Article by Mary Gordon
The 21st century has seen increasing pressure to tackle environmental issues that have been exacerbated by climate change, and the increased resource exploitation and pollution that comes with a growing world population.
Our modern consumer society creates a demand for big companies to produce cheap durable packaging in high volumes. Think about it. Nearly every item you see in the grocery store comes in some sort of packaging, and before it was put on the shelf it came out of a box, and that box was on a crate which was wrapped in layers of plastic film.
So, what happens to all this packaging?
For the most part it is disposable, which creates an issue when it makes its way into the environment and is unable to break down naturally. To prevent household rubbish from entering the environment we have kerbside waste collection that transports general waste into landfill and recyclable goods to recycling facilities. However once in landfill it takes centuries for these materials to break down, it is therefore preferable to recycle as much as possible.
So, what can you do?
As a consumer our habits determine the habits of big companies. By buying plastic-free goods we can show the big companies that there is a demand for more sustainable packaging. In fact, as recycling became more popular major companies began to use materials that are easier to recycle, leading to the introduction of HDSPE and PETE plastics in the 1980s.
Recycling not only minimises what goes into landfill but also allows us to reuse resources again and again, thereby reducing the need to extract new resources which is expensive both economically and for the environment in terms of the huge greenhouse gas emissions associated with production. In recognition of this, government programs and environmental activists have sought to educate people on recycling.
The government continues to offer incentives for citizens to recycle with the goal that all packaging will be 100% recyclable or compostable by 2025.
Under South Australian state legislation bottles, cans and cartons marked with “10c refund” are able to be taken to participating recycling depots to collect 10 cents per eligible item. In addition to this people must pay a fee for disposal of waste into landfill.
It is estimated that between 2017 and 2018 Australia used 3.4 million tonnes of plastic, of which only 9.4% was recycled. Overall, in Australia we recycle approximately 55% of all waste produced from households and industries. Studies also found that approximately 84% of kerbside recycling was recycled whilst the remainder that went into landfill was primarily a result of things going in the wrong bin.
These statistics demonstrate the need for better education on recycling in households and businesses, as well as better access to the recycling of plastics including soft plastics.
The following can be read as a guide to responsible recycling, it also explains the recycling process and some of the uses for recycled goods. Keep reading to find out how you can become a pro recycler and a more ecofriendly citizen…
Aluminium cans and other metals
Aluminium is the second most used metal in the world, there are therefore many benefits to recycling aluminium products from your home. Aluminium can make its way into your house in the form of canned goods, foil wrap, trays and tin cans amongst other things. In south Australia tin cans can be recycled through the 10c recycling scheme meaning you have the chance to get some of your money back. Other aluminium waste can be disposed through kerbside recycling.
It is important to note that small pieces of aluminium such as the lids from glass bottles and jars make me too small to be placed straight into the bins, instead you can place them together in a larger tin and seal is so they may be recycled properly, coffee or milo tins are great for this!
Once collected and sorted aluminium is crushed and melted at a temperature over 700°C then recast into aluminium ingots. These ingots can then be repurposed into a wide range of uses. The malleability of the material makes it valuable in the construction of buildings, engines and aircrafts. Recycling aluminium is said to save 95% of the energy it takes to create new material from bauxite ore.
Other metals can be recycled through recycling depots, many of which will pay in return for scrap metals. The highest paying scrap metal is copper which can fetch around $9 per kg then next is brass, which will fetch around $6.40 per kg. Steel items will also earn you some cash back at varying rates depending on the grade of steel. Other items scrapped for cash include car batteries, electric motors, and white goods including refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and stoves.
The recycling process is similar to that of aluminium where the item will be disassembled with the metal stripped and separate then remelted and cast into ingots that can be reused for the production of new goods.
Glass bottles and jars
Firstly, in South Australia many glass bottles qualify for the deposit refund scheme, so its worth checking the label to see whether you can get some money back. However, wine and spirit bottles as well as glass jar which don’t qualify for a refund can still be recycled in your yellow lid bin. It is important to ensure the material is clean so that it is able to be recycled as even as little as 25 grams of impurities per tonne of glass can result in it being rejected.
The diagram below outlines the process following the collection of glass recyclables. Glass can be recycled over and over again and it is estimated that recycling glass bottles saves 74% of the energy required to make glass bottles from raw materials.
It is important to note that broken glass cannot be accepted for recycling and neither can glass light bulbs as they contain mercury. Light bulbs can instead be deposited at electronic waste outlets.
The advancement of technology through recent decades means people are constantly upgrading to the latest model, and as a result, technology and electrical equipment is becoming more disposable. Unfortunately, as a nation we are lagging behind in terms of e-waste recycling.
Studies found Australia to be one of the top e-waste producing countries in 2019. Furthermore, it has been projected that by 2030 Australia will be generating 461 kilotons of e-waste annually. The majority of this waste comes from people’s homes, making it all the more important that we as consumers make the decision to dispose of e-waste responsibly.
Electronic waste is difficult to manage as it contains a diverse range of elements, however this makes it all the more important as many of these metals can have toxic effects if released into the environment, and cause soil and water pollution when put into landfill.
In addition to reducing environmental pollution, recycling of goods allows us to reclaim precious resources, as up to 95% of electronic waste is reusable.
Examples of electronic waste include televisions, computers, phones, speakers, game consoles, cameras, air conditioners, printers, vacuum cleaners, and electric tools.
There are a number of drop off point in south Australia that accept electronic waste, some of which are Unplug N’ Drop, Electronic Recycling Australia, ECycle SA, Edinburgh North Resource Recovery Centre, and Pooraka Resource Recovery Centre.
The first synthetic plastic known as bakelite was introduced in 1907, and since then plastic production has increased at an exponential rate. While low-cost manufacturing and durability increased the popularity of plastic, plastic products became disposable, and once disposed of, non-biodegradable. Unfortunately, the majority of plastic waste ends up in landfill, or worse yet, finds its way into waterways which carry it out into the ocean.
To be a more responsible consumer we can start by shopping plastic free, however if plastics are unavoidable the next step is to check the label.
The Australasian Recycling Label is an Australian government endorsed label that tells consumers which parts of a products packaging can be recycled and which parts need to go to landfill.
The majority of hard plastics are able to go into the yellow bin, the chart below shows just some of the types of plastics that can be recycled.
At the recycling centre plastic are sorted into their respective grades (shown in the chart above). They are then compressed into blocks, crushed into pellets, washed then melted down to produce raw materials ready to be processed into new products.
Soft plastics on the other hand can only be recycled through specialised soft plastic recycling services, collection points can be located at major supermarkets. You can identify soft plastics as those which can be scrunched into a ball or broken by hand.
The video below shows how soft plastics are given a second life.
Paper and Cardboard
The other major waste products you’ll find going into your bin are those made of cardboard and paper.
Paper and cardboard are made from tree fibres, the recycling of such items means less trees need to be chopped down to manufacture new products. Recycling is very simple using the yellow lid bin, the main thing is to ensure that the material is clean and dry. Cardboard is produced from recycled paper and can be recycled again and again giving it many lives and uses. Other items that can be made from recycled paper include office paper, tissues, toilet paper, newspapers, magazines, packaging, kitty litter, plasterboard and insulation. During the recycling process the paper pulp is sterilised which means it is also safe for food items such as coffee filters, egg/fruit cartons and paper plates, bowls and cups
Alternatively, there are many great options to recycle paper and cardboard products within your own home. This is even better as it helps save costs of transporting and processing paper waste. Some people find us for recycled paper in creating art, whether it be collages, beads jewellery, paper mâché or handmade paper. If you’re an avid green thumb you may find that you can recycle paper waste into your garden as food for compost or worm farms, mulch, weed blocking, or plant labels.
This brings us to our next topic: green waste. Green waste can be recycled via kerbside collection in the green lidded bin. This may include all organic waste from garden waste to food scraps, you can identify what goes into the green bin by asking the question “was this once a living thing?”
Examples of green waste include lawn clippings, plant prunings, leaves, weeds, pet waste, certified compostable food packaging, egg cartons and greasy cardboard (ie. Pizza boxes), paper towel, tissues and shredded paper
Like with the paper waste, you may choose to recycle your green waste at home in the garden by adding it to a compost heaps or worm farm in order to turn it into a nutrient rich fertiliser than can be used to enhance your garden soil. Things like leaf debris and lawn clippings can be used directly as mulch.
Hopefully you have found this guide useful and it has enlightened you on how you can reduce your impact on the environment as a consumer. To become a more ecofriendly citizen you can remember the three ‘R’s in your day to day life, “Reduce”, “Reuse” and “Recycle”. Firstly, you can start by reducing the amount of waste you produce and resources you use by shopping plastic free and adopting a minimalistic lifestyle by not buying more than you need. Secondly, you can reuse items where you can within your own home whether it be holding onto those plastic containers and bottles, recycling paper for art projects or returning organic waste into fertiliser. Lastly, when it is necessary to dispose of waste you can ensure you do so responsibly by using the guide above to minimise what you put into landfill.