If you’ve ever looked at all the plastic in your child’s lunch box and despaired, Planet Ark Recycling Programs Manager, Ryan Collins wants you to know we’re doing much better than we ever have.
“If you think back to our own school days, you’ll remember everything was wrapped in plastic and we were all buying pies in foil and cans of drink that were never recycled,” he says.
“And although many schools have waste-free lunch initiatives now, kerbside recycling [bins weren't] really around then so we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
According to the Australian National Waste Report 2016, 55 per cent of all packaging is recycled, meaning the remaining 45 per cent still ends up in landfill - a percentage that could significantly drop with a little education.
So here’s the lowdown on what you can and can’t do with the empty packets left in your child’s lunchbox at the end of the day.
Although plastic containers have all but eliminated the need for cling film, plastic bags or aluminium foil, they’re still being used and lots of it ends up in the rubbish.
Collins says that while cling film and sealed plastic bags (or any plastic bag for that matter) can’t be recycled at home, they can be dropped off at recycling boxes stationed at Coles and Woolworths supermarkets – particularly in metropolitan areas.
“Aluminium foil can be put in your recycling bin at home, but only if you squash it into a ball and the ball is bigger than the size of a golf ball,” he says.
Got a bunch of small pieces? Put them aside until you can roll them together to get the right size.
Squeeze pouches of yoghurt may be popular items, but in most cases they are unrecyclable, says Collins.
“Take a look at the pouch inside and outside and if you see the material it’s made from is a combination of foil and plastic, it will need to go into general rubbish.”
Plastic tubs can be placed in your kerbside recycling bins, however you’ll need to take the lid off and pop that into your general rubbish as lids cannot be recycled.
What to do about the plastic packaging for sliced meats such as chicken, roast beef and turkey?
It depends entirely on its colour, says Collins.
“The soft plastic on top can be placed in kerbside recycling, but pay attention to the harder plastic at the bottom as black plastic cannot be recycled since sensors are the plant can’t differentiate between the plastic and the conveyor belt.”
Clear plastic and light colours can be placed in your home recycling bin.
Muesli bars, popcorn or little bags of cookies are great school treats (just ask any eight year old). But what should you do with the empty packets?
Collins says it depends entirely on the material used. “If the packaging is a mixture of foil and plastic – a popular choice for many muesli bar brands – this cannot be recycled and will go into general rubbish,” he says.
“Plastic packaging can be taken to supermarkets as with cling film and plastic bags, and paper wrappers can be placed in your home recycling bin.”
Whether it’s a plastic bottle, glass bottle, aluminium can or popper, each can be placed in your home recycling bin, says Collins.
The only thing to pay attention to is all the takeaway coffees you purchase while you’re watching your child participate in school events as many councils/waste companies prefer not to recycle these.
“The best thing you can do is purchase a reusable coffee cup which will eliminate the concern of contributing to landfill.”
And finally, remember to always take recyclable items out of any plastic bags before they’re put out for collection, otherwise they’ll end up in landfill.