27/11/2018 10:10 AM AEDT | Updated 27/11/2018 10:11 AM AEDT

So, We’ve Been Recycling Wrong Our Entire Lives

The bad habit you don’t even know you’re doing

Just when we think we're doing our bit to help the planet, it turns out many of us are committing an environmental crime and we don't even know it.

A recent Ipsos study has revealed 20 percent of Australians put their recycling items in a plastic bag and place it in the yellow bin.

Putting your recyclables in plastic bags means the valuable materials will end up in landfill.

Southern Sydney Councils have weighed in, stressing it's a troubling habit.

But why?

If a plastic bag is found in a recycling bin, the whole contents is turned away to landfill, resulting in the loss of valuable recyclable items. And there's a good reason for this.

The first level of sorting recycled items is by hand. Yes, that's right, by real-life humans.

Workers at waste management stations sort through tons of materials every hour and do not have time to open each and every plastic bag and check what is inside. Even if they did, it's a hazardous job, with plastic bags often coming through with contaminants like soiled nappies, and medical materials. Due to the risk, if a plastic bag appears on the belt, it is redirected to the rubbish and any precious recycling items will be wasted.

Workers sort through tons of recycling an hour, and are under strict instruction to send plastic bags to landfill.

Plastic bags also clog the system, with the bags getting stuck in conveyer belts and congesting machines. Again, a dangerous task to unjam by hand.

It's a simple blunder but everyone makes mistakes and there's no shame in not knowing about the plastic bag rule -- 22 percent of Aussies are unsure of how they can recycle their unwanted plastic bags.

Local councils are spreading the word to 'unbag your recycling.'

Plus, it's not all bad news, 47 percent of us use a bin or crate to store and carry recyclables to the recycling bin provided by the council.

The same research found that 92 percent of Australians say recycling doesn't take a lot of effort.

So, what can we do to change this behaviour?

  1. Tell your friends and family that plastic bags are not allowed in the recycling bin and why.
  2. Recycle plastic bags and soft plastics through the REDcycle program at specially-marked bins outside selected grocery stores.
  3. Whenever possible, refuse and reuse plastic bags. Take your reusable bags to the supermarket with you.
  4. Do not use plastic bags to hold your fruit and vegetables at the supermarket -- these guys are the worst offenders. Just place the items in your basket.
Use a crate or box to carry your recycling items to the recycling bin

In case you needed a giggle, Southern Sydney Councils is spreading the word about plastic bags and recycling with this video.