09/11/2016 10:46 AM AEDT

The Recycling Mistakes You're Probably Making

It's time to put those old ideas in the bin.

It's a head-scratcher alright.

Pizza lovers, answer this: red bin or yellow?

For many Australians, recycling -- like pizza -- is a way of life. In fact, nine in ten of us are behind it.

It can be easy to become stuck with an old idea.

But, as with all things in life, even the most committed among us can make mistakes. And when we are dealing with the 647kg of waste that each Australian produces per year, those mistakes can have an accumulative impact.

"Recycling is a constantly changing industry because it is improving as we learn to deal with problems as they arise," Brad Gray, Head of Campaigns at not-for-profit organisation Planet Ark told The Huffington Post Australia.

"It can be easy to become stuck with an old idea, and that's what our research has shown."

This National Recycling Week, Planet Ark is turning the lens on the engaged recycler, revisiting some old ideas that continue to contaminate the recycling process.

Is that you?

"Contaminants can not only make this process less efficient but they can end up travelling through the entire system and come out as garbage at the other end," Gray said.

We get it. It can be hard to keep up. So, The Huffington Post Australia has compiled a list of Australians' common blunders to put to bed and keep you on track.

Plastic bags

Let's start with the obvious.

Eight out of ten councils surveyed by Planet Ark reported plastic bags and soft plastics in kerbside bins as their biggest recycling problem.

Why? They can literally halt the process.

"The recycling process happens on conveyor belts and plastic bags get caught in the machinery," Gray said. "I've been at one of the biggest facilities in the country when the whole process stopped because a bag had been caught in one of the wheels. They had to find where it was and extract it."

Not only does this does this pose a risk to workers -- who have to move through machinery -- it also renders the process less efficient.

UIG via Getty Images
So close, but yet so far.

Plastic bag blunders include putting your recycling inside a plastic bag before you put it the bin.

"By doing this, the recycling processes cannot separate the materials because it is enclosed in a plastic bag."

As it pummels its way through the system, what you're left with at the end is essentially garbage. Not ideal.


It's not all bad news for you and your plastics. REDcycle is a recycling organisation that works with Coles and Woolworths to set up collection bins in most metropolitan stores across the country. Dropped off plastics will be reprocessed and manufactured in Australia.

Soft plastics

Let's not forget about soft plastics, loosely defined as any type of plastic that can be scrunched into a ball. We're talking bread bags, biscuit wrappers and those tiny, green shopping bags.

"These are similar to plastic bags and can be easily caught in the machinery," Gray said.

"The fans that separate out paper will also pick them up and they end up mixing with paper."

Gray's blanket rule? Plastic bags should remain out of your recycling.

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Where do these bad boys end up?


If you think that aerosols are unrecyclable, you're not alone. Whilst nine in ten Australians live in an area that collects them, six in ten are not recycling.

"This is an old idea that stemmed from the 1990's when recycling first came about. We were told not to recycle them for our own safety," Gray said. "The message came through so early on that people haven't changed their ideas."

Turns out they are totally recyclable -- as long as the aerosol can is empty.

We encourage people to either set up a recycling bin next to their normal bathroom bin, or to put things like aerosols and bottles next to the bin.

This common blunder extends to recycling in the bathroom -- a major waste collection point that less than one in five Australian households are noticing.

"In the kitchen, people tend to recycle well and most of us will have a separate recycling bin in there. In the bathroom, we only have one bin and it tends to be a garbage bin," Gray said.

Think of the number of finished deodorants, toilet rolls and shampoo bottles that are ending up in garbage.

"We encourage people to either set up a recycling bin next to their normal bathroom bin, or just to put things like aerosols and bottles next to the bin," Gray said.

"Separate it at the beginning as opposed to the end."

Mobile phones

Electronic waste (or e-waste) is fast-growing in Australia with the current number of old and unused mobile phones being stored in our homes resting at 25.5 million.

We all have that one drawer.

Not sure where to start? We've got you covered here.

Pizza boxes

Oh, yes... where we were?

"Pizza boxes are another no-no that we were taught in the early days of recycling," Gray said.

Things change, people. Your empty pizza boxes belong in the recycling bin.

"As long as they don't have solid food left in there and they aren't overly greasy, they can go in there and the recycling process can deal with it," Gray said.

"Always check if your council accepts them." You can do this by heading over to Recycling Near You.

Which brings us to Gray's final remarks: stay up to date with your council.

"Councils might be developing the process at the back end to make it easier for you. They have rules and regulations in place because they know what happens to your recycling when it leaves your house," Gray said.

"They are really important."

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