Is it just us, or can recycling be a little confusing?
We all want to do our part for the environment, but it can be tough to know the dos and don’ts of recycling when you’re just starting out.
Can I recycle this bottle? What about the lid? And the chocolate milk stains?
We spoke to Helen Andrew, Founder of Spare Harvest for some insights on how to recycle.
Along with her expert advice, we shed some light on:
- What you can and can’t recycle
- Recycling tips
- How and where to dispose of recyclables
- What food scraps can be made into compost, and how.
If you’re more of an eco-worrier than an eco-warrior, this guide will help you on your journey to green.
Why should I recycle?
We’re glad you asked.
You know the planet we live on? Well, it’s not used to all the waste we humans create.
And since we’re the ones creating it, it only makes sense that we make an effort to reduce its negative impact on the environment.
According to the National Waste Report 2018, Australia generated an estimated 13.8 million tonnes of household and other municipal waste in 2016-17.
And we’re recycling a lot less of it than we could and should be.
The report reveals:
“Compared with a selection of other developed economies, Australia generates more waste than the average, and the proportion it recycles is a little less than the average.”
The earth isn’t the only one getting hurt by waste. It also has a negative impact on our health. Helen explains how recycling is a win-win for the environment and us.
“Recycling protects the health of communities by reducing pollution in the air, water and soil by keeping waste out of the environment and landfills,” she says.
If you want to do your part, recycling your household waste is a great place to start.
What You Can and Can’t Put in Your Home Recycle Bin
An easy way to reduce your impact on Mother Earth is to simply sort your recyclables properly.
Not sure what’s welcome in your home recycle bin and what’s not? Here are some common household items that you can and can’t recycle.
Things You Can Put in Your Home Recycle Bin
- Paper: office paper, magazines, newspapers, junk mail, deli paper, envelopes (just remove the plastic window first!)
- Green, clear and brown glass bottles and jars
- Juice and milk cartons and bottles
- All plastic bottles and containers marked, but no lids
- Steel (tin) and aluminium cans and empty aerosols (including deodorant)
- Recycling metal
- Aluminium foil baking trays
- Baby formula tins
- Cooking oil tins
- Recycling plastic
- Cake and biscuit trays
- Cleaning product bottles
- Roll-on deodorant containers
- Plastic punnets (from berries)
- Shampoo, conditioner and soap bottles (including pumps)
- Sports drink bottles (reusable)
- Takeaway food containers
- Yoghurt containers
- Cereal boxes
- Paper plates
- Pizza boxes
- Toilet rolls
- Wrapping paper
- Washing powder boxes
- Recycling glass
Things You Can’t Put in Your Home Recycle Bin
- Lids of plastic bottles or containers
- Plastic bags or recyclables inside plastic bags
- Takeaway coffee cups (these are usually lined with plastic)
- Disposable nappies
- Garden waste
- Polystyrene (styrofoam)
- Bubble wrap
- Syringes or medical waste
- Ceramics, ovenware or light bulbs
- Plastic bags
- ‘Soft’ plastic (e.g. wrappers and cling wrap)
- Shredded paper and napkins (put this in your compost)
- Clothes and shoes (you can donate these instead)
- White goods/appliances
- Heat-resistant glass, such as Pyrex
- Organic/yard waste (put this in your compost)
- Car parts
- Sharps (needles and/or syringes)
- Foam rubber
Learn everything you need to know about rubbish tips and find your local here: Your Guide To Public Rubbish Tips.
5 Quick Recycling Tips
Keep these quick tips in mind when recycling items at home:
- Clean – A little bit of leftover food isn’t a big deal, but try to pour or scrape out as much solid or liquid as you can. And if you’re rinsing, use leftover dishwater – don’t waste good water on washing up your recycling! Don’t forget to make sure every item is dry to avoid contamination.
- Squash – Flatten cardboard boxes and squash plastic bottles to fit more in your recycle bin.
- Separate – Be sure to separate combined materials before you recycle them (e.g. if a toy’s packaging has both cardboard and plastic materials).
- Measure – Some small items can jam the recycling machinery. A good rule of thumb is to ensure the item you’re recycling is no smaller than a credit card.
- Unbag – Don’t forget plastic bags can’t be recycled, so don’t put your recyclables into a plastic bag before putting them in the recycle bin!
How to Recycle Plastic
From toiletries to cleaning products, a lot of our everyday items come in plastic packaging. Hard plastic can be recycled into other items, while soft plastic (e.g. sandwich bags and cling wrap) can’t.
An easy way to determine whether your plastic can be recycled is to try and poke a hole through it with your finger. If it’s too hard/strong to pierce, it likely can be recycled!
Once recycled, plastic can be made into heaps of handy things, like:
- New bottles and containers
- Paint brushes
- And more!
You can recycle plastic items by placing them in your recycle bin.
Where can I go to return bottles near me?
Some cities and states in Australia offer a 10c refund on certain types of plastic bottles and containers.
Follow the relevant link below to find plastic bottle return points in your city:
- Sydney/New South Wales
- Darwin/Northern Territory
- Adelaide/South Australia
Or search for your nearest plastic bottle recycling centre here using your postcode.
How to Recycle Paper
Rule number one of recycling paper: Avoid contamination.
Be sure to empty any bottles and cans before placing them in the recycling bin to ensure your paper doesn’t end up covered in pasta sauce and deemed unrecyclable!
Shredded paper can’t be recycled as the small fibres can cause the recycling machinery to jam. But the good news is, it makes great compost. The same goes for paper napkins and paper towels; no good for recycling, but excellent for your garden!
Helen explains how your leftover cardboard and newspaper can be reused at home.
“Laying cardboard in the garden and covering it with mulch is a great way to naturally manage weeds,” she says. “Shredded newspaper is perfect in the compost.”
Some items in the paper family can’t be recycled or composted due to additional materials and coatings, such as:
- Butcher’s paper with plastic coating
- Paper cups (that’s right – your coffee cup is likely lined with plastic!).
How to Recycle Water
According to the Cool Australia Water Factsheet 2012, Australian households hold the worst record for water consumption in the world.
A few ways to recycle water around your house include:
- Saving water used to boil pasta
- Saving water used to wash veggies
- Saving water used to boil veggies
- Collecting the overflow of water that comes out of the drainage holes when you water your plants
- Placing a bucket in the shower to catch the water running while you’re waiting for it to heat up.
Advantages of reusing water include:
- Cheaper water bills
- Using less water resources
- Reducing pollution going into waterways
- Ability to water your garden during water restrictions.
You can use wastewater to water your garden or rinse off your car windshield.
How to Recycle Batteries
E-waste can have a huge impact on the environment too, including those used batteries. Batteries are filled with toxic chemicals that can be hazardous if sent to landfill.
When recycled, these materials can be reprocessed to make other items.
Where to Recycle Batteries
Several businesses take household batteries for recycling, including:
- Battery World.
You can also check with your local council about whether they accept batteries for recycling.
How to Make Compost
Nutrient-rich compost can make your garden thrive! Better yet, it’s free, super easy to make, and kind on the environment.
If you think sending your food waste to the tip isn’t a big deal, think again.
Helen busts the myth that food composts in landfill.
“When sent to landfill, food waste is first wrapped in plastic garbage bags, and sandwiched between more plastic before eventually being covered over entirely,” she says.
Helen explains that food decomposing in landfill creates methane, which is twenty times as powerful as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the short-term.
What to Compost
- Wood chips and sawdust (not from treated timber)
- Shredded newspaper and cardboard (moist)
- Tea leaves
- Leaves, dead flowers, plants, and yard clippings
- Fruit and veg scraps
- Crushed eggshells
- Coffee grounds
- Corns cobs and stalks
What Not to Compost
- Meat, bones, and dairy products (they can attract pests)
- Diseased plants or weeds (they can compromise your soil)
- Banana peels and orange rinds (they can contain pesticide residues)
- Black walnut leaves
- Pet manures should not be used on food crops
How to Compost
- Start with a bare plot of earth to allow worms to aerate the compost and take it to your garden beds. The area should have some shade to avoid drying out your compost.
- Layer your materials, alternating moist and dry. Sprinkle in thin layers to avoid clumps.
- Add any manure (if it’s not a food crop) and yard clippings to activate the compost pile and get the ball rolling.
- Keep your compost moist but not soaked.
- Cover your compost with wood or plastic sheeting to retain moisture and heat and prevent over-watering by rain.
- Turn with a garden fork every couple of weeks to keep your compost aerated.
- Add new materials by mixing them in – don’t just add them in layers.
Here are some other ways to reduce your food waste:
Curious about how much we waste at Christmastime? The stats might shock you. Read them here, along with some tips to reduce your waste during the festive season.