Do you recycle correctly? You would have to be feeling fairly confident to answer positively to that question, as recycling isn’t as simple as most of us assume. Most of us collect our milk bottles, egg cartons, cans, and cardboard boxes and place them in the recycling for each week and then leave it at that, assuming we are saving the planet. Wrong. While Australia’s recycling system is run by the state level, so each council may be different depending on the recycling center that services your area, there are some general rules for recycling correctly in Australia based on the technology that is available in this country and the limitations that current machinery has in sorting through various materials.
While it may seem complicated to actually recycle 100% correctly, there are only three main areas to think about when recycling to make it easier to break up your sorting:
While most soft plastics are recyclable, Australia suffers from the ailment of not yet having adequate facilities to carry out this process, which is why soft plastics do not go into the recycle bin. They can go in a REDcycle bin, which is run by Red Group out of Melbourne, and are commonly found at Coles and Woolworths stores.
Soft plastics run the risk of slowing down the recycling process in our recycling centers as they can cause blockages in the machinery. The same can be said for clothing, which often ends up at recycling centers.
Soft plastics are just that: soft. The most obvious (and most common) forms of soft plastics are plastic bags. These are obvious to spot, however. What you really need to pay attention to are the soft plastics that can be found in other parts of your weekly shop, such as plastic film around water bottles or plastic wrap or packaging for vegetables.
Note: the easiest way to avoid having to deal with soft plastics is just to avoid them where possible. The only reason major supermarkets have begun wrapping our fruits and vegetables is to lengthen shelf life, which helps their profit margins. Consumers have accepted this with little fuss, but you can do two things: campaign with as much effort as you like to have plastic packaging of fruits & veggies banned in our supermarkets (i.e. by writing to your local member, writing to local supermarkets etc.) and just as importantly, heading to your local grocer and supporting small businesses who don’t use soft plastics.
You have probably heard about this already, thanks to the ABC’s War on Waste program. In that, Craig Reucassel revealed that Australia went through approximately 1 billion non-disposable takeaway coffee cups each year. Most are non-disposable (though there are disposable coffee cups coming onto the market) due to a thin film coating inside the cup, which results in the cup not being recyclable. However, what is recyclable is the lid.
This goes for all other plastic lids on your common shopping list: water bottles, milk bottles, juice bottles, cleaning products etc.
Even if you put your milk bottle into the recycling, because you have correctly identified that it is plastic and so is its lid, this may still end up in landfill. Recycling facilities in Australia require the lid be removed for the machinery to effectively sort through the material.
This means you need to remove plastic lids and caps from your household items and place them separately into your recycling.
Note: one of the largest issues recycling companies face is the fact that so many of us collect our recycling through the week and place it in a plastic bag, before tying that up and placing it in our yellow bin. This may mean it all ends up in landfill, as the soft plastic is not recyclable.
Not many realise that the cleanliness of your recycling matters.
An egg carton full of eggshells or a plastic container full of butter chicken that you forgot to finish off and then threw in the recycle bin can interrupt the processing of recycling and will be removed from the processing line and sent straight to landfill.
Wash your recyclable materials straight after you use them so that not only do you ensure they will make it through the recycling process but they won’t stink out your bins over summer.
Planet Ark for National Recycling Week researched Australian attitudes towards recycling and found that 59% trusted the recycling system, but that leaves 41% who don’t. In 2018, Australia’s recycling system got turned on its head when China, a major importer of its recycling, ceased importing our recycling. It is important that you stay informed about where your recycling is going and maintaining pressure on your local representatives to make sure they are working on your behalf to invest in the infrastructure so that Australia can deal with its own recycling without relying on other countries. Apart from that, head to your local grocer and buy your fruit free from plastic, while following the above three rules to keep your recycle bin healthy and happy.