Knowing what you can recycle, how and where IS going to make a big difference to your landfill and trash. Some materials are commonly accepted by kerbside programmes, other items need to be collected and dropped off.
Wherever you live, there will be different rules but this post will help you research your local options for recycling and the best ways to go about it to ensure you're not contaminating the system and are minimising useful resources being sent to landfill.
(This is Topic 1 in the War on Waste Challenge - If you missed the introduction, head here)
Looking into recycling options sounds like a very basic task and a little on the boring side. BUT it really is a great place to start when trying to reduce your household waste and I highly recommend it, even if you are well into a zero waste journey.
(In case you've just landed here, this is part of a zero waste challenge series)
Recycling WILL reduce your landfill items, if done right, and help prevent muddling up or contaminating recycling systems.
Being up to date with your local rules and options for recycling will also help you be more informed when it comes to selecting product packaging and avoiding unrecyclable items.
I completely admit that Recycling doesn't really solve the whole waste issue, BUT it can make a positive impact if done correctly and thoughtfully.
Did You Know?
>Glass and aluminium are infinitely recyclable and valuable resources.
>Plastic is downgraded each time and has limited recyclability, and given the many codes on plastics it can be tricky to know what it is and if it can even be recycled at all.
>Plastic bottles do NOT get recycled back into plastic bottles.
>Electronics will leech toxic substances into the environment when disposed of in landfill
>Many recyclable items are thrown into landfill
Image Source: Brisbane City Council
A huge issue with recycling is that there are so many different materials and rules that it is difficult to truly know if you're getting it right or not. AND they keep changing.
You Don't Know What You Don't Know
I've been recycling my whole life, probably you have too. I thought I was pretty awesome at recycling and sorting our household waste and keeping up with the latest.
I read the updated guidelines on my local council website.
We HAD been doing a few things wrong AND were completely unaware of new available options! It was literally only because I visited the website that I found out.
I suddenly learnt we could compost our tissues, paper towels and pizza boxes as the council green bin contents go to a commercial composting facility that can handle way more stuff than a home compost can.
Also, a few odd items I already knew were not accepted through our recycling program, are actually easily handled through alternative avenues such as local drop-off collections and it didn't take long to start building a basic list of items we could keep out of landfill.
Getting to Know Your Local Recycling - Where To Start
This topic in the Zero Waste Challenge is all about figuring out the recycling rules and guidelines in your local area, so you divert these usable and valuable materials.
Recycling should be a simple topic, but it can be complex at times, not to mention confusing. I like to keep things simple, so here are some ways you can nail the recycling once and for all.
1. Google Your Guidelines
If it has been 3-6 months since you read your local waste and recycling guidelines, then this is your first task.
Google your local council website and locate their page on waste services to check the rules on what is accepted.
Even in Australia, the rules can be different in the very next suburb and they do change over time. Given the ban on China taking recyclables, there may be some significant changes to check on no matter where you live and it seems it will be an ongoing issue for many.
2. Ask Questions
Some council websites will have a contact person in charge of waste services and may even name their waste contractors too. This is incredibly useful for items that aren't specifically mentioned or covered in the general lists or unusual things.
>Do you need to remove staples from paper or plastic envelope windows?
>Do cans need to be washed with labels removed?
>How should small plastics or small metals be handled?
>Should you remove lids from bottles?
>Is shredded paper accepted?
>How do you properly dispose of compostable plates and cutlery?
>Is the plastic packaging from toys recyclable?
Knowledge is power, so ask away!
If you saw the ABC's War on Waste series, you may have heard about problems with black plastic trays not being picked up in many recycling facilities due to the colour - Well, this is not necessarily the case in your area and you can contact your local council or waste provider to find out the facts.
They are usually very happy to help. I often contact KESAB (South Australia) via messenger on facebook, and it's been super helpful with lots of weird questions I have. (And I found out I can recycle the black plastic!).
You may also want to follow your council and waste services on social media to see useful information in your feed on a regular basis.
Check if there is a local zero waste or war on waste facebook group too - this can be such a time saver and a valuable place to get questions answered.
3. Remember To Double Check Packaging Labels
Not all recyclables will be labelled, but make a point to start checking. There have been some improvements just in the past year on what information manufacturers place on packaging in Australia.
For example REDcycle, a soft plastics recycling scheme, is mentioned on a number of frozen food bags and some meat trays will advise you to discard the cling film and recycle the tray.
Here's some great examples of items REDcycle accept AND this includes silver chip bags and chocolate wrappers. All you need to do is drop them off to your local Coles or Woolworths store and I've noticed some Foodland's are also offering this.
I live in South Australia and we have a refund scheme on bottles and cans which can be returned in exchange for cash. This scheme also includes other items such as fruit boxes and certain types of disposable single serve drink cups you may get on plane trips.
Labels and packaging really could be an entire topic in itself!
I love obvious labels (like my flour packet below)
- this is helpful because I can tell before I buy it that it isn't plastic coated and can be recycled very easily.
4. Ask More Questions
Find out where and how your recyclables are processed.
If glass and aluminium are processed locally, but plastic is sent elsewhere, then you could start to adjust the packaging you buy to increase the amount of locally processed recyclables. This helps provide local jobs and reduces transportation miles and traffic on our roads (it all adds up).
If you have hard waste pickups in your area, you might want to look into what really happens to them.
It can be illegal to take rubbish placed on the kerb, but the sad thing is, much of it is crushed and dumped in landfill. Some councils will recover as much material as they can, but it is likely that perfectly good items are still being crushed.
If your items are still useful, consider taking them to a donation point or bringing them back in off the kerb if no one has taken it for themselves before the rubbish truck arrives to destroy them.
Your council may even offer e-waste pickups as part of their hard rubbish program - this can be a quick and easy way to recycle old electronics without even leaving home. (Be mindful not to put an item on the kerb that contains personal data)
My habit of asking lots of questions is what helped me figure out how to start recycling medicine blister packs!
This year, I went on a Beyond the Kerb tour - which is basically a free guided tour of the rubbish dump and recycling facilities where I saw what happens to waste and how it is handled. I absolutely loved it, and found it fascinating to see how items are sorted and what common things cause issues in the waste stream. (Check if your council offers tours like this, they are really fun!)
5. Go Beyond Council Programs
If the steps above have provided you with enough of a challenge, then feel free to skip this and revisit it in a few months time.....if not, then read on.....
Kerbside recycling and waste programs cannot handle every type of material and this is where we head into tricky territory.
There are loads of items that ARE recyclable but cannot go into your local bin system and often there are local drop off points where they can be processed.
Search for other options nearby that handle things like ink cartridges, mobile phones and electronic waste, empty pot plant containers, contact lenses, soft plastics, light globes, batteries, clothing, furniture, toothpaste tubes, reading glasses, bras and a whole lot more. (Here's a great place to start)
Whatever it is, someone in the world has found a way to recycle it. Even those pesky coffee cups can be recycled now, although a keep cup or compostable cup is a far better choice.
Planet Ark have developed a free Recycling App that is pretty useful, simply download it on your phone and search by item.
YOUR Zero Waste Challenge Task
>Once you have gathered some information and facts, you can simply choose ONE thing to change and commit to starting this week OR several things if you prefer.
>If you discovered recycling rules changed, your goal could be to learn and get used to the new guidelines.
>If you're a gun at kurbside recycling, pick something more challenging - maybe find an e-waste drop off point, learn how to recycle old shoes or commit to physically dropping off some of your recyclables.
Psst….You don't have to do everything at once, just pick those with the biggest impact for you, or the one you find most appealing.
If you are located in Australia - check out this guide on Waste and Recycling in Australia - It contains a run down on South Australia, handy links for other states & territories AND some common Nation Wide recycling options.
If you are overseas - check out the International Zero Waste Week website where there are resources for recycling all over the world, listed by location. If you can't see yours there, then considering writing one and submitting it to the site.
Here are my must have recycle bin labels that you can print off and use too, which make segregating things so much easier, especially when you live with others.
The further you delve into recycling and waste options, the more questions you may have.
You may find yourself looking for ways to divert ALL items that would usually head to your landfill bin. I have even dropped off old soap to a local artist and kept broken crockery for someone to use as mosaic.
I am far more selective with the packaging on items I purchase these days and also consider how I can mindfully dispose of an item at the end of its life so it doesn't end up in landfill.
If you're having trouble working out what to do with an item, feel free to add your questions and comments below. I'll try to help as much as I can.
Next Topic - Waste Free Drinks On The Go