I don’t know about you, but when I throw something away I feel guilty.
Did I really need to buy that? That plastic spoon will end up in a whale’s belly…or washed up on a beach…my children will look at me in ten years and say, thanks mum, the world is a pile of rubbish, why couldn’t you recycle more? Do these thoughts run through your mind? Good. That means you’re on the right track!
In fact, this article is intended to make you feel really bad (sorry!), show you how easy it is to recycle (phew!), inspire you to make changes in your own personal life (let’s rock this!) and become the hero/heroine we all know you are (yep!). Until we structure our society as a rubbish-free, closed-circuit model (aka nothing is wasted) we need to do our best individually.
Recycling 101: What can and can’t be recycled
Here on the Sunshine Coast we are lucky—a yellow-topped recycling bin is collected by Council every fortnight. First and foremost, recycling simply requires allocating a separate bin inside your home or business so it can be brought to the allocated bin outside. We have one in our kitchen next to the composting bin (for more about composting go here). If we must purchase items in containers, we make sure they can be recycled, avoid plastic-covered fruit and veg, buy in bulk and say no to takeaway coffees (at the minimum). Items that can be recycled include:
- Plastic numbers 1-6
- Cardboard and paper (ensure it is clean & dry)
- Glass, such as bottles and jars
- Aluminium, such as cans & aerosols
- Steel, such as cans & aerosols
For best results, please rinse all containers, remove lids and labels (if possible), reduce bottles and containers (squash them), flatten cardboard and NEVER put recyclables inside plastic bags! Some plastics and metals cannot go inside the recycling bin and should be brought to your local tip for processing. Never put the following in your recycling bin:
- Plastic bags
- Scrap metal
- Plastic wrap
- Drink glasses
- Garden waste
Putting things that cannot be recycled in your bin can damage the processing equipment. Once the yellow bins are collected, they are taken to the Material Recovery Facility or MRF at the Nambour Landfill and Resource Recovery Centre. Here they are sorted and separated into material types, then sold to different recycling companies who process them into the new products.
Busting Recycling Myths
You know those people who say things like “it costs more to recycle” or “more energy is used to recycle things so what’s the point?” Yeah, we’re not really into that. Here are some common myths and facts to bust them. Hopefully this helps make your case for recycling and quiets down the inner or outer cynic in your life!
Myth 1: There is plenty of room to bury waste—so I don’t need to recycle.
More and more people = more and more waste. Where will we put it all? Not to mention the fact that landfills produce greenhouse gas and leachate (a liquid formed by the breakdown of organic matter, other liquid wastes such as coolant or battery acid, rainwater and other dissolved chemicals and fine particles in suspension). More waste means more greenhouse gas and more water pollution—yuck.
Myth 2: Recycling is not worth the effort, because it’s not economically viable.
Yes, it does cost us approximately 50 cents per week to pay for our yellow recycling bins. But, by recycling, we are reducing the need for greater landfill space, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the need for raw materials. For example, 900 million aluminium cans are thrown away each year as litter in the landfill. The value of these as scrap metal would exceed $15 million. With Australia’s steadily growing population and the fact that raw materials will grow scarcer while demand increases, by 2050 the price of collected recycles will rise significantly. Recycling is set to become a financial and material necessity, particularly if we continue our current standard of living. In short, by 2050 we’ll have no choice!
Myth #3: Recycling Doesn’t Help the Environment
A study by the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation concluded that every 10 tonnes of recycling recovered equates to taking four cars off the road permanently, the annual electricity requirements for 14.5 households and saves enough water to fill 3.5 backyard swimming pools. BOOM!
Myth #4: All Plastics Can Be Recycled
Sunshine Coast and Noosa Shire Council can recycle plastics 1-6 such as 1 PET (clear soft drink bottles), 2 HDPE (translucent milk bottles, some opaque varieties), 3 V or PVC, 4 LDPE, 5 PP (takeaway containers, ice cream tubs) and 6 PS. Not all plastics can be recycled and by placing these types of plastics in with other recyclables, you can contaminate an entire truck-load! Just look on the bottom of the packet for the ID (see graphic above) and sort appropriately.
Myth #5: Plastic Bags, Plastic Water Bottles & Takeaway Coffee Containers Can All Be Recycled
Yes and no…but it’s complicated.
Plastic bags can be recycled—just not in your home recycling bin. You must drop them off at specially-marked recycling bins at the front of certain supermarkets. They require a separate and special process for recycling. It’s easier just to bring you own carry bags and avoid using plastic bags whenever possible. They are single-handily destroying the earth.
Take away coffee cups are well, pure evil—the plastic waterproof lining of many paper coffee cups means they can’t be recycled with collections of paper and cardboard and can contaminate a recycling load, causing the whole lot to be sent to landfill. Yep! They suck—and so do the lids! If you factor in the hefty use of resources that goes into producing them, coffee cups are landing a triple blow to our environment. Buy your own re-usable coffee cup and never feel the waste guilt again!
Plastic water bottles…my mortal enemy. According to reports from volunteers, one in ten items found on Clean Up Australia Day is related to plastic drinking bottles. Most bottled water is packaged in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles which are derived from crude oil and transported around the world burning up more fossil fuels. Although plastic bottles are recyclable, many end up in landfill and take up to 1000 years to break down. When littered they often end up in the sea where they dissolve into small pieces killing marine life that mistake them for food. So, next time you buy a bottle of water from the petrol station, remember that! Or you can buy a really cool re-useable water bottle that reflects your unique personality and never kill baby seals again!
Did you Know…
- Veterinary and agriculture chemical containers can be recycled! The drumMUSTER program collects these containers. For more information, click here.
- Printer cartridges can be recycled via the ‘Cartridges for Planet Ark’ recycling boxes at participating Australia Post, Officeworks, Harvey Norman, Tandy and Powerhouse stores.
- Guides Australia collects wine and champagne corks nationally through a network of individuals and collection points at hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. For more information, click here.
- Mobile phones can be recycled via most mobile phone outlets.
- Domestic batteries can be disposed of sustainably in bins at most ALDI stores. For more details, visit this website.
- Used prescription glasses and sunglasses can be donated to OPSM or Personal Eyes, who will pass them on to someone who can’t afford glasses in a developing country.
- Xray film, chemicals, computers, light bulbs and more can also be recycled! To find out exactly what you can recycle and where, use the handy guide to punch in your location and what you want to recycle. You’ll be surprised to find out what you can recycle and how easy it is to find a location near you.
10 Simple Ways to Reduce Waste NOW
- Take your own bags or shopping basket and never use plastic bags.
- Bring your own keep cup—don’t do take away containers. Or just sit down for five minutes and drink your coffee out of a glass mug!
- Buy your fresh food, fruit and vegetables loose and local. Avoid the use of freezer bags in your supermarket and avoid pre-packaged fresh foods.
- Cut packaging and buy in bulk.
- Never buy plastic water bottles—buy a re-usable bottle and refill it at home, work or via bubblers.
- Recycle and compost all household waste—it’s super easy! For a guide to composting, click here.
- Reduce the amount of unwanted mail—NO JUNK MAIL signs on your post box, advise companies to stop sending catalogues or magazines and opt for electronic bills and statements
- Buy it used—freecycle, eBay, gumtree, local opp shops and garage sales are the best way to go!
- Use cloth nappies, menstruation cups, cloth menstruation pads or period undies!
- Make your own household cleaners—vinegar, salt and eucalyptus oil works wonders! Re-use old clothes for rags instead of paper towels.