What You Should Be Recycling in South Africa

Words: Crush

At Crush, we’re all about green living, so 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’ll tell you what you should be recycling in South Africa. While recycling seems fairly simple, there are nuances to the trash game. Just like products contain multiple ingredients, packaging is composed of different materials – some of them not being recyclable, which is often overlooked.

recycling in SA

For example, you might not be aware that having a tiny bit of peanut butter at the bottom of your recyclable jar makes it non-recyclable. 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. But before we get into the do’s and don’ts of recycling, here’s why you should be recycling.

Why is Recycling Important?

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, as well as creating a circular economy.

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 encourage and action better sustainable practices.

What Can I Recycle in South Africa?

Here’s what you can recycle in South Africa…


Recycling metal is quite simple. The only thing that you need to be wary of is rusted metals, as very few depots are able to recycle them.

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 they require special machinery that many recycling companies don’t 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, 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, this should encourage everyone to recycle, especially 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. Besides being used as a communication medium, paper plays a vital role in our lives, from protecting food to displaying key information on products. When it comes to recycling paper, it’s important that the fibres remain intact, as moisture degrades the quality.


  • Most paper types are recyclable in SA, so long as they are not laminated. You can recycle white office paper; non-laminated magazines/books; newspaper and cardboard boxes.
  • Liquid Board Packaging (Tetra Pak, Nampak, etc.) used to contain fruit juice and milk, is recyclable. Currently, there are only two local mills (both in Gauteng) able to do so.
  • Non-recyclable in SA: used paper plates, serviettes and tissues, as the moisture degrades the paper fibres; wax-coated, laminated or foil-lined boxes; laminated paper, sticky notes.

Image source: Fibre Circle


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 lead a plastic-free lifestyle is the fact that plastic is made using oil, which is a non-renewable source.

plastic recycling

  • Recyclable plastics: hard plastic containers like ice cream tubs; milk/juice/water bottles; plastic bags and cleaning product containers made of plastic (bleach/dishwashing liquid). Note: empty the contents, rinse and dry 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 clingwrap.
  • Not sure whether a certain plastic type (PVC/LPDE/PET) is recyclable? Check the label.

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.

Electronics & Batteries

Not sure what to do with your faulty laptop or busted batteries? Don’t worry, e-waste is 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 should be discarded separately. If etched to the hardware, you would need a private recycler to detach and dispose of it…

But 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.

Other Materials

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

recycling in SA

Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Try these recycling companies in CPT & JHB

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