact there are things that you may be surprised to find you can recycle instead. According to us kiwis send 2.5 million tonnes of waste to landfill each year and three-quarters of this could be diverted by reusing, recycling or composting. That is a staggering amount! Things like e-waste are growing at an alarming rate and often contain toxic heavy metals. 40,000 car seats expire each year in New Zealand and these are often sent to landfill when 90% of a typical seat is recyclable.

We have compiled a list below of some of the things we have found but, this list is not exhaustive so if you know of anything else then please let us know!

Soft Plastics

Please note: Due to the overwhelming popularity of this initiative it is currently on hiatus.

  • Carrier Bags
  • Bread, pasta & rice bags
  • Fresh produce bags and net citrus bags
  • Frozen food bags (frozen vegetable, fries, burgers, nuggets, poultry etc.)
  • Confectionery wrap and lolly bags
  • Dairy wrappers
  • Plastic packaging around toilet paper, kitchen towels, nappies and sanitary products
  • Courier packs
  • Newspaper and Magazine wrap
  • Chocolate & muesli bar wrappers and Biscuit packets (wrapper only)
  • Chip packets
  • Squeeze pouches - cut off top and make sure clean and dry
  • Ice cream wrappers
  • Cereal box liners
  • Bubble wrap and large sheets of plastic that furniture comes wrapped in (cut into pieces the size of an A3 sheet of paper first)

NZ wide
Free recycling program
  • The Collective - for all Collective used Suckies yoghurt Tubes, Spouches and caps. 
  • Fonterra - for Anchor Uno pouches, Fresh ‘n Fruity pouches or any other yoghurt pouches.
  • Glad - for GLAD® Cling Wrap, bags, containers and dispensers.
  • L'OR - for used L'OR coffee capsules.
  • NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto® - for used NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto® capsules.
  • Colgate – for all toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, toothpaste caps, floss containers and their outer packaging materials.
  • Sealord - for used Sealord pouches.

Auckland Based
Drop-off service

  • Clean Polystyrene
  • Batteries - Alkaline and Non-alkaline (incl. Lithium or rechargeable).
  • Toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes
  • Curtains
  • Light bulbs - They can also accept LED and Incandescent bulbs too.
Century Batteries

NZ wide

Century Batteries offer free car battery recycling.
Scrap Metal Dealers

NZ wide
Trade scrap for cash
They take metal such as Stainless, Aluminum, Batteries, Copper, Steel, Brass, Cable, Lead, Cellphones, Computer Scrap as well as residential items such as:


  • Stoves/Ovens
  • Hot Water Cylinders
  • Taps
  • Stainless Benches
  • Push Bikes
  • Electrical wiring
  • Pots & Pans
  • Aluminum Joinery
  • Stainless Shower Trays
  • Dryers
  • Microwaves
  • Roofing Iron
  • Copper pipes
  • Washing Machines
  • Stainless Sinks
  • Computer Scrap
  • Car Batteries
  • Steel baths
  • Cell Phones
  • and many more…

The Compost Collective

Fantastic website that informs people on composting. They also have a ShareWaste initiative in which you can either find a local compost bin to donate your scraps to or sign up to start receiving scraps for your own.

Auckland wide
E-waste events

Some items free, others incur a small charge

Computer Recycling

NZ Wide
Free pick up service within 10km of Auckland
Charges apply

Sustainability Trust

Central city drop off point
Charges apply

Palmerston North City Council

Palmerston North
Some items free, others incur a small charge

E-waste recycling
Smart Seat

NZ wide
$25 per seat

Baby on the Move

NZ wide
Drop-off point for Smart Seat
$25 per seat
Car seat recycling
Sustainable Coastlines

NZ wide
Drop off points available 
Post available
Mobile phone recycling. Drop off points:
  • 2 Degrees Stores
  • Spark Stores
  • Vodafone Stores
  • Resene ColorShops
  • Auckland Sustainable Coastlines The Flagship Education Centre
  • Christchurch Orana Wildlife Park