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RECYCLING : is it a farce in Australia?


They will be flammable, but so is many other construction materials used in the home (wood, fibres etc).

Just hope the plastic is UV treated, otherwise exposed plastic could weather and be released into the environment.


There is definitely a need. Having to sort out the contents of the bins in a townhouse complex in Brisbane on Monday night brought that home. Two of the three recycle bins were 2/3 full of general waste, as was the green bin, while there was adequate room in the general bins. I know because I moved it all. It is no doubt made all the more difficult by absentee owners who tenant their properties and a low level of interest from the agents.

The notion of simply putting all the recycling in a single bin seems convenient, but counter intuitive to responsible recycling practices.

We’ve found one container deposit depot in Brisbane that is convenient and pays cash over the counter. It provides trays for you to sort and separate your returned containers by type and glass by colour. They provide separate containers for the plastic lids which need to be removed. Very efficient if you separate at home. No silly bar code scanning, tagged bags and accounts to see a credit some time in the future. Just a quick count and total. Take the cash or donate the proceeds direct to the Salvos at Red Hill.


Not only that, but as a regular plasma donor, I’ve noticed that the blood bank always hang a one litre bag of saline on the apheresis machine, even though the donor might only receive 400ml of it. When the donor is disconnected from the machine, the remaining saline goes down the sink.

I’ve always thought it crazy that they must be paying to ship vast quantities of it that they know will always be poured away. I once asked why they didn’t order smaller bags as well as the big ones. I think the response was that it was too hard.


And sometimes too expensive. Bags are pretty standard at 1 litre and I think it would be a situation that to get a smaller bag would mean a different assembly process or line where they are produced and sterilized. Extra expense to do so it’s extra expense to buy…throw away society.


Other countries recycle plastic bottles with the lids attached including Germany so why can’t Australia handle it? The excuse used in Queensland is that someone may be injured when a bottle lid flies off under pressure during crushing. They allow the ring to remain on the top of the bottle so clearly they can deal with it but you have to throw the lid away into landfill.

So on top of having to travel to a recycling depot in a car now you have to stand there and remove all the lids before you take the bottles in unless of course you want liquids spilt in your car and ants etc in the bottles. Yes recycling is a farce in Australia and I fear that with all the recent issues that people just won’t care anymore and I completely understand.

I doubt it, why can’t we sort the recycling before it’s sent overseas to remove contaminants? Why can’t we just recycle it all in Australia like many other countries do?


Efficiency would be putting the containers in a reverse vending machine when you do your weekly shop, no need to travel to a dedicated depot, remove the lids from containers and waste time and money to get back a pittance. There is nothing efficient about Australia’s container recycling system.


THIS! And, heavens above, it would actually [faint, shock, horror] generate jobs.


Having suggested similar return to source for all recycling and packaging waste, I partly agree. It should not even require the cash incentive, given dropping your sorted recycling waste off on the way into the supermarket is less effort than taking the shopping to the car on the way out. One less bin to pay for if you make that choice?

It is an observation waiting for legislation, or Coles and Woolies etc to show good consumer leadership, community responsibility.

Note: over the past five years we have had a number of home deliveries of large household goods. The store delivery has not only unpacked the delivery, they have taken away all the packaging, and the item that was replaced. With most to recycle. The Goodguys and Myer! Sleepys the bed people have also provide a similar level of service going back at least ten years.

Perhaps for some items that should be recycled and can’t be the system is negligent. For all else, despite the difficulties and shortcomings the farce is of our own making. It’s not the fairies at the bottom of the garden that put the used nappies etc in the yellow recycle bins.


I am not sure this is the case or has changed recently. When we were in Germany (Munich) last year, the in store empty container vending machines had a sign stating that all caps/lids must be removed prior to placing into the vending machines. There are also cap removal requirements for materials placed into recycling bins.

The cost of manual sorting after mechanical sorting is high in Australia due to labour costs…something the community would need to pay for. If recycling was done correctly by the community, there would be no need for secondary sorting nor additional costs. It is easier to solve the problem at the source than try and fix the problem after it arises.

Edit: Should have also said that it is possible to recycle plastics of mixed content (of varying recycling numbers), however, this material currently has a negative value to those who collect these materials. Negative value means that they have to pay someone to take the material for them…such class of recycable plastics is abundant and there is a world wide glut…because no one really wants it. A lot of the mixed plastic streams are either burn’t or buried in landfill as it is cheaper than recycling.

The value lies in materials where there is low contamination. This includes single colour glass or in the case of plastics, a recyclable plastic stream containing the same plastic (recyclable number). The value of such materials is positive as there is a demand for high quality, low contamination recyclable materials. In such case, it is cheaper to recycle such materials as there is a market than burning/landfilling.

Due to the abundance of mixed plastic streams in the world, many developed nations are trying to maximise the value of the recycled materials by reducing the level of contamination in the specific stream. Such provides opportunity for value adding and recycling.

If Australia chooses to continue down the ‘don’t care about contamination’ pathway, then our recyclable streams will have little to no value and there will be little value to the efforts employed by the community recycling.

This is why it is important to minimise contamination in the recyclable streams.


Living in such a dry country, there are many times that water restrictions tell us “DO NOT WASH items before putting them in the recycling bin”

It is not just an issue of “paying for our water” to do pre-binning washing, it is also an issue of water availability within the water supply area (whether it be a public utility that supplies the water, or a rain water tank, or the Great Artesian Basin, etc)


seems to be more an issue of the capability of machinery to handle objects below a certain size
(not disputing the need to separate different material lid from different material bottle)

Just wish the recycler (of contents of our recycling wheelie bins) would tell us what the minimum size is!
Can their machinery handle a five centimetre diameter lid but not a one centimetre lid? … handle an eight centimetre diameter lid but not a three centimetre diameter lid?


Unless and until we hold the makers of products responsible for responsible disposal - as has happened to a limited extent with consumer electronics and batteries - we will continue to have a situation that encourages a business to use the cheapest possible containers for their products because dealing with the waste is ‘someone else’s problem’.


Good example of how the rules demonstrate they can deal with the difference in material of the bottle versus the material in the ring (and lid)


Most MURFs use a trommel (a rotating drum screen) for primary screening. The sieve of the trommels do vary, but generally in the order of 50-75mm. This means anything of a size less than this will pass through the trommel and become waste (will most likely be sent to landfill). The smaller than fist size is a general rule is often quoted, that being anything smaller than the size of a average persons fist should go in the general waste bin, even if it is made of recyclable materials. Any bigger than a fist can go into the recycling bin.


The seal ring is very small compared to the size n of the cap…and while the ring is a contaminant in the recycled plastic bottle stream, the level is often through not to be sufficient to dramatically reduce the quality or value of the overall recycled product. It is a little like a small amount of heavy metals such as copper in a soil is okay, but over a certain threshold it becomes a problem.


This is some recycled product values reported by the Victorian Government. It includes reasonably current prices (it does not reflect recent rejection of mixed plastic streams by a number of countries) for clean plastic stream as well as mixed plastic streams (contaminated with varying plastic types at sufficient levels)…

It is worth noting that clean or low contaminated recycled plastics (e.g. PET and HDPE) have a still high market value and are sort after for reuse. The Victorian government report states 'Markets for clean PET and HDPE are good, but around a third of plastics are sorted into a ‘mixed plastic’ product.
The international markets for the mixed plastics have collapsed.
" Most of the mixed plastic stream currently has a negative value since the rejection of such materials by China and other countries post-China which had accepted it but is now rejecting it.

As outlined above, it is imperative that for our plastics to be recycled, they must be a clean/uncontaminated plastic stream (such as removing lids/caps)…otherwise the plastics will be categorised as mixed plastics and most likely end up in landfill.


While preparing a lecture, I have also come across this Visy Report submitted to the Senate Inquiry for Waste and recycling industry in Australia. It outlines the challenges from an industry persepctive facing the recycling industry .

Visy is one of the main waste recycling player in Australia and has first hand experience of the behaviours of households and how these behaviours are damaging the ability to recycle products. The report states:

"There are several fundamental changes to householder behaviour that are affecting kerbside
recyclables recovery. Aside from the decline in newspaper volumes in the kerbside recycling bin due
to technology changes, there are householders that simply do not comply with Council recycling
guidelines and those who practice “wish-cycling”. Wish-cycling is the phenomenon of tossing anything and everything that could possibly, maybe, sort of be recycled into the recycling bin.

These actions may doom tonnes of other recyclable items to waste. If a non-recyclable (ie.
contaminant) item finds its way into the MRF processing it can confuse the sorting machinery or elude
hand-sorting. As a result it risks contaminating an entire load.

At present, accurate at-home segregation of material between waste and recycling bins is inconsistent
at best. This can be due to the reduced size of the waste bin, differing Council recycling guidelines,
volumes of waste to be disposed and the level of householder education. As a consequence this
leads to an unacceptable level of cost-shifting from landfilling at Councils expense to landfilling at the
recycling company’s expense."

While we tend to blame government and the industry for the predicament Australia is in at the moment, there are sufficient evidence from a range of difference sources that indicates that households are the ones who are causing the challenges facing the industry. If households recycled appropriately, the materials sorted and collected by the likes of Visy would be sought after and be actively reused. Unfortunately, the contamination introduced by non-compliant (I could use some other words) households and individuals ruins the efforts of those who try and comply with recycling guidelines. The contamination they introduce devalues the recycling efforts of others and also of the end materials (which now most likely go to landfill).


An article regarding recycling waste water into fresh clean water in Tasmania.


The recycling fiasco continues.

What an absolute disgraceful situation.



It comes down to market failure. That’s to say, our failure.

Markets push prices down as far as they will go. That’s often beyond the point of sustainability.

We are the market. Paying the costs is down to us. We need to come to terms with the fact that we can’t keep leaving our costs for others to pay (including to future generations).