How to become a recycling expert
Written by Queen Vic Market Sustainability Ambassador Erin Rhoads. Keep up to date with Erin by following her on Instagram.
Queen Victoria Market make it easy to shop zero-waste and plastic free, but sometimes buying items in packaging is our only option – and that’s OK. Since National Recycling Week is celebrated from 9-15 November, I wanted to share my tips to keeping packaging out of landfill and becoming a recycling expert.
Food packaging is made of either plastic, glass or tin, and most are recyclable.
Glass jars and tin cans are accepted through our kerb side recycling in Victoria. While some plastics are allowed in kerb side bins, soft plastics are not. This is because soft plastics can get stuck in the machines during the recycling sorting process. To make the recycling process easy, soft plastics are collected at drop off points. Visit redcycle.net.au or your local Council website to find your closest option and a list of what soft plastics are recycled.
Planet Ark has developed the Australasian Recycling Label to help make recycling easier with a detailed description of where the packaging goes. This is handy if packaging is made of more than one material like cardboard and plastic. It would be great to see this symbol on more packaging and customers can advocate for this by emailing companies to include it.
I like to rinse my recycling too. You’d be surprised to know recycling facilities smell so I rinse to help make it less smelly for the staff there.
Takeaway containers and coffee cups
Takeaway containers can be either plastic or cardboard. Both can be recycled so long as they are clean with no food inside. Some cardboard takeaway can be composted at home if it doesn’t have a lining of plastic.
If you forgot your reusable coffee cup or your cafe doesn’t know about contactless pours yet remember to recycle the clean empty cups through the Simply Cup program. The cardboard used in coffee cups is high grade so recycling is the best thing to do with them. The plastic liner is a soft plastic and, along with the lid, will be downcycled into another plastic item. Downcycling is when an item can only be recycled once before going to landfill. Most soft plastics are downcycled into stuff like outdoor furniture, play equipment and road bollards.
Read your council rules
The recycling rules can change as new innovations come on the market. Since our local Councils are responsible for the bulk of our waste and recycling collection, I recommend checking their websites to stay up to date and know what can and cannot be recycled in your area. A quick ten minute read will help you become a better recycler and reduce contamination. You might learn that old VHS tapes can be recycled!
If in doubt, ask!
Recycling can be confusing and that’s not your fault. I feel it’s always best to ask rather than assume everything can go into the recycling bin. For example one small drinking glass can ruin a tonne of glass bottles and jars materials from being recycled because they are different types of glass.
By asking the manufacture or business if the item can be recycled puts the onus back on them, as it should. For too long consumers have been told to do the right thing and I think business are long overdue to help shoulder that burden.
Another option is to contact your local Council or Sustainability Victoria’s new Know Your Recycling website for advice.
Can it be reused?
Before I put anything into my recycling bin I check to see if it can be reused or upcycled first. We often keep a box of recycled items aside for my toddler to use in craft projects on rainy days. There are many great ideas to reuse materials, a quick search on the internet will provide all the inspiration you need.
We like to upcycle the cardboard boxes available at the market for various projects at home or keeping toys organised.
Recycling beyond the kerb
As I mentioned before, recycling is innovating all the time. For instance mascara tubes, pens and even X-rays can now be recycled.
These are never accepted through kerbside, but many of the items have drop off points in our neighbourhoods or they can sometimes be mailed off. For more information on stuff that can be recycled beyond the kerb visit these helpful websites.
Recycling right also means choosing items made of recycled material. It’s great to see more materials containing recycled content and this in turn supports the recycling industry. You could also advocate for this in your office too.