Kerbside recycling: plastic bottles

What can go into your council kerbside recycling is now the same across Aotearoa. Find out about plastic bottles. 

Kerbside plastic bottles

What you can put in your kerbside recycling

  • Only empty clean plastic bottles numbered 1, 2 and 5 (lids removed)
  • Water and soft drink bottles — usually made from plastic numbered 1
  • Milk, detergent and shampoo bottles — usually made from plastic numbered 2
  • Some pharmaceutical, cosmetics, sauce and refillable bottles — made from plastic numbered 5.

What you need to do before recycling

  • Check the number on the bottle. It is usually on the bottom.
  • Remove the lid.
  • Rinse out dirty bottles.
  • If the label says so, remove and put it in the rubbish bin.

Water-saving tips when cleaning plastic bottles

  • If your plastic bottles look clean, you don’t need to rinse them.
  • Wash your bottles when you are doing the dishes. You don’t need to use extra water.

What you can’t put in your kerbside recycling

  • Bottles you normally find in the garage or garden shed (containing things such as pesticides, motor coolant or engine oil)

  • Bottles with no number or numbered 3, 4, 6 or 7

  • Bottles larger than four litres

  • Compostable and biodegradable plastic bottles

  • Lids (including spray bottle tops and pumps).

Why you can’t put these items in your kerbside recycling

  • Bottles containing hazardous chemicals are a health and safety risk.

  • Bottles numbered 3, 4, 6, and 7, or with no number, are less common and there are few end markets for these types of plastics.

  • Bottles larger than four litres can't fit through the sorting machines.

  • Compostable and biodegradable bottles can’t be recycled as they are designed to be composted.

  • Lids are difficult to sort because they are small and light. Spray bottle tops are made from a combination of different plastics which aren’t easily separated.

What the numbers mean

Different types of plastics are used to make different types of products. The number tells you what kind of plastic the item is made of.  

  • Number 1 plastics are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is typically a clear plastic and is often used to make soft drink and water bottles.
  • Number 2 plastics are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE is often used to make milk bottles and detergent bottles.
  • Number 4 plastics are made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE). LDPE can be rigid and used in squeezable bottles such as mustard or tomato sauce. Due to the small quantities collected, markets are limited.
  • Number 5 plastics are made from polypropylene (PP). PP can be used for some pharmaceutical, cosmetics, sauce and refillable bottles.
  • Plastics numbered 3, 6 and 7 aren’t typically used to make bottles.

Ways to recycle some of these items

Just because these items can’t be recycled at kerbside doesn’t mean you can’t recycle them.

Plastic lids

  • Check your local council’s website to find out if there are drop-off locations for lids.

Hazardous chemical bottles

  • Transfer stations and community resource recovery centres may accept hazardous substance bottles. Check your local council’s website to find out where and how.

What plastic bottles are turned into

  • Food packaging such as fruit trays
  • Wheelie bins and compost bins
  • Milk crates
  • Fibre for clothing.

How plastic bottles are turned into new plastic packaging

  • Bottles are sorted into different plastic types either by hand or machine.
  • Once sorted, they are compressed into bales of different plastic types.
  • These bales are sent to processing plants in Aotearoa or overseas.
  • They are further sorted, cleaned and shredded into flakes.
  • The flakes are then melted and moulded into new things.

Where plastic bottles go for processing

  • About sixty per cent of plastic collected from households and businesses for recycling is processed in Aotearoa. The rest is sent overseas for processing.
  • Flight Plastics in Wellington recycles plastic bottles and some trays numbered 1 into new trays and punnets.
  • Some companies (eg, Astron Sustainability, Second Life Plastics, and Aotearoa NZ Made) turn plastic containers numbered 2 into new things such as milk crates, underground cable covers, buckets, waterslides and rubbish bags.

Amount recycled

  • More than 500,000 tonnes of raw plastic (used to make a variety of plastic products) and plastic packaging are imported into Aotearoa each year. Not all of the 500,000 tonnes we import is turned into packaging and single-use plastic items. 
  • Around 55,000 tonnes of plastic waste are collected from households and businesses for recycling each year. 
  • The amount recycled within Aotearoa is increasing as we have invested in the processing of plastic into new products. We expect this capacity to continue to increase.   

Find out more