Discussions about recycling have been rife in the Australian media ever since China stopped taking our rubbish in 2018. As the country now faces what some are calling a crisis or recycling nightmare, it seems more pressing than ever to find solutions to the problems which have brought us here in the first place.
A dig deep into Australia’s rubbish culture finds that we’re producing 67 million tonnes of waste every year – this is the equivalent in weight to 335,000 blue whales – and even that is hard to wrap your head around. Whilst a recent survey found that almost 93% of people said reducing waste and recycling products into something new was important to them, there is still a lot of miscommunication, misunderstanding and general mistrust around how, when and what to recycle.
With Global Recycling Day just around the corner (18 May), we thought it was time to break down some of the most common objections to recycling. We’ve also trawled through the resources available from some of Australia’s leading industry organisations in waste management, so that you – and those around you – can be educated on what’s true, possible and helpful – and what’s not.
Objection 1: I don’t know how to recycle – it’s all just too confusing!
This is a common one, and it’s not surprising. A 2018 report from the Australian Council of Recycling found that Australia was rated 17th in the world for recycling, four spots lower than we were just three years ago. A big part of the problem seems to be a lack of clear understanding of what can be recycled, and what can’t.
For example, in a survey of over 1000 Australians aged 14-64, six out of ten people incorrectly thought that Pringles tubes were recyclable, and one in three thought that plastic bags and other packaging (such as those used for pasta, rice, bread and chips) belonged in the recycling bin – when in fact, these items are the biggest problem in the recycling system as they get caught in the sorting machines. Interestingly, women are more likely to know that berry punnets are recyclable, and people under the age of 24 are more likely to pay extra to ensure batteries are recycled!
To make life easy for everyone, Planet Ark has created ‘The 6 Golden Rules of Kerbside Recycling’ – a quick-check guide for any common recycling queries. To download a PDF printout of these rules, click here.
Objection 2: I don’t believe it’s actually getting recycled.
So, you’re a cynic? No worries – as an organisation that fights greenwashing, we can appreciate that. But don’t let your doubting distrust stop you from being a moral citizen. Whilst China’s ban has put a temporary hold on processing some of Australia’s recyclable waste, as the country works out the best solution moving forward, a fair bit of it has been sent to other processing markets in Asia or domestically. You can find out how we, and other countries, process this waste here.
In the meantime, check out Business Recycling’s great resource on how different types of waste can be processed – did you know, for example, that most elements of mattresses (one of the most common items sent to landfill) can be recycled? The timber is processed into woodchips and used to make animal bedding and mulch, the springs are sent to scrap metal merchants for melting and use in buildings, infrastructure, vehicles and appliances, and the foam, wadding and latex from inside the mattress is recycled into carpet underlay. Excuse the pun, but we reckon you’ll be able to sleep easy knowing more about how your waste is being recycled.
Objection 3: I’m just one person – what I do or don’t do won’t really make a difference.
Again, we hear you. This is a 335,000-whales-sized issue, and you’re one citizen of Australia’s 25,000,000. With ongoing discussions at national and state government level (interestingly, this is the first federal election in which the Australian Labour Party, the Coalition and The Greens are all offering substantive policies to improve our national recycling system, according to Australian Council of Recycling CEO, Pete Shmigel), it’s a situation that’s not going to be smoothed out overnight. But sitting and waiting isn’t the way forward.
Instead, we recommend checking out Planet Ark’s top recycling mistakes and how to fix them below, and choosing to keep this conversation going – even when the solution seems a long way off. Whilst he was writing on climate change action, Matthew Adams’ words in The Conversation ring equally true for this “recycling crisis”:
“To bridge this gap [between individual action and collective change], we need to start by addressing the issue at the in-between level – with our family, friends, and the spaces and places of civil society. […] There are some historical precedents here […]. The women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements, for example, were built on countless individual “choices” but not “behaviour and lifestyles changes” of the kind we associate with checklists. These movements depended on people starting (awkward) conversations in everyday settings. Collective action is here interlinked with individual choice – choosing to talk, perhaps through awkwardness and embarrassment at first, learning, voting, writing, protesting, divesting and investing, taking a stand and seeking out others to do it with; coming together, to demand societal and cultural change.”
What are you doing to make a change this Global Recycling Day?
Want more information? Check out these great resources:
Planet Ark | So you think you can recycle?
Australian Council of Recycling | 10 point plan for results-based recycling
Clean Up Australia | Clean up our waste – what you can do
[Photos: ABC / Planet Ark]