What you can and can't recycle

Below is a general list of materials that may be recycled. However, it is best to find out what your nearest recycling depot accepts. Dumping materials that cannot be reycled will make your waste their headache!

Your goods for recycling should also be rinsed out before they can be recycled.

Tins and metals

About 400 tons of cans are recycled monthly in the Western Cape. Collect-a-Can claims to recycle 66% of all beverage cans in South Africa, providing a source of income to more than 37 000 people. Metals are used to make new products of the same quality – conserving irreplaceable natural resources.

Recycling tins and cans saves about 95% of the energy needed to make a new can from iron ore. There is a huge demand for all steel scrap metals worldwide. South Africa exports up to 50% of the scrap that it recovers.

It does not matter if cans are crushed, rusted or burnt – they can all be recycled.

Cardboard and paper

Cardboard and paper are excellent materials for recycling. For every ton of paper recycled, 17 trees are saved, 40% less energy and 30% less water is needed to make paper.

Do not recycle:

  • Wet or dirty paper (tissues, paper towel, food wrappings, paper with spills)
  • Wax- or plastic-coated packaging for liquids (milk cartons)
  • Self-adhesive paper (post-it notes)
  • Carbon paper
  • Chemically-treated fax or photographic paper
  • Dog food bags, potato bags, wax-coated boxes


Get acquainted with the following acronyms:

PET: polyethylene terephthalate
HDPE: high-density polyethylene
LDPE: low-density polyethylene
PP: polypropylene

Plastics generally do not degrade as they are made from petroleum-based chemicals (oil, coal and gas). They can be a problem to recycle because they are often combined with other materials. Plastics are made from different plastic polymers. It is important that similar plastics are recycled together.

Find out from your nearest drop-off centre what plastic types they accept.

Unfortunately, other than for PET, HDPE and LDPE plastic types, there is very little demand within the recycling industry in South Africa to recover plastics from post-consumer sources, which means they currently end up at a landfill site.

Many plastic packaging items are still not recyclable at all in South Africa. In general, plastics with a recycle logo and identifcation number (e.g. PET, or No. 1, in the recycle triangle) can be recycled.

If you are at all uncertain about which plastics may or may not be recycled ask at your local drop-off centre.

Currently you can't recycle:

  • multi-laminated plastic foils (for food packaging such as bacon)
  • polystyrene food trays

It is a good idea to check what is recyclable with your local drop-off facility.

If you choose not to buy products with packaging that cannot be recycled you will send a strong message to the manufacturers to design and package their products in a more environment-friendly way.

Glass bottles and jars

Recycling a glass bottle saves enough electricity to light a 100 W bulb for four hours. For every ton of glass recycled, 1,2 tons of raw materials and 114 litres of oil energy are saved.

It is important to remove bottle tops and corks from glass bottles and containers. Certain glass products cannot be recycled. It is important to note the list below as any of these items in a glass recycling bank could ruin the whole batch of glass.

The facts and figures above are taken from the Fairest Cape Association and DEAT’s Responsible Tourism Manual.


One litre of oil can form an oil slick on water bigger than two soccer felds. Never pour antifreeze, oil or other chemicals onto the ground, into stormwater sewers or down the drain.

Most garages participate in oil recycling programmes. If you service your car at home, return the used oil to the garage or a recovery depot such as the ROSE Foundation, a non-proft organisation that collects, stores and recycles lubricating oil.

source: SMART Living Handbook

Tetra Pak

Is now recyclable and there are now a number of drop-offs in Cape Town that accept Tetra Pak (used for fruit juices, long-life milk, custards etc.)

Read more about recycling Tetra Pak


Electrical & electronic equipment such as TVs, computers, cell phones and household appliances. Computers are one of the messiest contributors to the environment. They give off carcinogens and toxic waste, and going the extra mile to recycle them, rather than just turfing them, is made that much easier by companies such as Computer Scrap Recycling and Virgin Earth .

See eWASA for a list of other recyclers of ewaste.

One of the easiest options is to use your computer manufacturer’s take-back programme, if there is one. Dell, who is working very hard on their green image, claim to lead the industry in their free home pick-up programme (if you're buying a Dell computer) – they’re the only IT company providing free recycling of products for consumers in 57 countries.

You could also donate your working computer to a charity or use freecycle.org

Nokia have started a cell phone recycling programme, and you can refill your printer ink cartridges at Cartridge Depot and Cartridge World.

Source: urban sprout's green your recycling guide


Buy recycled goods whenever you can. By supporting this growing industry, you're supporting further recycling.

Get practical:

Have your recycling picked up
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Recycling at work – get with the programme

Other waste topics

Reduce, reuse, recycle
Hazardous waste (chemicals, batteries & CFLs)
Start a compost heap or worm bin
Safe, alternative cleaning products
Dealing with creepy crawlies naturally

Go green home