Recycling Week: All your recycling questions answered

What happens to recycling when it goes in the recycling bin? What are the common mistakes householders make in their kerbside recycling? How do Australia’s recycling rates compare with the rest of the world?

A new report from Planet Ark Environmental Foundation, titled All Sorted: Answering the Big Recycling Questions, answers all those burning recycling questions, including the top mistakes and main contaminants that confuse people. The report has been commissioned ahead of National Recycling Week, which runs from 9th to 15th November.

Planet Ark surveyed 115 councils across Australia and asked them what the three most common recycling mistakes made by their residents were. Nine out of ten councils said that plastic bags and soft plastics in the recycling bin is one of the most common mistakes made by their residents; nearly half of councils reported residents mistakenly placing kerbside recyclables into the general waste bin; and food contamination of recyclables was the third most common mistake, highlighted by 23% of councils.

“There is a persistent myth that items collected for recycling end up in landfill, but in reality, it’s not economic in most states for councils or waste companies to send recycling to landfill due to state waste levies. ​So each of us plays an important role, as our recycling habits influencing the success of the whole recycling system”
- Brad Gray, Head of Campaigns at Planet Ark

Depending on the material recycled, the item may end up locally in Australia or being sent overseas for processing and reuse. Some of the most common materials from kerbside collections are re-processed here in Australia, particularly paper, cardboard, aluminium, steel and PET plastic.

Recycling reduces and can even eliminate the need to extract raw materials, saving limited natural resources. For example, 75% of all of the aluminium ever produced is still in use today because it can be recycled infinitely.

It's not just the planet that benefits from our efforts, as business and people profit too. The process of recycling and composting creates more jobs than incineration and landfill, with 9.2 jobs in recycling for every 2.8 jobs in landfill.

In addition, a study of almost 24,000 individuals across 27 countries found a significant positive relationship between recycling and life satisfaction. The result was linked with the positive emotions associated with altruistic behaviour and doing the 'right thing'.

The kerbside recycling rate in Australia is currently 51%, with the volume of waste continuing to grow. Due to its unique landscape and dispersed population, Australia faces different recycling challenges than those of Europe for example, where the recycling rate is 42% but much is incinerated. New recycling processes, services and stewardship programs are continuing to develop to meet Australia's challenges.

"By keeping up to date with local recycling information and participating in government, community or industry take-back programs Australians can help us become a world leader," said Gray. "Recycling has become part of our everyday lives and the more we do it the better it is for the planet, for profits and even for people."

Looking to the future, new product stewardship schemes such as those that deal with TVs, computers, batteries and plastic bottles, will help promote the recycling and safe disposal of items that were routinely sent to landfill in the past. The new Australian Recycling Label has also just been launched to help reduce consumer confusion.

Visit website or call the National Recycling Hotline on 1300 733 712 for further information about any of Planet Ark's National Recycling Week initiatives.

National Recycling Week is kindly supported by Associate Sponsors Australian Packaging Covenant, Bingo Bins and 'Cartridges 4 Planet Ark'.

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