Jennifer StackhouseRecycling

I am a bit hot under the collar about recycling today. It was the day to put out the recycling bins but the truck was a bit late this morning to empty them. So, as I did my early morning walk, I had plenty of opportunity to notice that many of the bins that lined the neighbourhood streets were stacked to gunwales. And much of it wasn’t recycling.

Bins were bulging with plastic bags filled with what may have been recyclables but may have just not fitted into the black bin. There’s a huge sign on the top of each green and yellow recycling bin that says NO PLASTIC BAGS. I think that means, no plastic bags should go in the bin.

Plastic bags jam sorting equipment so recycling plants spend money sorting recycling to remove plastic bags. To add to the cost, these unwanted bags along with other contaminated material they find are sent to landfill, which costs more money.

Just walking past (not even trying to look) I also noticed non-recyclable plastic containers, lots of packaging with plastic on it, takeaway pizza boxes (now have you ever seen a used pizza box that’s not coated with grease and left over cheese?) and even orange peel.

None of these materials are recyclable through the council waste collection services although some can be recycled. The orange peel for example should have been recycled through the compost heap along with the pizza boxes.

The bin that was so crammed with stuff that the lid didn’t close at all was very obviously not filled with recycling. I wondered if the truck would actually collect it. To find out, I rang our local council to ask that question.

I was told there are cameras in the truck so the driver can see what’s being tipped in. If there is material that’s not suited for recycling then he can make a note of the address and report it. But it sounded as if the non-recyclable material I was looking at would still find its way into the truck potentially contaminating all the carefully sorted and acceptable waste from others.

I had a bit of a walk around the web when I got home to see what other councils said about recycling. Other council websites say that contaminated bins could be left unemptied until the householder removed the contaminated waste from the recycling and that if a household received three warning letters about their contaminated recycling bins the council removed the bin altogether.

I guess what annoys me the most is that these householders quite possibly think they are doing the right thing and patting themselves on the back as being good recyclers. After all, they’ve filled their bin to over flowing.

Recent studies into attitudes to recycling and the environment have discovered that people tend to reward themselves for their green acts by being a bit slack. For these people (and evidently it is most of us) a good environmental deed such as a full to overflowing recycle bin is like a get out of jail free card.

It works likes this: I am a good recycler/environmentalist so it doesn’t matter if I tip this old paint down the drain this time, or let my plastic bag float off into the sea, because I’ll make up for it later. Unfortunately, the environment doesn’t run a brownie points system.

So, if you are in doubt about what you are about to put into your recycling, do the world a favour and leave it out. Put it in the garbage bin! Or, if it is food waste, put it in the compost, the worm farm or feed it to the chooks and, if it is plastic that doesn’t have a recycling logo on its base, or mixed packaging, or foam, or waxed cardboard, or unwashed glass or pet food tins with the residue still in them, just put it in the bin!

Don’t collect your recycling in plastic bags and don’t collect $500 when you pass Go.



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Jennifer Stackhouse

About Jennifer Stackhouse

Recently Jennifer Stackhouse made the big move from Kurmond in NSW to a Federation house in the little village of Barrington tucked beneath Mt Roland in northwest Tasmania. With high rainfall, rich, red deep soil and a mild climate she reckons she's won the gardening lottery. She's taken on an acre garden that's been lovingly planted and tended for the past 28 years by a pair of keen gardeners so she is discovering a garden full of horticultural treasures. Jennifer is the author of several gardening books including 'Garden', which won a Book Laurel for 2013, as well as ‘The Organic Guide to Edible Gardens’, ‘Planting Techniques’ and ‘My Gardening Year’, which she wrote with her mother Shirley. She was editor of ABC 'Gardening Australia' magazine and now edits the trade journal 'Greenworld' magazine and writes regularly for the Saturday magazine in 'The Mercury'. She is often heard on radio and at garden shows answering garden queries.

3 thoughts on “Recycling

  1. It’s depressing that so many householders get it wrong, even when (as in your case), the council is making it as easy as possible by collecting all recyclable material in one bin. Here in Edinburgh we have a total of 5 waste receptacles collected on two different days of the week in a fortnightly pattern that varies between summer and winter (and that has recently been simplifed from a system that involved three different days!). We have a brown bin for garden waste (collected fortnightly on Fridays in summer, and monthly in winter), a green bin for non-recyclable waste (collected fortnightly on Fridays, alternating with the brown bin), a grey bin for compostable food waste (collected weekly on Fridays), a blue box for paper, cans and glass (collected fortnightly on Wednesdays), and a red box for cardboard and plastic bottles (collected fortnightly on Wednesdays, alternating with the blue box). The bins that are emptied on Fridays may be emptied any time between 6 am and 10pm, and not at the same time as each other. The additional complexities of this already complex system include: no garden waste in the food compost bin or vice versa; plastic bottles are the only type of plastic in the red box (ie no yoghurt pots etc), no lids allowed on anything. And, of course, no plastic bags at all! I do try very hard to do it all correctly, but often feel I can hardly blame busy people with many other things to think about for getting it wrong. I suspect that so much of the recyclable waste is contaminated that most of the contents of all five bins end up in landfill.

    • What a nightmare and the mind boggles about where to store all those bins if you don’t have a large area of the yard to dedicate to utilities! By the way for those who missed it, this is National Recycle Week in Australia. Celebrate by giving your compost heap an extra forking over or using the compost on your garden! Jennifer

  2. Sadly i think that the “people that recycle” this way will not see this sort of post.
    They are more likely to be on youtube watching someone fall over.
    I see it in my area all the time, they put their bins out on the wrong days all the time hence next time the “recyclers” put their bins out its all over the fu#%in! road, so who picks it up have a guess.
    These people are better off not doing it at all i think.
    My wife said i will turn in to a grumpy bast@$# one day .
    Im there pumpkin.

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