Recycling saves energy and water, lowers pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, improves air and water quality, preserves landfill space and conserves natural resources.
The National Waste Report 2020 (the most recent available) says that Australian households, governments, commercial and demolition sites generated 74.1 million tonnes of waste in 2018-2019, and we only recycle 60%.
Recycling in Australia is confusing for consumers and somewhat limited. How long have we been recycling anyway? It wasn’t until the 1980’s that local councils gave consumers a recycling bin for glass and paper. It was a revolution!
But now we have different recycling streams: e-waste, organic waste, medical waste, thermoplastic waste etc. States and councils have different recycling technologies, different kerbside bins and different practices. If we use the wrong bin we can contaminate the entire contents, which means more sorting and expense and energy use.
And our love affair with plastic makes recycling even more complicated. Right now, only about 11 per cent of the plastic we use can be recycled easily. Horror!
Here are some common challenges for the average recycler:
- Do we replace used bottle caps or leave them off?
- Small items fall through the machinery. (OMG bread tags and plastic straws!)
- Can we recycle take-away cups? (NO!)
- Old clothes, what do we do with them?
- ‘Biodegradable’ doesn’t mean recyclable.
- ‘Compostable’ doesn’t mean recyclable.
- The 1-7 triangles aren’t the same as the recycle triangle. (Huh?)
We’re answering these questions in some more detail on our socials next week!
Luckily the Australian government has got its recycling act together in the last couple of years with a National Waste Policy Action Plan to help streamline recycling systems and reduce disparities between states.
In the meantime here are some groups to help sort your tricky items
1- RecyclingNearYou: Australia’s most comprehensive recycling information service. It was created by Planet Ark to help reduce the confusion around recycling.
2- Australian recycling labels: These new labels tell you what goes where. Find them on your product’s wrapping.
3- Terracycle: takes care of the hard-to-recycle items, though unlike the other organisations listed here, they charge for their services
4- Redcycle: Soft plastics can’t go into kerbside bins. But they can be recycled by other organisations such as REDcycle. Use their scrunch test to see whether a plastic goes into a kerbside bin or to REDcycle.
5- Upparel: send them clothes or shoes that can’t be donated to charity.
6- Simply Cups: buy a disposable cup collection unit for your office or café. That way, coffee cups get upcycled, not landfilled.
And try this new app. Called Recycle Mate it allows you to enter your local government area and it will direct your item to the right bin.
But of course the ideal is to avoid creating waste altogether. This has the lowest impact on the environment in terms of energy, water use, waste, pollution.