Recycle of the fittest

By Luke Vanderzeil

Ahhhh recycling. As someone who takes the landfill bin out once a year (I know I am bragging, but you have to admit it is impressive!), it is one of my favourite pastimes. Ok, favourite is a stretch, I’d rather everything be compostable but that is a rant for another post!

With National Recycling Week just around the corner, now is as good a time as any to think about taking some simple actions (and some advanced, if you are so inclined) to reduce your carbon footprint and if you’re lucky, your number of weekly chores.

Now I talked a lot about composting and soft plastic recycling in a previous blog, and while those are incredibly important I will be focusing on your more common recycling items in this blog post.

Recycling in Australia

First of all, how important is recycling when it comes to the environment? Well according to one of my favourite studies, recycling has a moderate impact when it comes to carbon reduction. 

“But Luke, I heard that nothing gets recycled and it is a waste of time”. Yes it is true that recycling is a big problem in Australia, especially when it is still cheaper to make new plastics than it is to recycle the old ones! Throw in the fact that every council has different items they accept in their recycling bins, different numbers of bins, no wonder people throw items in the wrong place!

According to the most recent data from Planet Ark, we do in fact recycle a large percentage of eligible materials but I want to make two very important points on this:

  1. We must all keep up the habit of recycling regardless of whether some items go to landfill as we need to encourage circular economies overlinear economies.
  2. Supporting recycling will bring costs down for reusable materials, and since landfill is the most expensive waste to collect, this is beneficial for all.

“Luke, what about the fact that China no longer accepts our waste and we stockpile glass and other materials, hmmmm?” I cannot deny there is a criminal amount of waste that is stored or dumped illegally but China saying ‘No’ to our waste is the push Australia needs to invest in our own infrastructure. Why isn’t it happening already? I unfortunately don't have the answer to that, but we need to continue to encourage businesses and governments on all levels to improve. A few emails can go a long way.

For example, a new ramen place opened up the road from me, vegan options, I’m down. But upon first pick-up, they were using plastic bags AND plastic tubs for their food. This cannot stand. So, I sent off an email with some links to compostable alternatives. Three weeks later, no more plastic. THAT is the power of individual action.

Common recycling mistakes

The top 10 list of items that often end up in the recycling bin that shouldn’t. Solutions are below.

  1. Plastic bags/soft plastics - Take to supermarket and put in RedCycle bin

  2. Batteries and e-waste - Take batteries to Aldi and e-waste to local council drop off

  3. Food covered items - Clean and recycle, if cardboard, compost, otherwise landfill

  4. Compostable or biodegradable items - Compost, biodegradable needs to go to landfill

  5. Coffee cups - Landfill the base, recycle the top (buy a KeepCup already!)

  6. Single use cutlery and straws - Landfill (avoid, email to change and get a wooden reusable set)

  7. Broken drinking glasses/windows/pyrex - Landfill (no other option at this stage)

  8. Foil - This CAN be recycled, make sure it is balled together to be at least tennis ball size

  9. Tissues - Ew, compost, or landfill (I don’t care what anyone says, #handkerchieflife)

  10. TetraPaks (Long life milk cartons) - Landfill, but swap to a brand that doesn’t use these cartons such as Inside Out Nutritious Goods. (Your council MAY accept them, so always call to check first) 

Try entering as many of these actions as you can into the ClimateClever App to see how it affects your impact and costs.

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Recycling Hacks

More bins. I know it is not always ideal space wise but having more bins allows for a greater separation. Not everyone needs 6+ bins like me but even just starting with a soft plastics bin and a container deposit bin (10c container return) will make a big difference. A quick search online and you will find some pretty snazzy bins are available, both new and second hand.

My partner and I are closing in on $50 worth of eligible recycled containers (or in other words 500 bottles of Kombucha) and when we hit that target we will use the money for a sustainable dinner! 

If you want to add compost into the mix, this is a great ‘advanced’ action.

More bins can also mean in other areas of your home, office or school. How many times I go somewhere and there is only one bin in the bathroom. Why?!?! If you have recycling available, add in an extra bin to capture all those boxes and toilet rolls.

If you do want to go the extra mile, just use some old small shoe boxes or any container of a similar size to collect e-waste, batteries and other items you are willing to recycle. I use old peanut butter jars for batteries. You can also use containers to make eco bricks for personal use or to hold smaller pieces of recyclable material that might otherwise be lost in the transport process.

Remember, the ClimateClever actions library has many waste ideas you can implement, as well as several low or no-cost actions.

What about old clothes? Use companies like Upparrel or RecycleSmart. Cleaning and bathroom waste? Find a chemist with a take-back program. Don’t have time to recycle your 10c bottles? Email Citizen Blue. Calling your local council will also reveal other options such as Polystyrene recycling, available in certain councils such as our partner, Randwick Council.

At the end of the day buying less stuff and opting for sustainable alternatives is always going to be a better option. Once it's made, the damage is done, so think about ways to avoid the waste in the first place. Aside from underwear, a few cosmetics and health products, you can get pretty much anything second hand. 

Most of the items we use have a finite recycling life anyway so shop local, reuse everything and check out what events you can attend this National Recycling Week.

Clever solutions for tackling climate change