Recycling means your waste products go on to become useful to someone else. Recycling also helps make sure that there will be enough resources left for later generations.
By using waste materials rather than new materials, manufacturers can avoid the cost and environmental impacts of extracting, refining, transporting and processing raw materials. It also means that the amount of waste going to landfill is reduced.
There are many items we commonly use in our homes which can be recycled. In many areas, local councils make recycling at home really easy by offering a kerbside recycling service. Over 90 per cent of Australians have access to kerbside recycling.
Councils provide special bins for recyclable materials which are collected alongside your normal garbage. Material collected is taken to a sorting facility and then sent to other places where the materials can be made into something new.
Kerbside recycling services usually collect:
- paper and cardboard
- glass bottles and jars
- rigid (hard) plastic
- steel and aluminium products like foil, pie trays and cans.
The materials that can and can’t be put into kerbside bins vary in different areas, so contact your local council to find out exactly what you can put in your recycling bin. Putting the wrong materials in your recycling bin may lead to large amounts of recyclable material being sent to landfill because it's too difficult to separate them out.
Items that can’t be put in your recycling bin
There are many things that should not be put into your recycling bin. The exact list will vary between different areas, but usually items that shouldn’t be placed in your recycling bin include:
- hazardous waste (including batteries, used lighting containing mercury such as CFLs, motor oil, chemicals and paints)
- food scraps
- soft plastics such as cling wrap
- ceramics, crockery and glass cookware
- electrical goods
- electrical leads, rope or hoses
- clothing, linen and shoes
- cooking oil.
These items can cause contamination or damage to the machinery in the recycling centre. Check with your local council to find out if there is a collection point near you which accepts e-waste, furniture or domestic quantities of hazardous materials and what types of materials are accepted. Some of these items, if in good condition, can also be recycled through your local charity or second-hand shop.
Hazardous waste must not be included in your normal garbage. Check with your local council about waste disposal and recycling facilities for hazardous waste in your area.
Australians dispose of 90 per cent of their glass in recycling bins, but less than half of this can be used in recycling. Toughened glass that melts at higher temperatures (such as window panes, drinking glasses, ceramics and glass cookware like Pyrex) can’t be recycled as it can cause weaknesses in other glass products.
Plastic bags can be dropped off at most major supermarkets for recycling, except for bags marked degradable or biodegradable.
Some recycling tips
- Check with your local council about what they collect and their preferences for how to recycle materials in kerbside recycling bins. For example, some facilities prefer you to leave lids on containers while others prefer you to leave them off.
- Always put the items into your recycling bin loose; not in a plastic bag. Everything inside a plastic bag will be sent to landfill. Plastic bags can also tangle up the machinery used to sort the recycling materials.
- Plastic bags marked as biodegradable should only be placed in your compost. They will not break down in landfill and should not go into recycling bins.
- Flatten boxes but don’t bundle items together. Place items loose in bins.
- Roll aluminium foil into a ball and place it in a recycling bin, even if it has food stuck to it.
- If you run out of room in your recycling bin, ask a neighbour if they have spare room in theirs or make a trip to a recycling centre yourself. In some areas you are able to request an additional recycling bin for a small annual fee.
Aluminium and steel
Aluminium is a common metal and is used widely in cans and for food-related products like foil and pie trays.
Making aluminium uses so much energy that aluminium is sometimes called ‘frozen electricity’.
However, aluminium can be recycled very easily, and many times over. That’s why it’s so important to recycle as much aluminium as possible. Even aluminium with food scraps stuck to it can be recycled.
When recycling steel cans, it’s best to put the lid inside the can and then squash the top of the can before placing it in your recycling bin. If you’re not sure if an item is made of steel, you can use a fridge magnet to test it. If the magnet sticks, it’s made from steel.
Paper and cardboard can be recycled and used again in other paper products. The more we recycle paper and cardboard, the less we need to use natural resources like fibre from trees to manufacture new products. It also uses less energy and water in manufacturing.
When you’re buying paper or cardboard products, look out for items that contain a high percentage of Australian recycled fibre or are made with fibre content from sustainably managed sources, such as plantations or sustainably managed native forests. Australian paper manufacturers have to meet environmental production standards which may not have to be met in other countries.
Paper and cardboard can be recycled through kerbside recycling. Check with your local council to see if there are facilities in your area to recycle larger items (such as removalist or large boxes) or check Planet Ark’s Recycling Near You.
Plastics are man-made products that come from valuable non-renewable resources like oil, gas and coal. Because these resources are so valuable, and because plastics can be effectively recycled and used again in many other ways, it’s important that we recycle as much plastic as possible.
See Plastics and recycling for information on how and where to recycle plastics.
Depending on where you live, it’s possible to recycle a range of products that can't go in your kerbside recycling bin, including:
- old mobile phones, printer cartridges, televisions and computers (known as e-waste)
- whitegoods (for example, fridges and washing machines)
- cooking and motor oils
- chemicals and paints
- batteries (including car batteries)
- portable gas bottles
- building materials (including window glass, bricks, wood and concrete)
- toys, clothing and soft furnishings
Check with your local council to find out if there is a recycling depot near you, or check Planet Ark’s Recycling Near You. Ask what they will accept for recycling and if they collect larger items.
Some of these items, if in good condition, can also be recycled through your local charity or second hand shop.
Recycling organic materials
Some local councils collect organic waste from your home and turn it into compost. Organic waste includes fruit and vegetable scraps, lawn clippings and garden waste. Contact your local council for a list of materials that can and can’t be included in organic waste collections.
Composting helps keep organic waste out of landfill where it rots and generates methane, a greenhouse gas that is particularly damaging to the environment.
If you have a garden and you have enough space, you could compost your own organic matter or get a worm farm. You can then turn your food waste into free fertiliser to improve your garden soil and feed your plants. Even if you live in an apartment, you may be able to have a small worm farm on your balcony or in your garage.