Recycling 101: Hard to Recycle Items

How to Recycle and What to Do With Them

We’ve talked a lot about recycling, from recycling myths to wish cycling. We've focused a lot on the packaging, single-use items, and the general stuff you use and toss on a daily basis. However, one area we haven’t talked much about is the big items in our lives that we will eventually need to get rid of. After all, these still contribute to our waste and can often have a bigger proportional impact on our waste systems.

While many people don’t necessarily think of recycling when they consider getting rid of old cars or washing machines – these are often products that are made up of a ton of different, easily recyclable components like metals, plastics, and glass.

Why Does It Matter?

While straws, single-use coffee cups, and plastic bottles tend to get all the attention around reducing waste, they often aren’t our biggest individual contribution to waste. We should absolutely work to reduce our use of single-use products, but knowing what to do with those niggly items around your house can help you have a bigger impact on the environment.

We’ve talked about polystyrene, tetra paks, and other tricky packaging that is hard to get right of, but not big consumer items we use day in and day out. So this edition, we thought we’d break down what to do with old hard-to-recycle items, especially as people cull their old items around Christmas.

What to do With Hard-to-Recycle Items?

The first point of call for any household good or appliance should be donating or selling – if they are still functional and safe. Giving gently used items a new home where they can still be used is the absolute best way to ensure it gets their full lifetime or use. Plus, it can be a great way to help people that may be experiencing financial hardships.

Almost all of the products we list below can and should be donated if they are still in usable shape. If they aren’t, that’s when recycling comes into play. The solutions for each of these categories will vary dramatically depending on where you live, but they are generally solutions out there if you know what to look for.

So let’s break it down.

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Electronic waste, or e-waste, is any products that contain electronic components, including:

  • Computers
  • Phones
  • Batteries
  • Printers
  • Cords and cables
  • Kitchen appliances like blenders and toasters

For any e-waste, it’s very important to recycle these devices correctly. E-waste is a major environmental concern because they are often filled with precious metals that are hard to mine and chemicals like lithium that can be harmful if they get into the soil or water sources.

Luckily, people have realised the issues with e-waste and are implementing many solutions. From computer stores and company take-back schemes to local non-profit groups, there is sure to be a proper e-waste recycling centre in your area. You can check out our specific e-waste article to learn more!


Clothing is something that all of us use, every single day (well, most of us, anyway). As something so prevalent in our lives, we want to ensure we aren’t harming the planet with our fashion choices.

Many people recognise the damages that fast fashion has had on the planet as a whole. From increased emissions from producing the clothing to low-quality clothing that falls apart within a few washes, fast fashion takes a huge toll on the environment.

When your clothing starts to wear out or no longer fits, it’s imperative that you dispose of it in an environmentally friendly fashion. If it’s still usable, donation or resale should always be your first choice, as you're giving new life to old clothing (and maybe earning some money in the process). However, reusing and recycling are the next best options if it’s too worn down for the donation.

Here are a few ways to recycle or reuse clothing:

  • For cotton cloth, cut down into rags to use around the house or ask local mechanics if they need cotton rags
  • Seek out local craft or sewing groups, as they can use your used (but clean) clothing for scraps or stuffing
  • Local stores may have recycling programs for their specific clothing or for any clothing – for example, Little Yellow Bird in New Zealand will take any cotton clothing for recycling.
  • Upparel in Australia (and soon in New Zealand)

Some international brands like Nike, Patagonia, and H&M offer textile recycling in stores. While these brands are often part of the problem, they can be a good solution if you have no other options for recycling available. We always recommend recycling with smaller, local groups before these, though.

Aerosol Cans

Aerosol cans are those used for hair spray, gas canisters, spray paint, and more. Many people believe they cannot be recycled at all, but the good news is that they can be! In fact, in Australia, 80% live in councils that collect these straight from your kerbside bin – but only if it’s completely empty. It’s important to check before chucking it in the recycling though, in case your council doesn’t accept these.

For places that don’t offer aerosol recycling kerbside, you can find specialty recyclers or check if your council has a hazardous waste disposal program.

It’s important to note that butane canisters that are used for camping do not fall into this category and generally must be taken to a hazardous waste disposal site due to the explosive nature of these cans.

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Light Bulbs

While many lightbulbs are made of glass, they can’t be recycled in your kerbside bin and generally shouldn’t be put in the landfill as they contain hazardous material like mercury. These include fluorescent tubes, compact fluoros (CFLs), HIDs (high-intensity discharge lights) and metal halides and must go to a specialty recycler or disposal site.

The best option is to see if your local hardware store or sustainability centre has a drop-off. In New Zealand, Mitre 10 offers lightbulb recycling at participating locations in partnership with Interwaste NZ, which breaks down hard-to-recycle materials.

Halogen and Incandescent globes aren’t usually recyclable in most places, as they are made from low-quality materials that aren’t worth recycling. Some specialty recyclers exist, but if not, these can be safely wrapped and put in the landfill bin.

Household Metals

Metals are some of the most easily recyclable materials there are, and we often have a lot of metal around our homes, including:

  • Pots and pans
  • Sheet metal
  • Metal drink bottles
  • Copper piping
  • Wire hangers
  • Keys, nuts, and bolts
  • Metal cutlery and blunt scissors
  • Razor blades

When these wear out and become no longer usable or donatable, recycling becomes the next best option. Because of how recyclable metal is, you can be fairly confident that these things will be used to become something else if you get them in the right hands. Some metals may be accepted in your kerbside bins, but if it's one of the items listed above, you may have to look for a specialty recycler.

There are many places that will recycle scrap metal. Many scrap metal places will generally take large quantities, like leftover metals from building projects and cars. Still, they may also accept white wear and household items like cast iron pans and filing cabinets. In New Zealand, places like the Sustainability Trust will also accept small amounts for recycling.

How Can You Prevent Too Much Waste in the First Place?

While understanding where you can take everyday goods and household appliances to be broken down or recycled is great for preventing greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfills, it’s only a piece of the greater puzzle.

The world has so much stuff, and that only continues to increase year after year. Doing the right thing with your old toaster or sweaters is great, but we collectively need to work on reducing them before reusing and recycling.

To do this, focus on buying used wherever possible. You can often find great, long-lasting goods at your local charity shop or through online marketplaces.

If you can’t buy used, try to focus on finding high-quality, durable goods that will last as long as possible. These can sometimes be a bit more expensive, but they’ll save you money the longer they last, and you don’t have to go about replacing them.

Finally, before giving up on something, ask yourself whether it's possible to repair or mend it somehow. If your computer is busted, try taking it to a repair shop before deciding it’s obsolete. If your socks get holes in the toes, learn how to sew.

Waste is hard to avoid completely, but we can all work to reduce it within our own lives to keep things out of landfills and polluting our environment.

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