Even though contaminated recycling is bad, sometimes we do just the opposite - items end up in the landfill because we don’t realise they’re actually recyclable.
According to a 2015 report by the non-profit organisation Planet Ark, 115 councils across Australia have identified plastic bags as the number one recycling mistake, with 92% complaining about soft plastics contamination in their recycling streams.
However, the next biggest mistake is putting recyclable stuff into the general waste bin. This way it misses out on the opportunity to become something new.
Almost half of all Aussie councils (48%) have identified this as an issue, so here’s a refresher on some of the things you may not realise can be recycled - even if it might require a little more effort.
Pizza boxes are divisive - even though they’re thoroughly cardboard, a lot of people opt to put them in the bin because they suspect the cold, gummy strips of cheese and that half-slice nobody could finish will disqualify the pizza box from recycling.
Technically, they’re correct. Too much grease can interfere with the quality of the pulped cardboard, however it’s still possible to salvage the box if it’s only slightly greasy and all food scraps are removed. Worst case - the pizza box lid can definitely be torn off and recycled, even if the box itself is gross.
How many times have you opened a beer and flicked the cap into the regular bin? Too many! While you’d be right to keep such tiny items out of the recycling when they’re loose (they’d just fall through the sorting equipment at the facility), metal bottle tops can actually be recycled with a little bit of forethought.
For steel bottle caps, such as those from beer bottles, save them up in an empty steel tin until it’s half-full, then crimp the tin closed so the caps can’t fall out, and off to recycling they go. Aluminium caps can receive the same treatment in an aluminium can.
Or... upcycle them into a wind chime, straight to the pool room.
Soy sauce fishes
If you don’t feel bad about binning those tiny soy sauce containers that come with a Japanese meal, you probably should - while each individual item is small, they’re used by the hundreds of thousands every day, and would amount to heaps of recyclable plastic in landfills, and, ironically, oceans.
Because the soy sauce fish bottles are so tiny, they will fall through the sorting system, just like bottle tops. But, at least according to City of Sydney council’s Garbage Guru, you can collect these little fish in a larger recyclable container, such as a bottle, and dispose of them this way.
The greasy plastic box from the last Chinese take-out is perfectly recyclable despite the grease, and you don’t even have to wash it super-thoroughly. Just make sure that the noodles that went off in your fridge a week ago are put in the trash before you recycle the container and the lid. You might scream “this is common sense” but people throw out uneaten food in its original box quite regularly.
Yes, it’s recyclable! Even the foil you peel off your yoghurt in the morning (rinsed, naturally), and the aluminium trays that house pre-baked foods. There’s a caveat, of course - tiny pieces of foil will fly away from the sorting line or get stuck in places, so make sure to save up your foil into a scrunched up ball so that’s easier for the machines to pick up. Alternatively, tiny pieces of foil, including chocolate foil, can be stuck into an aluminium can that’s squeezed shut.
Long-life milk and juice cartons
Almost as divisive as pizza boxes, these cartons confuse people because they’re a composite material - more specifically, liquid paperboard, that contains layers of cardboard, plastic, and aluminium foil. However, most of that pack is still made out of cardboard, which is the easiest to recycle.
According to PlanetArk, most councils across Australia do recycle liquid paperboard, which then travels to paper mills where the cardboard is separated from plastic and aluminium by soaking and swirling in water.
It’s probably the biggest misconception around recycling in Australia, with over half of all people thinking that aerosols should be put in general waste. Fear not, aerosol cans won’t explode when put in recycling; they’re made out of steel and aluminium, and most councils can totally recycle aerosols.
However, the can must be empty. Remove the plastic parts if possible, and put it in recycling intact (whatever you do, don’t pierce or squash the can, no amount of saving recycling space is worth it).
Of course, you need to note that this is just a general guide, and your council may have slightly different rules. Always check with your council when unsure.