Recycling – How Hard Could It Be?

Trash Recycling with Disposal Containers

Growing up in Botswana, we never had recycling and I found myself a little behind on recycling when I first arrived in Australia. With National Recycling Week being held from 11-17 November, I have been exploring their great free resources for homes, schools, and workplaces, all promoting recycling and highlighting its many benefits.

One night, after my housemate and I couldn’t figure out what could and couldn’t be recycled, we consulted the all-knowing internet. Sadly that didn’t help much either as we quickly found out that different countries and even neighbouring cities had very different recycling policies.

This got me searching deeper and deeper, to the point where I could no longer remember what I was allowed to recycle myself. While I’m based in Melbourne, I suggest everyone takes a look at what their local council says about what can and can’t be recycled.

Benefits of Recycling

We can all agree recycling is good and reducing the amount of trash in our landfills is an ever growing concern, but I was curious about what exactly the benefits and savings were:

nickwheeleroz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
  • Aluminium: One of the most efficient forms of recycling requiring less than 5% of the energy that would originally be expended in creating a similar can out of fresh bauxite ore. It is estimated that the energy saved in recycling a single aluminum can power a television for 3 hours.
  • Plastic: Depending on the plastic type, recycling uses between one-tenth and two-thirds of the energy needed to create new plastic from raw materials. The energy conserved by tossing just one plastic bottle in the recycling can light a 60-watt light bulb for six hours or power a computer for 25 minutes.
  • Paper: A double saving for energy and trees! Producing recycled paper requires about 60% of the energy used to make paper from virgin wood pulp, but energy isn’t the only thing we save through paper recycling. By recycling 1 ton of paper, we save: 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 3 cubic yards of landfill space and enough energy to heat an average home for 6 months.
  • Glass: Recycling glass only saves about 30% of the energy cost of producing new glass, but longer term benefits come from reduced emissions, especially from decreased furnace use and consumption of raw materials. However, reusing old bottles and jars for other uses requires no energy.
  • Batteries: Recycling both rechargeable and single-use batteries saves water, energy and natural resources. The No. 1 reason to avoid tossing batteries in the trash is to prevent potentially toxic metals from contaminating local ecosystems. This is why you should take batteries to your local household waste (HHW) facility or take-back facilities.
  • Others: For more information about fun ways to reuse your goods and recycling other materials such as motor oil, tyres and e-waste check out Earth911 for some exciting ideas.

Handy Tips

Now that we know a bit more about recycling  here are a couple things that actually aren’t recyclable. I shamefully look back and can think of times when I’ve thrown many of these into my recycling and hope that it was just me but hope it helps you out.

Things you can’t put in the recycling:

  • If you can bend it or scrunch it (like plastic from a biscuit tray, plastic bags or cling film) then it must go into your garbage bin. Plastic bags and wrapping can normally be recycled at your local supermarket.
  • Never put recycling or green waste in plastic bags. Putting plastic bags in the recycling or green waste bin will clog the machines and provide a health hazard to staff at the recycling facility.
  • Remember to bring your reusable coffee cup, because most recycling plants reject coffee cups  and drink cups because of the thin plastic lining that makes them waterproof.
  • Broken drinking glasses, mirrors, window glass or light bulbs as they are a major safety hazard for workers.
  • Food trays including oven-ready or microwave ready meal trays aren’t recyclable.
  • Lids as they are too small of too flat to be sorted out of commingled recyclables and usually end up at paper mills where they contaminate the paper. There are recycling options for these, but not curb side.
  • Bottles that have contained motor oil, pesticides, herbicides or other hazardous materials. Bottles that have contained cleaning products are OK.

I hope this has helped and please feel free to share any handy hints or stories below.