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What You Can Do About China's Recycling Ban

With the current recycling crisis due to China's ban on recyclables, Australia is underprepared, but we can take action at an individual level but making a few changes to how we shop, what we buy and our lifestyle. Time to Refuse, reduce and reuse before recycling.

Already, a few recycling centres around Australia are beginning to stockpile plastics that have no where to go, with some facilities planning to say NO to receiving anymore household recyclables. It's worrying, as it hasn't been that long since the Chinese government stopped the importation of 24 kinds of waste.

The ban includes polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) drinks bottles, plastic bottles and containers, along with mixed paper and cardboard. This is a significant part of household recycling.

What Households can do about China's Recycling Ban (Refuse, Reuse, Reduce)

One council in Victoria intends to encourage residents to reconsider purchasing anything in plastic recyclable containers. The ban is not just effecting Australia and the UK and USA are experiencing the similar issues, and nobody seems to have a proper solution yet.

It's unlikely we can all simply stop recycling , it's ingrained and almost an Aussie way of life. Many of us have been proud recyclers, way before zero waste was a thing....BUT now it is time to have a rethink and examine what each of us can do in our own backyard (or bin in this instance).

One Solution is to STOP Recycling

So, how on earth do we stop recycling?...Simple - Stop buying it in the first place.....well, perhaps not quite that simple. No matter where you live, there are likely to be some options for avoiding food and drink packaging (a huge contributor to recycling).

Perhaps you're rural and can grab some local eggs, bread and other locally made produce at the local markets or road side stands using your own bags and containers.

If you're city based, there are more than likely zero waste focussed shops and markets If you're based in Adelaide, you may want to check out a few here.

The suburbs can be tricky, but not impossible to find a few alternate options to packaging, with some suburbs having fantastic options. If you do have a local suburban shop, please support it!

Plastic is everywhere

I can hear you all saying - it's too expensive, too far to travel, too hard, and my favourite things are in packets!!!....I hear ya! This is much easier said than done and I'm not suggesting you take out a loan to be able to afford to eat, or quit your job so you can have time to prepare everything form scratch.... but I am saying, see if you can find an option that fits to your budget, lifestyle, location and tastes.

Imagine the impact if we could all replace one big recyclable item for a non packaged item OR a refillable package?

What if we stopped buying Pop Top Drinks, cordial, pre-made cakes, plastic jars of peanut butter, bottled water, pre-made jelly/custard, dishwasher powder, laundry detergent, cleaning products, liquid soap, beauty products, kids toys, disposable plates.

There is a long list of commonly bought items that could be eliminated or replaced, many of which can save money rather than add to your weekly spend while reducing your weekly recyclables.

I challenge you to find a thing you can stop buying in packaging

(I know you can do it!)

You may even want to try doing a Home Waste audit, to see which recyclable items to focus on first, rather than trying to change everything at once. By doing an audit, you will quickly see what items occur most often, allowing you to really hone in on problem areas.

Food Packaging Still Sucks

Plastic drink bottles, processed food packets and even fresh produce is packed for our convenience using all kinds of rubbish.

I would love to see some better environmental regulations around packaging, but that's probably a long way off. We need to start voting with our wallet and asking stores to provide better options.

Unfortunately many live in areas where this isn't possible, and then we have the blissfully ignorant people who could live next door to package free options yet habitually head to their nearest plastic covered shopping world. Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging them, but I am judging the manufacturers and corporations that refuse to change and therefore limit and control consumer choices.

That is what really annoys me ...AND the fact that it is almost impossible to food shop without plastic unless you are constantly vigilant. Yes, I'm ranting a little and no, I don't have the ideal solution to this complex problem but I like to make an impact through my choices and am pretty optimistic that in the future, this will be easier for all. It needs to become the path of least resistance to make it normal behaviour rather than being so difficult, so that consumers can actually do the right thing without giving it much thought.

Reusing containers, instead of accumulating more

Here's a few ideas if you don't know where to start....

Avoid Single Use

Plastic drink bottles, disposable cups and straws, coffee cups, condiments, cutlery. Any plastic, cardboard and paper, that is only being used once before recycling is worth exploring other options. Disposable partyware can be avoided too, it just takes people to start thinking about alternatives rather than just following what has always been done.

Avoid Single Serve Items

Buying a bigger container leads to less waste and resource usage and is more easily reused at home. This includes yoghurts, desserts, snacks, noodle bowls, drinks and hundreds of other items.


Many items can be purchased from bulk stores and this includes cleaning and bathroom items along with cooking oil, foods, herbs and teas. Most people have access to refilling peanut butter and honey for example rather than an endless cycle of purchasing and disposing of containers. Meats and deli items can also sometimes be purchased using your own containers, along with nuts, lollies and snacks, so don't forget to ask at your local shops.

Make a Swap

Could you swap to bar soap instead of liquid, or use a laundry soap instead of a plastic bottle of stain remover. Any product swap to less troublesome packaging is a great step and it really doesn't need to be expensive to be effective.

STOP Buying Cheap Plastic Items

Think back over the past few months or year to how many plastic items have had to be thrown away or recycled. Plastic is cheap, lightweight and highly convenient BUT often not hardwearing and long lasting as a usable item, yet it is going to be hanging around for a few hundred years before it breaks down.

If you have to keep replacing your mop, dustpan and broom, pet food bowls, watering can, laundry baskets, toys, kitchen utensils or whatever else is in your house, then it might be time to realise that these cheap items are actually costing you more money. A metal dustpan and broom is going to last for such a long time for a once off purchase but the initial cost will be higher. This is bad news for businesses as it's a huge benefit to them for your items to break so that you keep returning to buy more stuff...and they can keep making more stuff....and they work pretty hard on their marketing to make us believe we need even more stuff...all to make bigger profits. Oops, here I go ranting again, but its a huge con.

My point is, if you can opt for quality materials and buy once, not only are you saving your money and time, but it reduces recycling and landfill.

Toy Packaging

Toy packaging is recyclable, but where is it all going to go now we have this ban in place.? China is the largest toy producer, and rather than using our contaminated recyclables, they are now opting to make new plastic, so it's not just a glut of recyclables that have no where to go but the world will be getting even more new plastic. It's hard to really be mad with China, considering we have been using them as a dumping ground for years and made little efforts in reducing or processing the items they no longer accept.

There are loads of toys that kids love that aren't plastic, and there are companies out there with ecofriendly or no packaging. Avoid those tiny toys that come with a mountain of rubbish. Sometimes less is more, and there are lots of sustainable wood solutions and thousands of toys at opshops. When buying, think longevity....will it be useable for a month, a year, 5 years or indefinitely. (Or make some Playdough and just skip the shops all together!)

STOP Contaminating the Recycling Stream

We've all probably done it, some worse than others, but we really need to work on this. Containers with food left in it and unemptied drink bottles, labels and lids cause problems.

One issue with our recycling, and why China doesn't want it, is the contamination. Most facilities can handle a certain percent of contamination, but the less, the better. You can start by making sure lids are off - Here's a great explanation of why lids need to be removed.

Easily removed labels on plastic bottles can be dealt with at home before placing in the recycle bin and of course, remove food and rinse or containers. Paper and cardboard streams can be contaminated too - remove the plastic bits of your tissue boxes, pasta packets along with staples, paper clips, magnets and whatever other things are stuck to your paper items.

Cardboard and paper with food residue should not go into recycling and needs to be added to your green organics bin or home compost.

Take lids off bottles for recycling

I'd love to believe this will help our recycling to be accepted, but it really is too little too late with China. In any case, it will help plastic recycling to be more successful, assuming we either start establishing more of our own local facilities, or find another country willing to accept our waste.

Do you need that Junk Mail?

Catalogues and junk mail are such a huge waste of paper and are adding to the amount of useless items that are produced just to be thrown away.

Well, hopefully they are being recycled, but I don't think China wants our junk mail either. Here's some hints on how to stop the letterbox trash.

Take a Serious Look at Alternatives to Plastic Packaging

It's obvious we all need to start cutting back on plastic, paper and cardboard, but don't forget there are still readily available options, you just need to look.

Aluminium is a highly valued recyclable, so if you really need that soft drink next time you head out, opt for a can, not a bottle.

Glass is another great choice and can be turned back into reusable glass or even just reused at home. Plastic has limited recyclability and often is downgraded each time and then becomes pretty much unusable and valueless.

I don't normally encourage tetrapaks, BUT, given the current situation it may be a more sustainable choice to plastic, as it is recyclable and won't be stockpiled (you may be able to get a 10c refund on these too).

And, don't overlook the humble milk and juice cartons (also used for cream, custard and ice-cream) , these are made of liquid paperboard and are recycled to make cardboard products.


I'll be interested to see how the issue is solved and I really hope there are some innovative approaches and a focus on businesses reducing their troublesome recyclables (which let's face it, a lot of packaging is a problem, not just plastics).

Let's start asking companies to change packaging and provide us with better options, and in the meantime, begin a war on recycling.

What are your thoughts on the ban?

Has your council started sending recycling to landfill? This is a huge worry of mine and I so far, my council is still running the kerbside recycling service.

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