What You Should Be Recycling in SA

Words: Robyn Samuels

Guess what? It’s Earth day this week which means we’ll be taking a dumpster dive and looking at how we could reduce our carbon footprint and recycle more efficiently. Because each country has a different recycling system, we’re here to tell you what you should be recycling in SA. Recycling seems fairly easy, right? But there are nuances to the trash game. Just like products contain multiple ingredients, the packaging food comes in is composed of different materials, some of them not being recyclable which we often overlook.

recycling in SA

Additionally, you might not be aware that if there’s a tiny bit of peanut butter at the bottom of your recyclable jar it’s a no-can-do. If you’re starting to feel guilty about not doing your part, we’re not here to scare you into ethical overwhelm, but rather to fill you in on what you should be recycling — specifically recycling in SA.

But before we get into the do’s and don’ts of recycling, let’s take a look at why you should be recycling…


The harsh reality is that we don’t have an endless supply of resources on earth. Many of the resources that we do have are non-renewable, meaning we should make better efforts to use sustainable energy resources. It also helps minimise landfill waste which is important for wildlife conservation.

recycling in SA

Let’s dispose of the mentality that it’s the waste-collectors job to take care of the trash and our only responsibility is to make sure we place our bins outside our properties. In order to sustain our earth, we need to not only encourage but also action better sustainable practices.


In case you didn’t know, these are the materials that you can recycle in South Africa.


Metal as a material is fairly simple in terms of recycling in SA. The only thing that you need to be wary of is rusted metals as very few depots are able to recycle them. As with glass, you should always make sure that the contents of the container are expelled and that the container has been cleaned.

metal recycling in SA

  • Aluminium cooldrink cans and tinned food cans (tuna, baked beans, beer) are good to go. Try to remove the label before recycling it.
  • Instead of chucking that tin foil in the trash, clean it, smooth it out and recycle it.
  • Aerosol cans can be recycled in SA, so set aside those paint, deodorant, spray-and-bake cans. It’s important the label is still intact as some of the products contain hazardous substances, which the handlers need to make sure of.
  • Difficult to recycle non-ferrous metals: copper, aluminium, stainless steel, rusted metals.
  • Please note that certain materials are difficult to recycle as it requires special machinery not many recycling companies have. Please check with your recycler whether they are able to recycle non-ferrous metals.


When it comes to recycling in SA, we get to look at the glass both half-empty and half-full. According to Consol, as a nation, we consume over 3.1 tonnes of glass and that’s just in one year, it goes without saying that this is a glass-half-empty dilemma.

If we look at the glass half-full, two-thirds of what we consume is actually recyclable. But don’t jump for joy just yet. Some of you may be aware of the glass shortage that South Africa has recently faced due to faltering glass supplies as a result of lockdown and alcohol bans. Because of the supply-demand imbalance, many alcohol brands have rebranded and turned to cans for packaging. If anything this should encourage everyone to especially recycle glass.

recycling glass in SA

Recycling glass isn’t just a matter of tossing it in the trash, you need to ensure that the contents of the bottle have been emptied and the insides of the bottles are dry.

  • For all our wine-lovers, save those wine bottles and rinse them before recycling.
  • The same goes for food jars, scrape out and rinse them. The lids are recyclable too.
  • Non-recyclable in SA: drinking glasses; lightbulbs, mirrors and Pyrex as they’re made from a different type of glass material and they have different melting points. Although not ideal, you would need to separate it before disposing of it in your general waste.


Being an online publication, we’d highly recommend the shift to digital if you run a business. Because let’s face it, paper doesn’t grow on trees! Ok, it does — but with alarming deforestation rates, it should be at the top of your paperless list.


  • Most papers are recyclable in SA, so long as they are not laminated or waxy (post-its). You can recycle white office paper, non-laminated magazines/books, newspapers and cardboard boxes.
  • Non-recyclable in SA: laminated papers, carbon paper (all those receipts) and stickers
  • Tetrapack (fruit juice and milk cartons) which appears to be corrugated cardboard, but is actually lined with foil or plastic is also non-recyclable.


Most plastics are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and are recyclable up to eight times according to Plastics SA but it’s rather difficult for smaller recycling companies to recycle as the process requires special equipment. Another reason to encourage us all to lead plastic-free lifestyles is the fact that plastic is made using oil, which is a non-renewable commodity — especially given trending socio-political events.

plastic recycling

  • Recyclable plastics: hard plastic contains like your ice cream tubs, milk/juice/water bottles, plastic bags and cleaning product containers made of plastic (bleach/dishwashing liquid). Best practices include emptying the contents, rinsing and drying your plastic bottles before recycling them.
  • The only plastic that’s really non-recyclable is clingwrap. Most plastics are made using PVC which is recyclable. Clingwrap is however composed of complex chemicals to make it malleable. Rather opt for foil as an alternative to cling wrap.
  • Not sure whether a certain plastic type (PVC/LPDE/PET) is recyclable? Check the label, it should be listed.

If you’d like to minimise your plastic waste when it comes to cleaning and hygiene products, you can refill your cleaning products at The Green Tap which is an eco-friendly refill store.


Not sure what to do with your faulty laptop or busted fridge? Don’t worry, electronics are totally recyclable.

Batteries are an entirely different story because they are toxic and contain chemicals it’s important to remove them from electronic devices and place them separately from the rest of your trash. We would highly recommend purchasing the rechargeable kind, not only are they more eco-friendly, they have a longer lifespan too.


TIP: Different battery types should not be grouped together, as they could short-circuit. Lithium batteries are highly reactive compared to other battery types and thus should be discarded separately. If it is etched to the hardware, you would need a private recycler to detach and dispose of it…

What should I do with old batteries and CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs)? Certain local retails have designated drop-off sites where you can discard them responsibly. Visit a Pick n Pay or Woolworths battery recycling site near you.


Some other materials not listed above which are not recyclable in SA include: ceramics and pyrex

recycling in SA

If you would like to reduce your carbon footprint, try locating a private recycling company, if you can. Otherwise, have a look at these depots recommended by Treevolution, when recycling in SA.

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