Are you recycling correctly? The ins and outs of waste and how to make a difference.

The discussion around waste management and recycling is so critical, now more so than ever. Most recent stats show that 48 million tonnes of solid waste materials are generated each year in Australia alone! So the natural answer is to ramp up the recycling, right? Yes… but here’s the thing, recycling is an expensive business, resulting in nearly double the costs of general waste removal making it less appealing for councils to invest in education around it.

So what do we do? We cut back, we lean out, we take time to recycle properly so council money and time is not spent sifting through our recycle bins to remove items that aren’t actually recyclable (coffee cups, certain plastics, types of glass) and we start to be more aware of our decisions around packaging, recycling, and consumption. So let’s start by getting clear on what is actually recyclable versus what’s not.

Plastics

Not all plastics are the same and your local council may only be able to recycle certain types through your kerbside recycling program. In most areas, plastics stamped with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 can be recycled, although many councils are now extending their recycling programs to include those labeled 4 through 7. Check with your council for details.

Plastics that are NOT recyclable via the local kerbside pickup:

  • Plastic bags
  • Bin liners
  • Cling wrap
  • Bottle top lids (when not made of a recyclable plastic (see above).
  • Disposable nappies
  • Polystyrene and foam trays that meat is stored on.

Soft plastic recycling

So what to do with all those plastic bags, bin liners, plastic container wrapping and scraps of cling wrap… Redcyle them. ‘Redcycling’ is a new initiative whereby soft plastics only (those that can be scrunched into a ball) can be recycled when deposited in a redcycle bin, as long as they are dry and not hard plastic. You can find these at your local supermarket or public places. For a full list of locations in Australia, go here.

Glass

Glass requires ‘virgin’ materials like sand, soda ash, and limestone. While these are not in short supply, mining for them is incredibly taxing process on the environment. The good news is 100% glass can be recycled forever. It is only when minute particles of other materials get manufactured into the glass that they no longer become a sustainable option.

Glass that CAN be recycled:

  • Clear, green or brown (amber) bottles – including wine, beer, juice, soft drink and sauce bottles.
  • Glass jars – such as those from jams and spreads.

Glass that is NOT recyclable (these materials melt at different temperatures to normal glass):       

  • Drinking glass  
  • Ceramics – such as pyrex and cooking ware  
  • Oven-proof glass  
  • China  
  • Light Globes  
  • Mirrors  
  • Window glass and windscreen glass  
  • Medical or laboratory glass  
  • White opaque bottles

To rinse or not to rinse?

Good question – and one that is hotly debated. The official line by local governments in Australia is that you do not have to rinse containers before putting them in the recycling bin as dirty containers will not affect whether something can be recycled. Plastics and jars just need to be empty and dry. If you want to rinse them to avoid odours and pests you can do so but if you can avoid it, I’d save the water for something more important. For anyone not in Aus, seek out information on your local councils’ website.

Can I leave the labels on?

Yep, there’s no need to spend half an hour vigorously scrubbing off a label. Today’s recycling will make light work of this as extreme heat is used when rinsing and cleaning recyclables. Labels and glue will be burned off as part of the process.  

Paper

The great news about paper and cardboard is that more often than not it can be recycled. The bad news is that modern paper production involves mechanical and/or chemical pulping to convert raw materials into various paper products. The issue here is that these processes consume large amounts of energy, involve environmentally damaging ‘bleaching’ and to make just one tonne of paper it takes 90,000 litres of water!

Recycling is still better than chucking your paper into landfill. Here in Australia, we’re sending 1.9 million tonnes of paper to landfill each year. When paper sits in landfill it releases toxic greenhouse gases which damage the environment and the ecosystem. So the bigger message here is to cut back on paper, regardless of whether it’s recyclable or not.

Paper products that can be recycled:

  • Newspapers and magazines (staples are fine to be left in)
  • Advertising material (remove plastic wrap and add to your soft plastics bin)
  • Phone books (fun fact: these often get recycled into kitty litter)
  • Egg cartons
  • Envelopes (even those with clear plastic windows)
  • Cardboard boxes

BUT receipt paper cannot be recycled (the thermal kind that contains BPA, so best say “No receipt” at the counter anyway)

Wooden chopsticks can’t go into recycling, BUT they can go into the green bin.

What about those tricky items?

It’s easy to get stumped on those miscellaneous items, toothpaste tubes, light bulbs, coffee pods etc. Thankfully there are some awesome companies doing amazing work with recycling. The key here is to spread the word and let people know that they have options for those harder-to-recycle items.

Terracycle: This company offers free national recycling solutions for a variety of waste streams including oral care products (plastic toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes), beauty products, espresso pods, mail satchels, plastic gloves, snack wrappers and so much more.  

Simply cups: Coffee cups have been huge news in the media for the last 12 months or so. Dare I say things are starting to shift and single-use cups are no longer de rigueur. With the realisation that every coffee cup (even when dutifully recycled) ends up in landfill, people are starting to make a shift to Keep Cups. Hooray! That said, there’s still a long way to go. Simply Cups is a coffee cup recycling initiative that uses purpose-built collection tubes and bins to separately collect and aggregate coffee cups to be recycled. They use a patented process to separate the paper and polyethylene components of the cup before recycling the various components. The thing is, these guys need us to follow their movement and get it off the ground. If you run a business or you’re involved in local government you can set up a collection point near you.

E-waste recycling: Australians generate more than 140,000 tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) each year and most of it ends up in landfill. The good news is E-waste recycling is an initiative whereby 95% of items are recycled. An incredible stat when you think about it! To find your nearest e-waste facility visit your local council website.

Below is a list of the items you can drop off:

  • televisions
  • computers – desktops, monitors, laptops and printers
  • home and home office equipment – photocopiers, fax machines, scanners, servers, projectors, DVD players and video recorders
  • computer peripherals such as joysticks
  • electronic games, CDs, DVDs, tapes and cameras
  • electronic components
  • phones – mobiles and landlines
  • small household appliances – vacuum cleaners, microwaves, stereos, and pedestal fans
  • power tools – drills, circular saws and power boards, electric lawnmowers, electric trimmers, electric leaf blowers (no gas powered items).

Why we need to cut back on consumption

All waste materials (recycled or not) represent an investment of water, energy and natural resources, such as coal, oil or trees. Once waste finds its way to landfill, the virgin material has to be taken from our environment to produce new products. Which means taking more from an already depleted natural environment.

When it comes to making those recyclable items – glass, paper and plastic you’re still looking at loads of energy consumption with the extraction and transportation of raw materials. For example, the glass itself is produced by melting the materials at a very high temperature using huge amounts of energy, which then produce masses of CO2, a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. It’s stressful just thinking about it!

How to avoid unnecessary waste

  • Bulk buy: Find your local bulk buy health food shop and stock up on nuts, seeds, grains, oils, vinegar and other fun ingredients. Try taking your own bags and jars to save on waste. You might even receive a discount for doing so.
  • Compost: Whether you have a tiny outdoor verandah or a huge backyard, you can always create a compost bin to reduce the number of scraps going into landfill – I leave my scraps by the sink and then add them to the compost when I can. 
  • Shop at local markets: It is mind boggling when I walk into a supermarket and see broccoli heads or bananas individually wrapped in plastic. Aside from the exposure to unwanted endocrine-disrupting plastics, it’s also totally unnecessary! Instead, visit your local farmer and get all of your fresh produce without wasteful packaging.
  • Use reusables: Keep-cups, strong GOTS certified cotton shopping bags, bamboo plates and cutlery (for picnics and parties), reusable stainless steel straws. All of these are a buy once, use for a decade type things. Start with the item you would use most and build up your collection until you are single-use free.
  • Give away clothes and toys: rather than chucking things once you’re done with them, take time to give them a wipe over or a wash and pass them on to your local St Vincent De Paul, charity bin or neighbour. You may no longer find joy in them – but people who need them will.
  • Invest in a Keep Cup: When it comes to single-use coffee cups, there is nothing other than convenience for convenience sake that is a positive, so it’s time for more change. If you’re already doing it, inspire others with beaming positivity instead of judgy vibes, to do the same. Buy your friend a cute cup for their birthday for example. Make it fun.Buy a reusable cup with a lid from BIOME – Such a great range! This is the cute KeepCup a girlfriend got me for my 40th, which I love for when a lid is needed on long car trips.keepcup-xmas-cork-glass-dancer-sml-8ozOther options to explore are the gorgeous SOL range from Emporio Organico (I have the grey-blue colour “Blue Stone” and love it!) or the Life Basics from Nourished Life.

Big business’ and brands doing awesome things

Swimwear

There’s a heap of amazing swimwear brands that are repurposing plastics into swimwear. While wearing plastics is not ideal, most swimwear brands are made from plastic nylons so to invest in a brand that is championing recyclables in such a clever way is worth it to me. Here’s a few to check out: Ocean Zen Bikini, Batako, and Baiia.  

Sportswear

Adidas is one of the first global companies championing the eco-friendly movement. The initiative started in the year 2000 when Adidas involved investors who had previously integrated sustainability considerations into their portfolios. Now Adidas is ranked among the top three most sustainable companies worldwide, with a commitment to using recycled materials and supporting fair work initiatives for its workers across the globe.

Cork Leaf sells beautiful yoga mats made from recycled cork products. They’re free of  PVC, PER, TPE or adhesives and for each mat purchased a tree is planted. Eco selling at its best.

With the rise of activewear as everyday wear, there’s been a huge increase in the purchasing of workout gear. Unfortunately, most activewear brands make stretchy clothing from polymer-based synthetic materials so if you are going to wear them then this is your chance to put your money where your values lie and invest in an environmentally conscious brand. Rumi X, a Hong Kong based brand has managed to create activewear out of recycled plastics and upcycled coffee grounds. Teeki is also a brand that works with recycled plastic.

School bags

Harlequin makes all types of eco-friendly school bags using polyester fabric from recycled plastic bottles. The bags can be found in different sizes, brands, and styles for kindy and prep, primary through to senior students so a great option if you’re looking to consciously spend your cash.

So my friends, the message here is not just to be more aware of which bin we use to turf our ‘stuff’ but rather to avoid the allure of the ‘stuff’ in the first place and invest your money where your values lie. If you’re keen to learn more hop over to my post here, which lists my go-to documentaries and my easy sustainable swaps. 

So how are you at recycling? Did this post open your eyes to a few things you might not have realised?

Low Tox. Happy Bodies. Happy Planet.

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