Want to recycle right in 2021? Here's what you need to know

With a new year comes new goals and one of my big ones this year is learning how to properly recycle. Almost every week I arrive at our local cafe and realise I've forgotten my keep cup and then subsequently every week spend about five minutes by our newsroom bins wondering which one to put my dreaded disposable coffee cup in. 

The same happens at home. Pizza boxes, takeout containers, meat trays: they all get chucked haphazardly into the recycling bin dirty and uncrushed, while I'm sort of dimly aware that's not right but unsure what I could be doing wrong. 

To test my knowledge, I tried Nestle's new interactive online Good Sort game, which puts Kiwis knowledge to the test and challenges if they know which bin to recycle their waste in. To say I did badly would be an understatement. 

But this year I'm making a change - we only get one planet and to be honest, we're not doing a very good job of making it a place to live for centuries to come. It was time to bring in the big guns - in this case, Michelle Dickinson: materials engineer and co-founder of Nanogirl Labs.

If you're a parent you've probably seen Dr Dickinson as her alter-ego Nanogirl making science fun for kids. But now it's time for the renowned nanotechnologist and science educator to teach this 27-year-old a thing or two about recycling - so we went to her Ponsonby offices to find out a few classic dos and don'ts. 

The first thing Dr Dickinson informed me was that every city has different recycling rules - Auckland's are different from Queenstown, Queenstown's are different from Wellington and so on.

Dr Dickinson recommends you go to your local council website where all the info for your respective city will be, and then find the soft plastics recycling centres in your city. 

Right, so for those of us in Auckland, what are some of the top tips we should know? I brought along a few pieces of recycling from my own bin for Dr Dickinson to sort. 

Here's what I learned: 

Wine and beer bottles

"So they are glass and definitely go in the recycle bin as it's 'bottle glass' made for holding drinks," says Dr Dickinson. "It's different from other glass - don't be putting glass out of a broken car window or something in there. But bottle glass like this, absolutely - take the lids off to be helpful." 

Coffee cups

"Your lid has a number on it and there's a triangle around the number which tells you which type of plastic it is. In this case it's PLA - Polylactic acid, which is better for the environment and not made of crude oil," says Dr Dickinson.

Usually PLA is a compostable lid, which means it needs an industrial composter that only some cities have - put it into the bin otherwise.

"The lid you don't want to get is polystyrene!" 


This one really surprised me - tinfoil always goes straight into the bin in my house. But "as long as it's not covered in grease or lots of food, scrunch it into a ball - at least the size of a golf ball. Then it can go straight into your recycling bin," reveals Dr Dickinson. "If it does have food on it, give it a rinse, it should be good." 

Milo tin 

Familiar to many Kiwi households, a classic Milo tin can be reused in many ways - paint brushes, makeup brushes, you name it. "However if you are going to throw it out, it's made of steel so you can put it into the recycling bin. We do advise though you give it to your kid and get them to peel the paper off." 

Soft plastic packages

Think bags like the ones your 2 Minute Noodles and other dietary staples come in. "On the back, you'll find the ARL - Australasian Recycling Label. It will tell you what you need to know," says Dr Dickinson.

In this case, the sachet goes into landfill and the bag goes to a soft plastics recycling station. 

For an even larger list of recyling tips with Dr Dickinson, watch the video above. Then check your local council websites to find info more specific to you and your house. And get the kids involved! Otherwise, they'll grow up as clueless as me - and it's never too early to start saving the planet.