Determining whether items should go in your trusty red or yellow bin can certainly be tricky business at times! While many of us are full of great intentions, the unfortunate truth is that numerous items we wishfully throw into our recycling bins end up doing a lot more harm than good. A misplaced non-recyclable rubbish item not only ends up in landfill, but can also contaminate a range of recyclables, taking them all down with it.
Ideally, the way to avoid this recyclable/non-recyclable confusion is to take a step back prior to purchasing, and contemplate whether there's a better way. At the end of the day, our waste problem will be reduced if we reduce what we buy. Asking yourself a simple question like, "Do I really need this or could I repurpose something I already own to fill this need?" can drastically reduce the volume of waste your household produces in the long run. Taking steps such as shifting your thinking, prioritising purchasing secondhand, avoiding products that are wrapped in plastic, reusing plastic items as much as possible or taking them to a secondhand store, and seeking sustainable alternatives can all help to curb waste from entering landfill.
When reusable alternatives aren't an option, it's vital that we remain informed about what we can and cannot throw into our recycling bins. Now more than ever, it is so important that we keep our recycling facilities running as seamlessly as possible! So can it be recycled, and if not, what can we do? Let's find out!
Batteries should never be put in the recycling bin, or your waste bin. Batteries are hazardous and could produce sparks that may start a fire at the recycling facility. They also contain valuable metals such as cadmium, zinc, manganese, cobalt and rare earth metals that may be recovered and used to make new products if correctly disposed of through a certified battery recycling program.
How to dispose of batteries: There are many retail outlets (such as Officeworks or Aldi) that offer free battery recycling services Australian wide. Find your nearest drop-off point by doing a quick Google search and then simply drop your used batteries into the dedicated bins in store.
Up your game / Do better: Try to minimise battery usage by connecting appliances to the mains power where possible. Buying rechargeable batteries is another way to reduce battery waste. Each battery can be recharged up to 1000 times, saving you money and reducing pollution from discarded batteries.
2. Paper Towel
Paper towels, napkins, paper plates, and tissues are all paper products, however it's a little known fact that they're not actually recyclable. Paper towels typically aren’t recycled because they are usually made with a fairly high percentage of recycled paper, and the fibres are too short to be woven into new paper products.
How to dispose of paper towel: Paper towels not covered with grease or chemicals can be added to your compost bin. They will decompose quickly along with your eggshells, coffee grounds, filters and scraps of fruit and vegetables. If your paper towels are soiled in oils and chemicals, throw them in your general waste bin.
Up your game / Do better: Reduce the number of paper towels you use by grabbing a washable kitchen towel to mop up kitchen spills.
3. Pizza Boxes
Pizza box disposal can be confusing and subjective to specific local council regulations. While cardboard is inherently recyclable, the oil and grease residue that often accumulates on the internal surface of a pizza box can be very problematic in recycling facilities - food contamination can often make it very difficult to recycle other paper and cardboard items in general.
How to dispose of pizza boxes: If confirmed by your local council and your pizza boxes are completely free of food, excess grease and baked-on cheese, generally the cardboard can be recycled. When in doubt, always remember to err on the side of caution and add it to your general waste instead.
Up your game / Do better: The best you can do with your leftover pizza box is to tear it up and add it in your compost pile or worm farm. That way, over time your pizza box will biodegrade and end up contributing to your garden at home! Win-win!
4. Coffee Pods
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to coffee pods. In short, disposable pods aren't accepted in kerbside recycling bins. It's important to check with specific pod brand manufacturers to find out if they run a recycling program for their capsules, and how effective the program actually is.
How to dispose of coffee pods: Drop off or post your used capsules to your nearest recycling collection point. If the supplier doesn't offer a recycling program, check if they can be accepted by nearby florists or garden centres.
Up your game / Do better: Invest in reusable coffee pods. Reusable coffee capsules to suit most coffee pod machines are now readily available. Not only will you be drastically reducing your waste output, but you'll also have the luxury of brewing your favourite beans in the comfort of your home! With the added advantage of being able to add your used coffee grounds (full of plant-happy minerals like potassium and nitrogen) to your compost!
5. Soft Plastics
Regular council recycling facilities aren’t equipped to sort softer types of plastic such as cling wrap, bread bags, biscuit packets and cereal box liners (just to name a few). These plastics can get caught in equipment, slow down sorting lines, and even stop the machinery from functioning correctly for periods of time.
How to dispose of soft plastics: Collect all the soft plastics that you can’t recycle at home, ensure they are dry / clean as possible, and drop off at your nearest REDcycle collection bin (at a participating supermarket).
Up your game / Do better: Look for reusable, sustainable alternatives! Cling wrap for example is mainly used to keep food fresh... luckily, there are now a lot of better options on the market to keep your food fresher for longer without contributing to landfill. Eco-friendly alternatives such as reusable containers, beeswax covers or silicon wraps are excellent substitutes to cling wrap! Something as simple as covering food with a plate rather than cling wrap also helps to reduce the waste coming out of your kitchen. And when it comes to plastic bags, consider making your own reusable shopping bags using repurposed fabric, or hit up the Boomerang Bags movement. If you prefer to buy, make sure you choose bags that are made from natural fibres.
6. Bottle Tops
Bottle tops are small and lightweight and easily fall through the machines at recycling sorting facilities. It's important to remain informed about how to best treat these small plastic items.
How to dispose of bottle tops: Reach out to your local Lids4Kids or Precious Plastic bottle top drop-off point!
Up your game / Do better: As always, if you can, it's best to reduce your use of items such as these (destined for landfill) altogether.
7. Aerosol Cans
Aerosol cans are used to package a wide range of liquid products, from deodorants, to hair sprays and even whipped cream! Most councils (around 80% in fact) actually accept aerosols for recycling.
How to dispose of aerosol cans: If accepted by your local recycling facility, your empty aerosol cans can be safely recycled in your domestic recycling bin. If the aerosol can isn't empty however, it needs to be disposed of through your council's hazardous waste program. Butane aerosol cans or canisters (such as those used for camping) also need to be disposed of via your local household chemical drop-off service, as they can be highly flammable if not completely empty.
Up your game / Do better: Do an audit of what aerosol products you are using - can you find a more sustainable workaround? Some aerosol products may be difficult to replace, however it’s certainly worth assessing whether you really need that product. In the case of deodorant for example, you can reduce your impact by switching to a sustainably packaged deodorant paste, rather than an aerosol. And whipped cream? It’s actually quite simple to reduce the amount of packaging used by making your own!
They might look like paper but the waxy coating on most receipts prevent it from being recycled - this is because they're printed on thermal paper. Generally, a surface that contains a considerably smooth or shiny texture will usually mean you need to throw it in the garbage (gift wrap and cards also fall into this category.)
How to dispose of receipts: Generally, the safest place to discard of thermal paper receipts is in the bin. Whilst not ideal, it's also the most effective way to isolate BPA and BPS from the environment.
Up your game / Do better: Go paperless! Many stores now offer digital receipts, which can be emailed to you instead. This also contributes towards decreasing the demand for paper products, which drives extensive deforestation every year.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to living and shopping consciously, mindfully and creatively. The last thing we want to do is contribute to the pollution of an entire section of recycling. To reduce the risk of this, it's important to consider if there's a low or no-waste alternative, before making a purchase. Simply considering the packaging of an item is something that can cause you to buy less or buy better. Making choices such as choosing a product with the least amount of packaging, switching from plastic to paper packaging, buy bulk, recycling your containers and selecting loose food items with no packaging, can all make a huge difference! If you choose to recycle and are ever unsure about particular items, be sure to reach out to your local council as the answers aren’t always black and white, and can differ from state to state. If you can’t recycle items, search for special recycling companies near you such as TerraCycle or REDcycle.
In a nutshell, it's vital that we recycle responsibly and make positive consumer changes by rethinking the way we shop. The less we send to a landfill, the better!