How to recycle properly at home. Tips on what you can and can’t recycle and how to recycle better
Author: Sandy Abram Date Posted:17 April 2019
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Green bins, yellow bins, red bins and blue. No, not a colour coded system used to store toys in a nursery, but all those different recycling bins. One for glass, one for plastics, one for paper. And then there’s the different types of each material... Green bins, yellow bins, red bins and blue. No, not a colour coded system used to store toys in a nursery, but all those different recycling bins. One for glass, one for plastics, one for paper. And then there’s the different types of each material...
Green bins, yellow bins, red bins and blue. No, not a colour coded system used to store toys in a nursery, but all those different recycling bins. One for glass, one for plastics, one for paper. And then there’s the different types of each material - are they all recyclable? Can they all go in the same bin? It can be a minefield, and according to a new report, many Australians are confused over recycling, despite really wanting to actively recycle.
The night before bin day, how confused are you? Not just about which bin goes out each week, but about what actually goes into each bin. It appears that many of us are confused, and even making mistakes when it comes to what can be recycled and where.
However well meaning we are, if we put something into a recycling bin that isn’t supposed to be there, we can cause more harm than good.
So-called ‘wish cycling’ is where we put everything in, in the hope that it’ll all just work itself out. We might not be able to bear the thought of not doing our bit, or we may genuinely not realise that there are rules to obey when putting out the rubbish.
We shouldn't let this put us off, so here’s some common recycling mistakes and how to improve our green credentials.
Soft Plastics vs Hard Plastics
Soft plastics that you can scrunch up in your hand, such as plastic bags, bread bags and biscuit wrappings contaminate plastic recycling plants that are dealing with harder plastics such as drinks bottles.
These soft plastics should go into the REDcycle bins that you’ll find at branches of Coles and Woolworths.
When recycling plastic bottles, take care to separate out all the different components - the bottle itself plus the lid and the ring that becomes detached from the lid when the bottle is opened and the label.
Bottles need to be separated from their lids and rings, and all three can then all go into your kerbside recycling bin.
Always make sure any rings are cut in half so that they don’t end up strangling poor unsuspecting wildlife.
The label, if made from plastic film rather than paper, can go with your bread bags and other soft plastics into the REDcycle bins at Coles and Woolworths.
Paper labels can go in with your normal paper and cardboard recycling. Just take a moment to peel away any glue and throw that in your normal, non recycling waste.
Greasy Food Wrappings
Food scraps left on containers and oily food wrappings cause big problems for recycling plants.
Plastic or metal food containers can be easily rinsed out before being recycled. But chip papers and pizza boxes that are covered in grease cannot be recycled in kerbside waste and need to be put in the REDcycle bins. If there’s a little grease, put it into your yellow bin. If the top of your pizza or burger box is free from grease and sauce, rip it off and recycle it with your normal paper.
Food that contaminates a batch of recycling will mean that the whole batch needs to be ditched, and will go straight to landfill.
And that’s probably not what you intended when you dutifully recycled all that packaging!
Clothing - a Big No No!
If you have unwanted clothes, don't be tempted to put them into your kerbside recycling. They’ll end up jamming the machinery and are much better given to charity, repaired or upcycled into something different.
If an item of clothing is really past its best, it can be cut up and used as cleaning cloths, wipes or makeup removers.
Nappies and sanitary towels shouldn’t be sent to recycling either, as they’ll also clog machinery. Try reusable or bamboo nappies and plastic free pads that will biodegrade when added to normal waste streams instead.
Paper and Coffee Cups
Paper and card can all be recycled, as long as its clean. So pop all your used magazines, leaflets, papers, packaging and cards into your normal recycling. You don't need to remove staples as these will be separated during recycling.
The exceptions are glittery or metallic cards and wrapping paper which sadly need to go to landfill as they can’t be recycled.
Shredded paper cannot be recycled by most councils either, as it will clog up machinery. Take it to your local recycling drop off centre, or use it in your compost heap or as animal bedding.
Coffee cups, although made with paper, cannot currently be recycled as they’re also lined with a layer of leak proof plastic.
These should go in your normal non recycling waste (although look out for new coffee cup recycling bins at train stations and other public areas), but the plastic lid can be recycled with your hard plastics.
Pringles tubes are surprisingly non recyclable as they’re made of mixed material and need to go in your normal bin.
Not All Glass is Created Equal, and a Note on Aluminium Foil
Jam jars and other glass food containers and bottles can all be recycled. However, drinking glasses have been heat treated and manufactured in a different way.
If you’ve broken a glass, don’t be tempted to put it in the glass recycling. Instead, wrap it in paper so that no one gets hurt at home or when collecting rubbish, and put it in your normal bin.
Bottles should be recycled with their lids removed, which can be recycled separately.
Used aluminium foil can be recycled if scrunched into a ball roughly the size of a credit card. Make sure it’s clean first. It can also be reused once its clean so only throw it out once its been used a few times!
The Top Aussie Recycling Mistakes
80% of us want to reduce what we’re sending to landfill, and 75% of all Australians worry about how our waste affects the planet. Which deserves to be celebrated! But as a nation, it turns out that we’re making some pretty regular mistakes when it comes to recycling - meaning that we can all make improvements to make our green endeavours even better.
A recent report found that although 60% of us are sure that we’re recycling correctly, only 10% of us actually are.
A whopping 94% are putting the wrong things in our recycling bins - even we’re surprised at things we’ve been doing wrong, who knew we all had to squash egg cartons?!
Which of these common recycling mistakes are you guilty of?
- Putting your recycling into the recycling bin inside a plastic bag
- Not cleaning out food containers and letting them dry before putting them in the recycling bin
- Putting greasy pizza boxes into the recycling
- Putting soft plastics such as crisp packets into the kerbside recycling bin (soft plastics = REDcycle bins!)
- Assuming the three arrow circular mobius symbol means an item can be recycled (this doesn't automatically mean it can be recycled)
- Not flattening egg cartons before recycling them, so that they don't become confused with plastics
All of these are big recycling sins, but the good news is, now that you;re more aware, your recycling bins will be saintly!
As a Final Step, Recycle
Remember, recycling should be the last resort, after reducing, returning, reusing, repairing, refilling, rotting (in terms of composting genuine food waste) and refusing.
There are many everyday items such as milk cartons that are currently tricky to get around. It’s difficult to get milk containers refilled, so we put millions in the bin each year.
But as a general rule, recycling doesn’t make up for having an item and then just throwing it in the recycling bin.
Perhaps some of these tips will urge you into making different choices, now that you know what can, and can’t be recycled. For example, shiney, glittery greetings cards may look pretty, but after a week they’re more than likely going to be thrown away and can’t be recycled (and will contaminate recycling batches if they are sent for recycling). So look for plain cards, or make your own!
Carrying reusable coffee cups, water bottles, cutlery and shopping bags, using plastic free soap and shampoo bars, upcycling old clothing and repairing broken electronic devices all mean that less goes to recycling plants. Which are still energy intensive and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
Don’t think it’s always someone else who’s making recycling mistakes, as in the nicest possible way, it could be you too. Deal with your waste responsibly, and help make the planet a better place.