14 Nov, 2019

Recycling Mythbusters


What can and can’t go in the recycling bin can be confusing and recent reports about the “waste crisis” have reduced the trust Aussies have in council kerbside recycling. At a local level what gets recycled can change and also vary from council to council.

With Planet Ark research showing a downward trend in the understanding of what can be recycled, it’s clear that there are many recycling myths out there. So for National Recycling Week, Planet Ark is busting those myths so that you can reduce waste and trust that you’re recycling right. Here are our Top 7!

# 1

Myth: All recycling goes to landfill Busted: Recycling does actually get recycled

The most common recycling myth as nominated by councils is that all recycling goes to landfill.1 In addition, Planet Ark commissioned research shows 36% of the population believe most of our recycling goes to landfill.2 No doubt the waste import policies of China and other countries have made it harder to find a home for our recyclables. The shutdown of recycling facilities, especially in Victoria, has led to a small number of councils having to send some recyclables to landfill until new markets are found. However, the vast majority of recycling collected by Australian councils is still getting recycled.

  • Data shows 84 - 96% of kerbside recycling is recycled, and the remaining 4 - 16% that goes to landfill is primarily a result of the wrong thing going in the wrong bin.3 A small amount may currently also be disposed to landfill whilst waste facilities are transitioning to new markets for recyclables.
  • The recycling process recovers and diverts over 37 million tonnes of materials such as aluminium, steel, glass, paper and cardboard and plastic away from landfills per year (only 12% of that is exported).4 Whilst there have been issues exporting plastic waste to Indonesia and Malaysia this represents a tiny proportion of the total amount of recycling. In Australia, we recycle 55% of all the waste collected from households, businesses and construction and demolition.5
  • There are around 100 Material Recovery Facilities operating in Australia which separate out the different materials for recycling. If it all went to landfill, running these facilities would be pointless.
  • Products made from recycled materials include plastic and glass bottles, aluminium cans, cardboard, paper, construction materials and roads.
  • It doesn’t make economic sense to send recyclable materials to landfill. State landfill levies provide a financial incentive to recycle, ranging from $33 to $141 per tonne in VIC, WA, SA, QLD and NSW, which means it may cost more to dump waste in landfill.

1Planet Ark Council Survey 2019
2Planet Ark commissioned research by Pollinate 2019
3National Waste Report 2018
4Blue Environment (2019) Data on exports of Australian wastes
5National Waste Report 2018

# 2

Myth: My recycling responsibilities are done once it’s in the bin Busted: Unless you’re buying it back, you’re not fully recycling

True recycling occurs when items that you’ve put in your recycling bin or dropped off at a collection point are turned into new materials. In fact, recycling only works when products made from recycled materials are purchased by consumers, businesses and governments. This creates a circle of supply and demand and supports Australian jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries.

  • There are probably more items made from recycled materials than you realise with Planet Ark research showing most people are unaware that products like road surfaces (40%), carpet (50%) and steel cans (32%) can be made from recycled content.1
  • Planet Ark research found 70% of Australians are more likely to buy products containing recycled materials.2
  • Governments at all levels are adopting procurement policies that require products to contain a certain percentage of recycled material. Recently, nine councils in South Australia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to prioritise the purchase of products made from recycled materials.
  • Innovative companies such as Close the Loop and Downer are producing recycled road surfaces containing recycled glass, soft plastics and toner from printer cartridges collected via Cartridges 4 Planet Ark. Councils in every state are using this new recycled road surface with many more to come.
  • By the end of 2019, every single bottle, 600ml and under, across Coca-Cola’s range of beverages will by made with 100% recycled plastic.

1Planet Ark commissioned research by Pollinate 2017

2Planet Ark commissioned research by Pollinate 2017

# 3

Myth: All plastic with a triangle symbol can be put in my kerbside recycling bin Busted: The Australasian Recycling Label is the ONLY evidence-based recycling symbol!

Not all plastics are made equal. The triangle symbols with numbers one to seven (or Plastic Identification Codes) are used to represent the type of plastic the item is made of. While every plastic type is technically recyclable, not all plastics are accepted in council kerbside recycling.

  • This is the second most common recycling myth as nominated by councils.
  • Research from the Australian Plastics Recycling Survey 2016-17 revealed that out of the 3,513,100 tonnes of plastic consumed annually, only 11.8% of consumer plastic in Australia was recycled.
  • The Australasian Recycling Label is an evidence-based system that provides easy to understand instructions on how to correctly dispose of every part of the packaging.
  • 41% of Australians incorrectly think soft plastics can be recycled at home.1 Soft plastics like cereal and pasta bags, bubble wrap and plastic shopping bags should not go in your council recycling bin.2 Nor should recyclables be put inside a plastic bag (items should be put in loose in the recycling bin). These cause problems at the sorting facility.

1Planet Ark commissioned research by Pollinate, Sep 2019 2A small handful of councils do accept soft plastics

# 4

Myth: The only way to recycle is via my council recycling binBusted: There are other ways to recycle aside from council recycling

Most of us do our best to recycle through council kerbside recycling bins but this only makes up about 20% of the total amount of materials recycled in Australia.1 There are many other trusted2 , and often free, ways to recycle these items through awareness of these product stewardship schemes is not as high as council kerbside recycling - knowledge ranges from 61% for Cartridges 4 Planet Ark to 30% for FluoroCycle.3

  • MobileMuster recycles all mobile phone components including all brands of handsets, along with their batteries, chargers and accessories, free of charge. With over 3,500 drop-off points nationwide, MobileMuster makes it easy to recycle your mobile phones and accessories.
  • Cartridges 4 Planet Ark provides Australians with a free and easy way to recycle their used printer cartridges. Having recycled over 43 million cartridges, this program is highly accessible with over 3,500 public drop-off locations around the country.
  • Nespresso has its own coffee capsule recycling program with more than 22,000 collection points in Australia.

1 National Waste Report 2018 2 Trust in product stewardship recycling programs increased in the last 12 months with high trust in MobileMuster increasing from 33% to 42%, Cartridges 4 Planet Ark increasing from 42% to 45% and Nespresso coffee capsule program increasing from 20% to 34% (Planet Ark commissioned research by Pollinate 2019). 3 Planet Ark commissioned research by Pollinate 2019

# 5

Myth: It’s too hard to recycle at workBusted: Recycling at work can be made easy

Does recycling at work feel overwhelming? Never fear Planet Ark’s Business Recycling is here. Whilst half of Australian businesses think they don’t do enough from a sustainability point of view1, the Business Recycling website provides tips to overcome the biggest barriers to workplace recycling, whether that be insufficient support from management, lack of staff training and motivation or simply the location of the bins and signage.

  • 70% of Australian businesses are concerned about waste going to landfill and 74% are concerned about plastic in oceans.2
  • 76% of surveyed businesses say they could be recycling more in their workplace. The top three reasons given for not recycling more are lack of education (44%), logistical difficulties (40%) and lack of time (25%).3
  • 72% of surveyed businesses find searching for recycling options on Planet Ark’s Business Recycling website easy or very easy.4
  • Having recycling programs in place is not only good for the environment but research shows it is good for staff morale with three out of four employees agreeing that having recycling at work makes them feel better about their employer.
  • Planet Ark have developed the War on Waste Toolkit for Business that provides ten free tools no matter where your workplace is on its journey to reduce waste and recycle more.
  • Improved waste management can reduce unnecessary costs, boost staff morale, provide a competitive edge and improve environmental outcomes.

1 HP Australian Environmental Sustainability Study 2018 in partnership with Planet Ark
2 HP Australian Environmental Sustainability Study 2018 in partnership with Planet Ark
3 Business Recycling User Survey 2017-2019
4 Business Recycling User Survey 2017-2019

# 6

Myth: Food scraps are not an issue in landfillBusted: Food scraps cause greenhouse gas emissions in landfill

What is in your bins when you take them out to the kerb each week? When it comes to food waste, Australians are some of the worst culprits globally the latest National Waste Report finding food and garden organics make up about half of all kerbside garbage.1 Food organics were also noted by councils as a top 3 contaminant in the recycling bin.2

  • Australians send 3.2 million tonnes of edible food to landfill each year, that’s close to 17,000 Boeing 747 jumbo jets3
  • $890 each year4 is the cost of food waste for the average household, enough for a return flight to Fiji
  • Food doesn’t belong in sealed landfills as they are anaerobic environments, meaning there is no oxygen available. In this environment organics rot and produce methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
  • Food scraps and liquid also don’t belong in recycling as it can ruin your good efforts and prevent recyclables from being recycled.

1 National Waste Report 2018
2 National Recycling Week Council Survey 2018
3 National Food Waste Baseline 2019
4 Radbobank Food Waste Report 2019

# 7

Myth: Recycling is my contribution to the environmentBusted: Reduce and reuse first, then recycle

It’s all about following the waste hierarchy! An easy way to remember is through the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. While recycling is important, reducing how much and what you consume (we’re looking at you non-recyclable single-use plastics!) is the most effective thing you can do to create less waste, generally followed by reuse and then recycling.

  • 78% of Australians believe the most helpful action for the environment out of a list of options is to regularly recycle. Other actions included: reuse items where possible rather than buying new items (61%); buy products made with recycled materials (51%), and decrease my meat consumption (19%).1
  • Recycling is a great place to start learning about living more sustainably and it does have major benefits like saving resources, energy and water as opposed to using virgin materials but it won’t solve our waste or climate issues on its own.
  • Data from the Global Footprint Network shows Australia also has one of the biggest ecological footprints per capita (4th).
  • Back in 2011, Time Magazine named collaborative consumption, also known as the sharing economy, as one of the top ten ideas that would change the world. It’s one way to help combat the impacts of overconsumption and waste. And with Australia’s sharing economy worth around $15.1 billion2 through the rise of tool libraries, toy libraries, clothing rental, car sharing, bike sharing, and adventure gear sharing, it looks like Time Magazine could be right!
  • GOOD NEWS! Many of us are already climbing the waste hierarchy and reducing our ecological footprint.

1Planet Ark commissioned research by Pollinate 2019
2Australian Ethical (2019) The Sharing Economy For the original Article and more information on recycling, go to: https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/nationalrecyclingweek/mythbusters/

SHARE      Facebook       Tweet

A local government partnership initiative