Without sounding too dramatic, if you haven't heard of what recycling is and the benefits of recycling then you have either been living under a rock for the better part of this century, or perhaps found yourself in some Tom Hanks like Castaway situation, and Fedex really did you dirty. Either way, this 411 of recycling will be your top to bottom breakdown of all things recycling.
Table of contents
- What is recycling?
- Benefits of recycling
- What are the 3 types of recycling?
- Common recyclable items
- What goes in the yellow recycling bin?
- Ways to help in recycling?
- Get out there and start recycling
What is recycling?
One person's trash is another person's treasure, right? Recycling is the process of collecting, processing and re-purposing materials that would otherwise be sent to landfill and giving them a fresh lease on life as new products. Throughout human history, mankind has found more and more ways to create waste. Most notoriously with the introduction of plastic in 1907 and consequent mainstream adoption throughout the century. Eventually, manufacturing caught on to the negative impact of aforementioned products and started creating recyclables and products made from recycled materials which had a more sustainable end of life.
Benefits of recycling
It makes you feel like you're doing your bit for the environment because the more we recycle, the less waste that ends up in landfill, our communities, oceans, and everywhere else you find unwanted rubbish.
Let us ask you this, why use raw materials to make something when you have a ready-made solution right in front of you? When people recycle it helps to preserve natural sources of timber, water and minerals.
The more raw material we plunder, the more greenhouse gas emissions we create and pollution we cause. Recycling helps to limit pollution by reducing the need to use such materials, which in turn saves energy and benefits the environment.
It also helps create more jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries, it increases economic security through leveraging domestic materials, and supports the development of domestic production.
Numbers from the most recently available ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) records show that Australia generated 76 million tonnes of waste in the 2018-19 financial year. $17 billion was spent on waste management services, and 2.5 tonnes of plastic waste was generated. But of that, only 9% was sent for recycling (227,000 tonnes), while 84% was sent to landfill (2.1 tonnes).
We're good at recycling, but we can be a lot better.
What are the 3 recycling processes?
We know what you're thinking, "there's three recycling processes?" Yep, and somewhat ironically they all involve three basic steps.
Step 1) collect and separate recyclable materials from waste.
Step 2) residue seeps through and reverts them to raw materials.
Step 3) raw materials are turned into new, shiny products again.
Let's call this the number one way to generate recycled materials. It involves making plastic wastes re-usable through washing, grinding, separating, compounding and more. This process doesn't change the residues chemical structures, meaning the materials created can be re-used over and over again.
This process involves incinerating waste materials from which the heat can be used as fuel. It does require significant space, but is an environmentally-friendly source of energy.
Consider this the rocket scientist of recycling. It's complex. This process involves modifying the chemical structures of waste materials after they've been processed. The final product is a raw material but this process is still very much in its infancy compared to the other two.
Common recyclable items
We've all been there, cleaning up around the house after a BBQ or dinner and someone goes to put something in the bin. "Whoa, steady mate, that can become recycled materials!" It sounds trivial but it's true, not everyone does their due diligence and understands what can and can't be recycled.
But that's what we're here for, below is a list of the basics.
Paper products and cardboard
Good ol' paper. Whether it's mail, unfinished drawings by the kids, printer run-offs that are rendered useless, or those old shopping lists on the fridge, they can all be recycled and repurposed.
Consider this your run of the mill cardboard. Online shopping deliveries, old shoeboxes, beer cartons, cereal boxes, other non-perishable food boxes, you get the idea. Recycled cardboard is used to create tissues and printing paper among many other things.
Newspapers and magazines
Although print media is not what it once was, they still circulate around society a lot. Also consider all the flyers and marketing material you get in your mailbox that's either immediately thrown out or gathers dust on the fridge, it's all recyclable.
Drinks are the primary source right here. Soft drink, juice and beer products. At a generous $10c per can, aluminum cans are a cheeky little money maker if you have a lot and stick to it.
This also applies to baking paper. If you're a bit of a foodie and do a lot of cooking, make sure you're recycling.
Tin and steel cans
Diced tomatoes, chick peas, kidney beans, tinned fruit, baked beans and more. Our pantries are full of these products. But make sure to wash the materials before putting in your recycling bin.
There are three types of glass but the distinction between the three is based on colour. Flint is clear, amber is brown, and emerald is green. Clear glass bottles are the most versatile from a recycling standpoint for obvious reasons, while amber is the least because it often can only be repurposed into amber glass again. But don't fret, if you're a fan of amber bottled products they can still be recycled.
Remember how only 9% of plastic wastage in Australia was recycled? Take extra note of the common household items below, they're all recyclable.
PET (polyethylene terephthalate)
Consider this the godfather of plastics. All your clear water and beverage vessels are made of this particular plastic. Mount Franklin water, Gatorade bottles, fresh juices and more.
HDPE plastic (High Density Polyethylene)
This material makes up your non-clear plastic bottles. Things like milk containers, moisturiser and shampoo bottles, and other plastic containers that are coloured.
There are also other coloured plastics that you can recycle. Things like plastic knives and forks, bottle caps, straws, and even Lego pieces.
What goes in the yellow recycling bin?
The almighty source of every home recycling program - your yellow recycling bin! Although some may think this goes without saying, you'd be surprised at how few people truly know the do's and don'ts of their yellow recycling bin.
Products accepted in your bin:
- Plastic bottles and containers
- Food and beverage aluminum cans
- Paper, magazines and newspapers
- Flattened cardboard boxes
- Beverage and non-perishable food containers
- Glass bottles and containers
Products not welcome in your bin:
- Bagged recyclables
- Plastic bags
- Plastic wrap or film
- Flexible packaging
- Cups with wax or plastic coatings
- Polystyrene foam and plastics
Other ways to help in recycling
We'll bet that you're ready and raring to start making a difference in your home and community and there's a host of things you can do throughout your day to day life to help waste reduction and contribute to a more eco-friendly and sustainable environment.
- Get involved with local recycling programs driven by government organisations and volunteer your time to help clean up public spaces
- Use tote bags or other reusable alternatives when shopping
- Substitute plastics with other biodegradable materials such as bamboo for your day-to-day products like toothbrushes, cutlery, straws, hair brushes and water bottles
- Do not put recyclable materials in rubbish bags
- Smarten up on common recyclables like laundry detergent bottles, cereal boxes, light bulbs, glass items, cans, paper and other items
- Reuse, reuse, reuse! There are loads of everyday household goods you can utilise
- Anything that you can't dispose of in household recycle bins can be discarded at drop off centres run by local government and councils
- Look for the recycling symbol on every product you buy across Australia so you can easily spot items that are recyclables or made from recycled material
- Do not put waste in yellow recycling bins
- If your workplace doesn't have a recycle bins or a recycling program, ask to have one implemented, be the change you would like to see
- Some supermarkets can recycle your soft plastics for you via their connections to the recycling industry if you simply take in your waste material
- Turn your green waste into compost. We wrote an extensive guide to composting which you can learn from
- If you're out for a walk and spot trash that can be chucked in a recycle bin, do it!
Get out there and start recycling
Now that you can call yourself a recycling connoisseur, it's time to start reducing that waste footprint! Get your friends and family involved, share the dos and don'ts for recyclable products in your yellow bin, and educate your community on the importance of recycling for the environment.
And most importantly, look to reduce your use of plastics wherever possible. At Ecoy, we want to un-plastic the planet. And switching to biodegradable products where possible is a fantastic starting point!
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Waste Account, Australia, Experimental Estimates, Reference Period: 2018-19 Financial Year