Ten things you can't recycle in New Zealand

Most people want to do their bit for the planet and recycling is an easy way to feel like you're helping.

Sadly, a lot of the items Kiwis chuck in their recycling bins could be doing more harm than good. There are a few items which cannot be recycled, and if they're found in your blue bin it can lead to the whole recycling bag being contaminated and sent to landfill.

Different councils have different rules, but the list below is a general rule of thumb for what can and can't be recycled.

1. Takeaway coffee cups.

The waxy coating on the inside of your cardboard coffee cup stops it from being recycled. Some compostable coffee cups can be recycled. The lids of cups are almost always destined for landfill.

Ten things you can't recycle in New Zealand
Photo credit: File

The easiest and most environmentally friendly way to take that latte to go is to buy a reusable cup. They're relatively cheap, and in some cases, cafes offer a discount, which makes your coffee cheaper.

2. Food encrusted packaging.

A delicious cheesy pizza is one of life's simple pleasures, but it can cause havoc in a recycling bin. All food containers such as cans or milk bottles must be cleaned before they can be recycled. 

That means every last scrap of delicious cheese must be removed. If it's truly cemented on the cardboard, then, unfortunately, it has to go in the rubbish bin.

3. Gift wrapping and decorative cards.

Wrapping paper has a similar story to coffee cups - the coating on it makes it impossible to recycle, even though it'd deceptively similar to paper. The same goes for shopping receipts. 

Stacks of wrapped Christmas presents with ornament under the Christmas tree with defocused lights.
Photo credit: Getty

A good alternative to gift wrap is brown paper - it looks a little more rustic but if you tie it with string it's all recyclable. Adding some dried flowers can make it prettier, and then those can be composted.

4. Soft plastic packaging.

Cling film, chips packets, lolly wrappers and plastic produce bags are all landfill content. They can jam the machinery used to sort recyclables and cause expensive delays. Where possible, these should be avoided. Lined cartons such as soy milk containers, or bags of coffee are also non-recyclable.

Countdown now allows customers to bring their own boxes for deli food and bulk produce, so that's a great alternative to the flimsy plastic bags provided. 

5. Specific kinds of glass.

Mirrors, light bulbs, window glass and drinking glasses are all non-recyclable. Light bulbs contain mercury and lead which have a different melting point to regular glass, and mirrors have a coating which is non-recyclable. 

6. Mail wrapping.

Getting a package delivered is always exciting but don't let that excitement cloud your eco-friendly vision. Bubble wrap, polystyrene and soft plastic are all bad news for your recycling bin. Bubble wrap can always be re-used for moving house or sending a package yourself. As for the rest of it, sadly it has to go to landfill.

7. Cloth or clothing.

Even if it feels like it should be recyclable, clothing is another surprisingly non-recyclable item. If you have an old manky t-shirt you no longer wear, rather than throw it in the bin consider cutting it down and using it as a cleaning rag. 

Pile of carelessly warm scattered clothes.
Photo credit: Getty

Items which are in good condition can be given to second-hand shops or donated to your local refuge. These items should always be in good condition. Don't donate anything you wouldn't be able to wear yourself.

8. Clothes hangers.

Often, hangers are not made of entirely plastic or metal. They can be donated to your local op-shop or dry-cleaners instead. Consider posting on a community Facebook group to see if anyone else wants them, rather than chucking them straight away.


9. Green waste or food waste.

Grass clippings, food and liquid are all absolute no-no's when it comes to recycling. Green waste and food scraps should be composted where possible - it's super easy and great for your garden.

Ten things you can't recycle in New Zealand
Photo credit: Getty


10. Dangerous goods.

It seems like common sense, but things like syringes, sharp objects, batteries and paints are all non-recyclable.

Three councils (Hastings, Hutt City and Napier) hold drop-off events where you can dispose of hazardous waste. 

Two thirds of councils accept hazardous goods year-round at landfills. 


The saying is "reduce, reuse, recycle" but the last option is third place for a reason. First, you should seek ways to reduce the amount of waste you produce, and then you should try and fix the things you already have which have broken or reuse items which can be rinsed and re-purposed. Lastly, when you recycle, make sure you're doing it consciously and not just haphazardly throwing things in the bins.