How bin tagging reduces recycling contamination

Learn about how a bin tagging program helps reduce contamination by providing immediate feedback if the wrong items are spotted in the recycling bin.


November 29, 2019


Less than a year after Cleanaway’s bin tagging program commenced in Central Coast, contamination dropped from one in four bins to one in ten.

Tags: Education

Less than a year after Cleanaway’s bin tagging program commenced in Central Coast, contamination dropped from one in four bins to one in ten.

Australians are conscientious recyclers but many councils still report high levels of contamination in kerbside recycling bins. Insights from our customers tell us that this is mainly due to lack of understanding over what goes into each bin rather than lack of care.

Contamination happens when the wrong items are put in a particular bin. This causes problems during the sorting process and reduces the quality of good recycling.

Bin tagging programs have proven to be an effective way to reduce contamination in recycling by providing on-the-spot feedback about the contents of a recycling bin. The tag on the bin indicates if contamination has been identified and explains why the bin has not been emptied. Common contaminants in the commingled recycling bin include food, liquids, soft plastic and textiles.

How bin tagging works

While tagging programs differ across councils, a typical system would involve inspectors visually assessing the bin for:

  • Overflows
  • Partially open lids
  • Incorrect placements
  • Damage
  • Contamination

If a bin is severely contaminated, it will not be collected as contamination could spoil an entire truckload of otherwise good recycling. Conversely, if the contents of a bin are on point, the bin may be tagged with positive feedback through a congratulatory bin tag.

bin tagging

An essential element of a bin tagging program is enforcement. After a certain number of inspections, consistently contaminated recycling bins may be taped shut and not collected. While this step is rarely needed, it is a clear and tangible repercussion of not using the recycling service correctly.

Bin tagging is effective for improving bin behaviours

Less than a year after Cleanaway’s bin tagging program started in the Central Coast, contamination dropped from one in four bins to one in ten – a more than 100% improvement in the community’s recycling rates.

bin tagging

Similarly, trials in South Australia and Western Australia have also reported up to a 48% decrease in contamination through bin tagging programs.

Bin tagging has been a successful way to improve recycling behaviours because:

  • Tags are usually colourful, making for better visibility
  • Information is given on the bin itself rather than through the letterbox, which is more effective for gaining attention
  • The tags provide immediate feedback to reinforce the desired behaviour especially when there is a disconnect between what residents think is the correct way to recycle and what actually is the correct way
  • Repeated feedback keeps proper bin behaviours top of mind and encourages the forming of good habits

What you can do to avoid a bin tag

We encourage people to follow the three golden rules of recycling:

  • Know the right materials for recycling
  • Separate each material before disposal
  • Use the right bin

Every council has different rules for recycling, so it’s best to stay on top of the practice in your local area by visiting your council’s website.

Recycling *

  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Plastic bottles and containers
  • Aluminium and steel cans
  • Flattened paper and cardboard

  • Food waste
  • Food-soiled paper and cardboard
  • Used tissue
  • pet litter
General waste*

  • Food scraps
  • Nappies
  • Torn clothing
  • Polystyrene
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Coffee cups
  • Soft plastic

*Check with your council for local inclusions

Want to refresh your recycling basics? Visit our National Recycling Week hub for recycling tips, tricks and trivia.

If you are ever in doubt about what goes into your kerbside bin, contact your local council.

Contact us to learn more about how we make a sustainable future possible for communities across Australia.