Recycling domestic waste
There is a wide range of services and facilities to recycle domestic waste. As well as reducing the volume of waste going to landfill sites, recycling and composting your domestic waste helps to minimise charges for waste collection.
Many of the items used in the home can be recycled. The benefits of recycling include a cleaner environment, the safe disposal of hazardous materials, greater awareness of excess packaging and a careful approach to the use and re-use of materials.
Many products carry international recycling symbols that help to identify how they can be re-used and/or disposed of safely – see ‘Recycling symbols’ below.
How do I recycle?
There are several ways of arranging to recycle waste. You can take it to a recycling facility or use a kerbside collection (if available). For organic waste, you may choose to compost it yourself – see ‘Composting’ below or use a kerbside collection. Many recycling facilities accept bulky organic waste as well.
There are 3 types of permanent recycling facility: bring banks, civic amenity sites and recycling centres. Most local authorities also set up temporary collection points for Christmas trees each year. You can find out what is available in your area from Repak, on mywaste.ie or from your local authority.
Bring banks are unstaffed collection points for recyclable materials like glass bottles, drinks cans and food cans. Some bring banks also have collection bins for unwanted clothes.
Civic amenity sites are similar to bring banks but can accept a larger variety of items. They are purpose-built, are staffed and have specific opening hours. In general they accept paper, cardboard, plastic and glass bottles, drinks cans and food tins, textiles and footwear, electrical equipment, fluorescent tubes, waste oil and DIY waste. Some also accept garden waste and Christmas trees.
Staff at civic amenity sites can provide advice and information about recycling and they may have home composting bins for sale.
Recycling centres are also staffed and gated and have specific opening hours, but accept a smaller variety of items than civic amenity sites. In general they do not accept very bulky items. They are not custom-built and tend to be located in existing sites such as local authority depots.
Again, staff can provide advice and information about recycling and they may have home composting bins for sale.
Kerbside collection of recyclable waste is often known as a ‘green bin’ collection. Recyclable materials include plastic bottles, glass bottles, drink cans, food tins, newspapers or magazines, and cardboard
Most areas now have a separate bin collection for organic waste – often called a ‘brown bin’ collection. Read more on brownbin.ie.
Composting is the breakdown of organic material like kitchen or garden waste by organisms that convert it into an earth-like mass, which can then be used as a soil conditioner. Most garden waste and much kitchen waste can be composted – see our document on composting. Some civic amenity centres accept organic materials, or you can use the ‘brown bin’, if available. Many local authorities sell home composting bins at subsidised rates.
What can I put in my recycling bin?
A new list of material has been agreed for the household waste recycling bin, as follows:
Paper and cardboard: letters, brochures, cardboard boxes (flattened), egg boxes, cardboard centres from toilet roll and kitchen roll, newspapers, 'Tetra Pak' cartons for juice or milk
Rigid plastic (washed and dry): plastic drink bottles, plastic cleaning bottles, butter, yoghurt and salad tubs, plastic trays for fruit and vegetables, plastic milk containers, plastic bottles for liquid soap or shampoo
Tins and cans (washed and dry): soup cans, pet food cans, drink cans and food cans
All items should be clean, dry and placed loosely in the recycling bin.
For more details on what can and cannot go in your recycling bin, see mywaste.ie.
The Irish Waste Management Association has published answers to common questions on recycling household waste (pdf).
What can I bring to a recycling facility?
A wide range of items can be accepted at recycling facilities. Check with your local centre, as there can be considerable variation in what they accept.
All materials should be clean, to avoid contamination – wash out bottles, cans, yogurt pots etc. before recycling. The items most commonly recycled are:
- Glass bottles and jars – recycle lids/caps separately
- Paper (newspapers, magazines, telephone books, office paper, junk mail, comics and light cardboard)
- Drinks cartons (for milk, juice etc.)
- Aluminium (soft drink and beer cans, foil)
- Plastic bottles and cartons
- Food tins (fruit, vegetables, pet food)
- Plastic bottle tops, metal and aluminium lids
- Textiles (clean clothes, bed linen, towels, coats and jackets)
- White goods (washing machines, cookers, dryers, dishwashers, fridges)
- Batteries (also collected in shops and supermarkets)
Items that cannot be accepted for recycling
- Crystal glass, Pyrex, television tubes, opal glass, (that is, alcohol bottles where a large amount of foil is glued to he bottle) and car windscreens
- Porcelain, pottery, stones and ceramic tiles
- Carpets and rugs, cushions or mattresses
- Laminated or waxed papers like paper cups
Many household products contain substances that are potentially harmful to the environment. They include medicines, aerosols, bulbs and fluorescent tubes, polishes, adhesives, household cleaners, drain cleaners, solvents, weedkillers and fertilisers. Some of these items can be brought to a civic amenity centre, where they can be recycled or disposed of. Pharmaceutical drugs (such as painkillers), medical waste (such as syringes or surgical gloves) and containers for pharmaceutical drugs should be returned to your local pharmacy, which can dispose of them properly. Some local authorities organise mobile collections, where hazardous waste can be left at a central point. Contact your local authority for further details.
The most common recycling symbol on products and packaging is the mobius loop - three arrows in a circle. This means that a product is either recyclable or has some recycled content.
Another common symbol is the Green Dot – a pan-European symbol that appears under licence on product packaging. The Green Dot is not a recycling symbol, it does not mean that the packaging material can be recycled, or that it was made using recyclable content. It is simply a mark to show that the supplier is committed to protecting the environment by funding the recovery and recycling of packaging waste.
Recycling services provided to the public are mainly free of charge. However, civic amenity centres or recycling centres may charge for certain items or for large quantities – check with your local centre. A charge for kerbside collection may also be included in your domestic waste charges – check with your service provider.
Most local authorities also provide home composters at subsidised rates.
Where to apply
For details of kerbside collections in your area, check your local authority's website.
Websites such as Free Trade Ireland enable people to find new homes for unwanted items.
What happens to recycled items?
Lead acid batteries (from cars, trucks, boats, tractors, etc.) are made of plastic and contain dilute sulphuric acid and lead. During the recycling process, the batteries are crushed, the acid is drained off and neutralised and the plastic and lead are compacted and baled for recycling. Button batteries (cameras, hearing aids, watches, computers and calculators) can be recycled using a thermal process. Domestic rechargeable batteries (mobile and cordless phones, laptops, power tools and cordless appliances) can be also recycled using a thermal process, which reclaims the cadmium, nickel and iron. The reclaimed cadmium is used to make new batteries while the nickel and iron are used to make stainless steel.
Glass must be sorted according to colour to avoid contamination. It is crushed and turned into ‘cullet’. In the making of new glass, cullet can be up to 40% of the raw material. This amounts to significant savings in raw materials and energy needed to melt the glass.
Vehicles can be dismantled, stripped of any valuable materials and crushed for smelting.
Household white goods
Household appliances like washing machines, cookers, dryers, dishwashers and toasters can be dismantled. The ferrous and non-ferrous metals are separated and the rest is disposed of. There are also specialist recyclers who process the more complex items such as computers and televisions. These recyclers separate components of the equipment for resale or recycling of valuable materials. They may also refurbish entire systems for resale.
The aluminium can is one of the most valuable waste materials. Aluminium foil can also be recycled – both the heavy foil that comes with take-away meals, ready-cook meals etc. and the lighter ‘tin foil’ used in cooking. Baled aluminium cans and foil are smelted into ingots, which are then rolled before being made into cans and other products.
Waste mineral oil (fuel oil and lubrication oil) can be reprocessed and re-sold as low-grade industrial lubricant or industrial boiler fuel oil to generate heat, electricity or both. Vegetable oils, such as cooking oil, should never be mixed with mineral oil. These oils can be cleaned and used in animal feeds, or in fuel for adapted cars. Some recycling centres accept domestic cooking oils.
For fire safety reasons, paper recycling facilities must be supervised. Newspapers, magazines, office paper, junk mail, light cardboard, telephone books, greeting cards, calendars and diaries, paper bags, comics can all be recycled. Collected paper goes to paper mills, where it is recycled into new paper.
The plastics industry has a code for labelling different plastic materials to help with identification and recycling. The majority of plastic containers found in the home are made from HDPE, LDPE, PVC or PET. Most of the containers for soft drinks are made from PET (polyethene terephthalate). These bottles can be shredded and recycled as fibre for the polyester lining for sleeping bags, pillows and quilted jackets. Recycled plastics can be used for fencing, garden furniture, car bumpers, plastic bags, PVC pipes and flooring.
Home composting provides an excellent soil conditioner and allows most kitchen and garden waste to be recycled. Some civic amenity centres provide composting services and sell the compost. Most local authorities also recycle Christmas trees. They are shredded and the shavings are used for landscaping.
Clothes and textiles that are suitable for re-sale are sent to charity shops to be sold. Clothes and textiles that are not suitable for re-sale are recycled into carpet underlay felt, machine-wiping cloths or fibre filler for furniture.