The art of recycling

By Brigit B

In a society where the economic system encourages us to consume more and more, the production of waste becomes highly problematic. In Australia alone, 76 million tonnes of waste (households and industry combined), representing about 3000kg of waste per person for the year. Households generate 12.5 million tonnes of waste (16 per cent of national waste) representing about 1000kg of waste per household per year.

Since only half of the waste produced is sent for recycling, we all need to do more about it. But recycling properly is not an easy task.

We know that plastic goes in one bin (usually with glass) and that paper goes in the other one.

But is there anything more to know?

First, depending on your place of residence, the types of waste accepted by your council waste collection services may vary.

Then, be aware that some items do not get recycled at all. These include:

  • plastic bags and soft plastics such as bread bags, biscuit packets, rice and pasta bags
  • polystyrene including takeaway food containers, meat trays, foam packaging
  • light globes, mirrors and window glass
  • crockery, drinking glasses and Pyrex
  • sharps and syringes
  • nappies
  • batteries and electronics
  • tissue paper, napkins and paper towels
  • recyclables with food or a lot of contamination in them
  • building and home improvement materials

Recycling properly requires knowledge, organisation, and perseverance. But the results can be outstanding! Watch how a Japanese town manages to produce no waste and recycle almost everything.

Finally, the art is to find out if what you think is recyclable is accepted in our waste bins. Here are the most often-asked questions:

Question 1: What are “soft plastics” and what to do with them?

The general rule of thumb is if you can scrunch the plastic in your hand, it’s a soft plastic. You cannot recycle these items and should put them in the general bin. Common soft plastics include plastic bags, cling wrap, pasta and rice bags, frozen food bags and the list goes on.

Question 2: What’s the deal with beverage cartons? Can I recycle them?

Yes! But no!

Cartons are mostly made from a renewable material called paperboard, which is essentially just thicker and more rigid paper. So, they are recyclable.

Cartons containing fresh products (found in the fridge at the store) have a thin inner and outer layer of plastic that lines the paperboard. However, cartons containing long-life products like long-life milk (generally found on shelves at the store) have an extra layer of plastic and an added aluminium lining to protect the contents. This makes them a bit trickier to recycle, so some recyclers in Australia prefer not to receive them. However, you should be able to recycle fresh cartons either at home through your council service or through Container Deposit Schemes (for cartons under 1L).

Question 3: What the heck do I do with my pizza box?

Pizza boxes are recyclable, but if they are ‘contaminated’ by food scraps or oil, these should not be put in the recycle bin.

So, what to do? The easy option is to rip your pizza box in half and only recycle the bits that don’t have oil and food on them.

If you have a home compost system or your local council provides a FOGO (Food Organics and Garden Organics) service, this is a great alternative for the piece with food stuck to it.

Question 4: To rinse or not to rinse?

Only rinse packaging before you put it in the recycling bin if there is leftover food, drink or grease on it.

Why the need to rinse? Food, drink, grease and oil can contaminate recyclables and degrade their quality. Rinsing your dirty packaging ensures it will be turned into a higher quality recycled material.

Question 5: Recycling coffee cups – yay or nay?

Nope! You can’t put single-use coffee cups in the recycling bin even if research suggests that 47% of Australians still think coffee cups can be recycled at home, with 11% unsure.

And to be fair, the confusion is justified. After all, coffee cups are made from paper, right? Isn’t that the same as a cereal box? Well, the difference between a paper coffee cup and a box of cornflakes is a thin plastic lining. Unfortunately, Australia does not currently have the infrastructure to process the huge quantity of single-use coffee cups used and thrown away (2.7 million every day!). That’s one of the reasons why it is better to have your coffee in a reusable cup whenever possible.

Want to test your knowledge about recycling? Have a go here.

Featured image: Recycling protects the environment. Picture: Sergei Tokmakov/CC/Pixabay

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