Guide to recycling in South Africa

Recycling for your average suburban household in South Africa is a bit of a schlep: the infrastructure for collecting recyclable material isn’t really in place – yet. Households generally have to separate their rubbish and take the recyclables to a municipal drop-off centre or a buy-back centre because there’s not much in the way of kerbside collection. Many people just can’t be bothered. But, there are also many people out there who would recycle if they knew how to. This guide aims to help you get started.

How good is South Africa at recycling? The recovery rates for various materials are as follows:

  • Cans: 69 percent
  • Paper: 59 percent
  • Glass: About 25 percent
  • Plastic: About 17 percent

Informal recyclers recover much of this material from dustbins and landfill sites. This is not ideal, firstly from the point of view of the health and safety of the recyclers. But also because the recyclable material is contaminated with other waste. First prize would be if households sorted their waste, so that “uncontaminated” recyclable material could be collected.


Firstly, the Earth’s resources are not infinite so we shouldn’t waste them. And, you know that sign that reads “Leave this place in the same condition as you’d like to find it”? Well, the same applies to the planet. You’d rather see your grandchildren running through piles of fallen autumn leaves than piles of discarded rubbish (wouldn’t you?). More specifically, the government wants to reduce the amount of plastic, cans, paper and glass going to landfills by 70 percent in the next decade or so. To meet that target, households need to stop simply throwing away rubbish and start implementing the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Reasons to recycle



  • Colddrink and beer cans
  • Food tins
  • Metal lids of glass jars
  • Aluminium cans (eg, Red Bull),  foil and foil packaging
  • Paint, oil and aerosol cans (leave labels on them so recyclers can see whether they contain hazardous material).
  • Rusty cans can be recycled

Where to take metal for recycling


  • Beverage bottles
  • Food jars such as tomato sauce, jam and mayonnaise bottles

The following CANNOT be recycled

  • Drinking glasses
  • Light bulbs  – ordinary and energy-saving compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) – and fluorescent tubes. NB CFLs and fluorescent tubes should not be thrown away with ordinary rubbish. They contain mercury, a toxin that can leach into the soil and groundwater if not disposed of properly. Take your old CFLs to the drop-off points at Pick n Pay and Woolworths stores where they will be disposed of safely. If you don’t have this option, place your old CFLs in a sealed plastic bag before you throw them in the bin.
  • To dispose of standard fluorescent tubes you can either contact Don’t Waste Services if you have a lot of them. Also in JHB and surrounds in JHB/surrounds are :
    Brakpan: Computer scrap recycling – 011-7404330
    Kempton Park: Desco electric recyclers – 011-979-3017Alternatively you can contact Ewasa (the E-Waste Association of SA) for other contacts.

Where to take glass for recycling


  • White office paper
  • Magazines and books (as long as nothing is laminated)
  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard (boxes and cereal boxes).

The following CANNOT be recycled:

  • Laminated or waxy paper
  • Punch confetti
  • Carbon paper
  • Stickers

Where to take paper for recycling

Plastics are made from oil, a non-renewable resource, and much of the plastic packaging we use every day is recyclable. Ice cream and milk containers, fabric softener bottles, plastic bags and even cling-wrap can all be recycled.

The easiest way to determine whether a plastic product is recyclable is by looking for its recycling logo. There are seven plastic recycling logos and most plastic packaging is imprinted with one of them. The logos tell you what type of plastic a container is made of. Each type has to be recycled separately. (Plastic recycling logos)

Where to take plastics for recycling

Fruit juice and milk containers look like they’re made out of paper, but they are lined with aluminium foil and plastic so they must be recycled separately. Tetra Pak has opened its first small-scale recycling facility in Germiston, Gauteng, where its packaging is recycled into roof tiles, furniture and stationery. The company has plans to open more recycling plants around South Africa. For more information about Tetrapak see

Disposable batteries are not recycled – this is apparently because the material recovery rate is too small to make recycling economically viable. But they should not be thrown away with ordinary household waste either, because they contain toxic chemicals that can leach into the soil and groundwater. Rechargeable batteries, on the other hand, are recyclable. Add to this the fact that they last a lot longer than ordinary batteries and you have a compelling argument to buy rechargeables from now on.

Where to take batteries for recycling or safe disposal


You CANNOT recycle

  • Pyrex
  • Ceramics (plates).


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