Friday 8 November 2013

Bin night - get it right!

Next week, 11-17 November, is National Recycling Week, which means it’s a good time for everyone to pull up those green socks and help the planet just a teeny bit more. And what better place to start than with something we’re all already doing? I’m talking about good old ‘bin night’ (or should I say, ‘bin morning’, if you’re like me and run out into the street at the crack of dawn in your nightie minutes before the truck pulls up, clutching dirty nappies and flinging bottles into your neighbour’s recycling bin because yours is too full).

The blue and yellow kerbside recycling bins are a simple enough system to ensure a bunch of our household waste gets recycled, but surprisingly a lot of people are actually doing it wrong – either by accident or from intentional laziness – so a portion of what goes in those bins might not actually be getting recycled at all. I’ve always thought I was a pretty good recycler but recently discovered even I’ve been making a few mistakes along the way.

So to make sure you don’t do the same, I spoke with Janet Sparrow, Recycling Programs Manager at Planet Ark, to get right to the bottom of our bins. Here are a few things she had to say:

Stop putting in plastic bags!
According to Janet, this is the biggest mistake people make. Worryingly, recent research undertaken for National Recycling Week found that one in four Australians (28%) incorrectly believe plastic bags can be placed in kerbside recycling bins, when they’re actually the number one contaminant for recycling centres (they jam the machines). If you want to recycle plastic bags and packaging (such as biscuit trays, frozen food bags and clean glad wrap), head to your nearest participating Coles instead – they accept all kinds of soft plastics which they then turn into school playground equipment.

Keep other non-recyclable items out
Other items commonly found in recycling bins that shouldn’t be there (and subsequently make it harder to sort and recover desired materials, limit the uses for recovered items, and cause problems with the machinery), include: old or broken drinking glasses and ceramics, batteries, nappies and polystyrene foam. A broken ceramic mug or just five grams of ovenproof glass can stop a whole tonne of otherwise recyclable glass being used to make new bottles. Ceramics, mirrors, window, white and broken glass, nappies and polystyrene should all go in the garbage; and batteries can be taken to ALDI or Battery World for recycling.

Check what your council does and doesn’t accept
Whilst some recycling bin rules are across the board, materials accepted can often vary from council to council, depending on what contract is in place with the designated waste company. So for the exact lowdown for your area, either contact your council directly or head to Recycling Near You and check under ‘kerbside recycling collection’ for your suburb or council area.

Recycling is essential to the future of our planet – the energy and resources saved when producing goods from recycled materials alone is massive, on top of the fact you stop contributing to ever-growing landfill and carbon emissions. So here are a few other useful tips on how to use your recycling bins properly: 


  • Take all the lids off your bottles (to ensure there’s no liquid left or trapped air)
  • Give all your containers and bottles a quick rinse so they’re not full of food or drink remains (they don’t have to be spotless, but it makes it much nicer and easier for the sorters and detracts vermin)
  • Take care not to deliberately smash bottles when placing them in your recycling bin
  • Crush cans and flatten paper boxes where you can
  • Let other residents know not to put wrong items in the recycling bins via signage (if you’re in an apartment building)


  • Put recyclable items such as bottles or paper inside plastic bags – they will be completely discarded because of the contaminant outer plastic bag (same goes for items like beer bottles inside paper cartons – don’t mix the recyclable materials!)
  • Put loose bottle tops in your recycling (unless your council accepts them) – anything smaller than a business card is usually too small to be sorted and gets thrown into garbage. To recycle tops, place them inside a container of the same material instead (e.g. metal beer cap inside an empty can of baked beans, or aluminium wine bottle lid inside a coke can), and squeeze it shut so the same materials get blended together in the recycling process.
  • Bother taking out staples from paper or cardboard, or ripping out plastic windows from envelopes – they’re fine to leave as is (same goes for tape stuck to boxes, and paper labels on bottles and cans)
There are so many more ways to become a better recycler – using and buying less; re-purposing or reusing items; donating goods; setting up composts or worm farms for fruit and veggie scraps; buying recycled goods yourself; and utilising fabulous places such as Reverse Garbage who accept all kinds of junk for creative reuse – to name just a few. However, if your kerbside recycling bins are the only bit of recycling you can manage to do, at least make sure you’re doing it properly!

Are you doing bin night right? Feel free to share any of your recycling tips!

photo credit: mugley via photopin cc

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