The surprising things you should never, ever recycle...

How do you decide whether to recycle or simply bin your rubbish? Do you look for instructions on the label? Or do you use simple common sense?

Either way, you may have been misled. When it comes to recycling, both product labels and “common knowledge” can be wrong.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, many of us will try to do the right thing with bottle caps, paper towels and Pringles tins – despite none of them actually being recyclable.

And although seven Australians out of ten look for recycling information on the packet, even this can be outright wrong. Many imported products will have recycling instructions that are only relevant in the UK or Europe.

Some companies will include an environmentally “green dot” simply to show they contribute to the recycling program – not that the product itself is recyclable.

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Now Planet Ark hopes to set things right, with a new labelling system that’s not only locally accurate, but evidence-based.

“Currently manufacturers of packaging and products can put any label they like on it, to say it’s recyclable,” said Planet Ark’s Brad Gray.

“But it’s not backed by any evidence, so they could be telling people to recycle stuff that isn’t actually recyclable”.

For those unsure over what to avoid recycling, Fairfax has shared the following list of tips:

Things you should never recycle

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  • Biscuit packets – These can be too thin and soft to recycle, and can even damage the recycling equipment.
  • Paper towels and tissues : contrary to popular assumption, these are too light to be processed.
  • Pringles tins – There are simply too many materials combined here for them to be separated and recycled.

Things you can recycle – but only in the right way

  • Beer bottle tops – While these are too small to be recycled, you can collect them and place them inside a sealed tin can.
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  • Aerosol cans – Only if your council permits it. (The majority do.)
  • Aluminium foiled – Once again, it depends on quantity. If you have enough collected together to make up the size of a cricket ball, it may be able to be recycled.
  • Plastic bags – Avoid throwing a plastic bag of recycled goods into the bin – make sure they go in loose.
  • Polystyrene – Once again, this depends entirely on your local council regulations.
  • Tea bags – only if they’re marked as recyclable.
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  • Plastic water bottles – Only if the plastic seal and lid are removed.
  • Pizza boxes – only if all food scraps are removed and it isn’t too oily.

The new labels will make it clear which parts of an item can be recycled and which cannot: yes to the bottle, no to the cap; yes to the cereal box; no to the plastic inside.

As this new system is voluntary, it may take a while before it becomes widespread. Officeworks and Blackmores, however, have both eagerly stepped up to use them.

“We need to convince companies there are benefits from them,” said Mr. Grey.

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“There are also a couple of considerations, like ensuring the label is clear on small packets. It takes a long time for a product line to change its packaging,” he said.

“If companies want to encourage their customers to do the right thing, they will use the label.”

Do you feel like you recycle well? Or is it simply a case of guesswork?