Recycle revision

G Magazine

Australians have proven to be great household recyclers since the council dropped the extra bin off at our homes, but often confusion can prevail on exactly what to recycle and what has to be trashed. Time to sort the trash.


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Recycling takes waste and turns it into a usable material resource that can be made into new products. It’s also one of the easiest ways for a person to actively help the environment. When you put your empty bottles and cans into a recycling bin, you might not think that you’re doing very much. You need to remember that thousands of people like you are doing exactly the same thing. In Australia, over three-quarters of our newspapers are recycled.

Making new products from recycled materials uses a lot less energy and water. For example, it takes 75 per cent less energy to make steel from recycled cans than from raw materials, so the overall environmental benefit is huge. However, billions of recyclable cans, jars, bottles, newspapers and boxes are still being sent to landfill when they could be recycled. There’s a bigger picture to recycling than the part we see when we’re putting our newspapers, cans, cartons and bottles into our bins. In the last 50 years, the global population has more than doubled, with an estimated 252 people being born every minute. Recycling is no longer optional; it is a necessity if we are to manage our planet’s resources sustainably.

In a nutshell, there are two easy ways to bring some environmental action to your home through recycling. First, make sure that you’re recycling all that you can in your local area. Second, finish the recycling you started and buy back products made from recycled materials.

What materials can I recycle?

In Australia, local councils provide household recycling services. They or their waste contractors determine the range of materials that are collected, the recycling bins that are used and the frequency of collections.
Unfortunately, this means that recycling services can vary greatly from one neighbourhood to another. One council may provide a green waste collection while another doesn’t, or one may recycle all plastics, while another might only want plastics numbers 1 and 2. Remember that just because there’s a recycling symbol on a product’s packaging, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it can be recycled in your area. The easiest way to make sure that you’re recycling all the material that you can is to call your local council or visit Planet Ark’s online recycling guide at www.recyclingnearyou.com.au.

In addition to the kerbside recycling collections provided by local councils, there are several other recycling programs that collect materials through drop-off points in retail stores, offices, libraries, council buildings and other locations, depending on the material. The ‘Recycling Near You’ website allows you to type in your postcode or council area to find details of the services available in your area, and also includes information on collection and recycling programs for corks, car batteries, car tyres, gas cylinders, light globes, motor oil, medicines, paints, chemicals and scrap metal among others.

Glass: Clear, brown and green bottles and jars. Don’t put ovenproof glass, ceramics, wine and drinking glasses, or light bulbs in your recycling bin as they can cause problems at recycling factories. New glass bottles and jars, filtering material, sandblasting material and ‘glasphalt’ road-fill material. Recycling one glass bottle in the production of new glass containers saves enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.
Aluminium: Drink cans, foil trays and foil wrap. ‘Foil’ potato chip bags should not be included in your recycling bin. New aluminium cans. Recycling 20 aluminium cans uses the same amount of energy as it takes to produce one new can from raw materials.
Steel: Steel food cans, pet food cans, aerosols, empty paint tins, coffee tins, bottle tops and jar lids. Take the plastic lids off aerosols before recycling. Note: You can see if a can or jar lid is made from recyclable steel by checking with a fridge magnet: if it sticks, it’s steel. New cans, structural steel for buildings, car parts, bicycles, railway girders and a range of other new steel products. In 2005, Australians had a steel recycling rate of 56%. Every tonne of steel recycled saves 1131 kg of iron ore, 633 kg of coal and 54 kg of limestone.
Cartons: Milk cartons, juice cartons, aseptic ‘brick’ cartons. If your local collection doesn’t accept milk cartons, reuse them by giving them to a local school or kindergarten’s art room. Office paper, cardboard and fuel briquettes. Milk cartons have lost weight! The amount of material used to make the average milk carton has been reduced over 20% since 1970 through better design.
Plastic: Types commonly recycled are soft-drink bottle plastic (PET or type 1), milk bottle plastic (HDPE or type 2) and sometimes some opaque PVC bottle plastic (type 3). Some councils accept all rigid plastics, except expanded polystyrene. Note: many supermarkets also collect plastic supermarket bags. Leave the lids off plastic bottles. Don’t put plastic bags in your recycling bins. Only recycle them through the special recycling bins provided in some supermarkets and retails outlets. New soft-drink bottles, fabric, garbage and compost bins, landscaping materials and plastic lumber products. Some kerbside recycling bins are made with up to 50% post-consumer plastic from recycled HDPE bottles.
Cardboard: Greeting cards, cereal boxes, larger cardboard boxes. Many programs don’t want cardboard contaminated with food spills, such as pizza boxes. Check with your local council. New cardboard packaging, gift wrap and tissue products. Visy Recycling provided 400,000 pieces of recyclable furniture for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, including bookcases and desks made from recycled cardboard.
Paper: Newspapers, magazines, waste office paper, telephone directories. Leave out foil gift-wrapping, waxed paper, tissues and self-carbonating paper. Cardboard, egg cartons, insulation materials, kitty litter and new newsprint. Making new newsprint from recycled fibres uses six times less energy than making it from virgin pulp. This means that the average Australian household that recycles old newspapers for a year can save enough electricity to power a three-bedroom house for five days.

This is an extract from Greeniology 2020, by Tanya Ha, $36.99, Melbourne University Publishing (2011).