The strange things that get into bins



During my time as a Zone Warden at Colchester Borough Council, I’ve been asked some unusual and intriguing questions – from “Can I still recycle paper if it’s crumpled into a ball?” (yes) to “I found a dead bird, can I put it in my food waste bin?” (no).

There’s nothing wrong with a curveball question – it keeps me sharp! It’s a bit different, though, when strange things start cropping up in recycling and rubbish containers.

At lunch on Wednesday, I was chatting to some of my colleagues in the collection crews. They told me about some rather peculiar items found in people’s sacks, bags and bins.

  • A whole paving slab
  • Live gun ammunition
  • A bag containing four party balloons, still blown up
  • Various knives
  • A 4.5ltr bottle full of whisky

So there you have it – we collect waste and recycling from Zones 1 to 6, plus the Twilight Zone!

Obviously, some of these examples shouldn’t have been anywhere near the rubbish. The paving slab should have been taken to a local Recycling Centre, where clean building materials can be recycled as hardcore.

Live ammunition must be surrendered at a police station or to a registered firearms dealer.

Balloons aren’t usually recyclable, but are best deflated before being put in the black bag or bin – apart from anything else, you won’t have the shock of a sudden bang from your rubbish when they pop! Knives should be wrapped in newspaper and placed in your general waste, while unwanted liquid should be poured out of bottles before they are recycled.

As well as things that don’t belong in the collection, there are some surprising items that are recyclable.

  • Bones and shells – Food waste
  • Clean kitchen and toilet roll – Paper
  • Cigarette packets (with foil removed) – Paper
  • Aerosol cans – Green box
  • Biscuit and baby milk tins – Green box
  • Worn-out white garden sacks – Clear bag for plastics
  • Plastic cereal liners – Clear bag for plastics
  • Bedding from non-meat-eating animals – Garden waste

The Council’s website has a  list of recyclable materials. If you have something unusual and aren’t sure whether it could be recycled or reused, check out Recycle This – it’s one of my favourite websites and is full of ingenious ideas!

If you’re still not sure where your unwanted item should go (or you’d like to test me!), leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help.


14 thoughts on “The strange things that get into bins

  1. Annie

    Thanks Reece – just to clarify though (cos the website says yes please to kitchen and toilet roll and no thanks to kitchen roll)
    we can recycle kitchen and toilet roll inners
    and clean kitchen and toilet roll in the clear bags,
    and kitchen roll used to wipe up food waste in the food caddies?


    • Hi Annie,

      Thanks for letting me know that our website list is not quite right, I’ll take a look and amend that asap.

      In your paper recycling: It’s a yes to kitchen and toilet roll inner tubes and unused kitchen and toilet paper. It’s a no for used kitchen and toilet paper.

      Kitchen paper that has been used to mop up a food or drink spill can go in your food caddy with your food waste. Any other kitchen paper used for non-food/drink spillages should go in your black bag/bin.

      Thanks for checking and keep up the good work 🙂


    • Hi Sandie

      That’s a good one…light bulbs are not accepted in glass recycling banks or at the kerbside because they contain metal filaments. Low-energy light bulbs and fluorescent tubes can be recycled at your local recycling centre. Old-style bulbs cannot be recycled, I suggest you wrap them in newspaper (or something similar) and place in your black bin/bag.



  2. Lee


    How about crisp packets. My wife sticks them in plastics but I take them out.

    Also foil and foil type materials. I only put in foil that crumpled. Is that right?


    • Hi Lee

      My wife and I do this too. On this occasion I can say that you are right about the crisp packets.

      Although the inside of the packet is shiny and looks like foil, it is in fact a metallised plastic film. This type of material is not currently recycled and you should place it in your black bin/bag.

      An easy way to find out if an item is foil or metallised plastic film, is to do the scrunch test. Simply scrunch the item in your hand – if it remains ‘scrunched’ it is foil and can be recycled in your Green Box; if it springs back it is probably metallised plastic film and not recyclable and should go in your black bin/bag.

      Thanks and keep up the good work,


  3. Sandie Keeble

    I’ve just realised that card and paper should be in separate bags! OOPS! What weight of card counts as card? Does food packaging count as card? Or things like washing powder boxes? Or is it just the card that parcels come in? Difficult one to know what makes the difference.


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