Kerbside recycling: plastic trays and containers

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

Kerbside plastic containers

What you can put in your kerbside recycling

  • Only empty clean plastic trays and containers numbered 1, 2 and 5 (lids removed)
  • Fruit punnets and meat trays — usually made from plastic numbered 1
  • Large containers for vitamins — usually made from plastic numbered 2
  • Large yoghurt, take-away and square ice cream containers — usually made from plastic numbered 5.

What you need to do before you recycle

  • Check the number on the tray or container. It is usually on the bottom.
  • Remove the lid.
  • Rinse any dirty containers to get rid of the remaining contents.

Water-saving tips when cleaning plastic containers

  • Use a spoon to scrape out the remaining contents.
  • Wash your containers when you are doing the dishes. You don't need to use extra water.

What you can’t put in your kerbside recycling

  • Containers you normally find in the garage or garden (such as chemicals, paint and plant pots)
  • Items made of plastic numbered 1, 2 and 5 that are not trays, bottles or containers (such as toys)
  • Trays and containers with no number or numbered 3, 4, 6 or 7
  • Containers smaller than 50 mm at their widest point or larger than four litres
  • Compostable and biodegradable plastic containers
  • Lids.

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

  • Containers used for hazardous chemicals are a health and safety risk.
  • Some plant pots are plastic numbered 5 and some aren’t, but they can look identical. Plant pots are usually black. The sorting machines in kerbside recycling can’t recognise black plastic, so they can end up not being recycled.
  • Containers numbered 3, 4, 6, and 7, or with no number are less common and there are few end markets for these types of plastics.
  • Containers smaller than 50 mms fall through the screening machines and when 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.

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 often used to make meat trays and biscuit trays.

  • Number 2 plastics are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE is sometimes used for large containers for vitamins and supplements.

  • Number 3 plastics are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is used in some biscuit trays. 

  • Number 4 plastics are made from low-density Polyethylene (LDPE). LDPE can be soft and flexible and is used in plastic bags and wrappers. It is difficult to separate and sort so not easily recyclable at kerbside.

  • Number 5 plastics are made from polypropylene (PP). They are typically tough and rigid and often used for ice cream containers and yoghurt tubs.

  • Number 6 plastics are made from polystyrene (PS). PS is commonly used for six-pack yoghurts or cream cheese and other dairy products. Expanded polystyrene is a white foam like material used to protect appliances when being transported.

  • Number 7 is used for any plastic types not numbered 1 to 6. It includes a wide range of plastics with different properties that make them difficult to recycle. Fresh pasta often comes in a plastic numbered 7.

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 any drop-off locations for lids.

Hazardous substances containers

Transfer stations and community resource recovery centres may accept hazardous substance containers. Check your local council's website to find out more.

To recycle plastic paint pots see Resene and Dulux paint take-back services.

Plant pots

Drop-off points for clean plant pots and trays are available at many hardware stores, garden centres and nurseries such as Mitre10, Bunnings, Daltons, and Kings Plant Barn.

Polystyrene (number 6 plastic)

Expol operates a Household Polystyrene Recycling Programme at selected hardware stores throughout Aotearoa. This is only for the polystyrene packaging used to protect appliances when being transported.

Polystyrene recycling programmes [Expol website]

Soft plastics

Soft plastic drop-off points are available across the country.

Check the Soft Plastics Recycling website to find where you can recycle soft plastic in your area.

Oversized items

Some transfer stations and community resource recovery centres accept bulky plastics for recycling.

What plastic containers are turned into

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

How plastic containers are turned into new plastic packaging

  • Containers are sorted into different plastic types either by hand or machines. 
  • 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 trays and containers 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.
  • Some companies (eg, Compsec, Pact Recycling, RD Manufacturing, and Aotearoa NZ Made) turn plastic containers numbered 5 into new things such as household and garden tools, containers, building materials and fibre for clothing.

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