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Be a Recycling Mythbuster

Date: 12-Nov-12

mythbusters © Zo Zhou

Have you ever heard a relative, a friend or a colleague remark on a recycle issue you were sure wasn't quite true? As recycling has evolved in Australia, there's a bunch of common myths that have developed alongside it. To help spread the good word we've brought the facts forward so you're armed with all the truths to be a Recycling Mythbuster!  


If they say:

"Why should I recycle? It just gets thrown in landfill anyway, and we've got plenty of landfill space!"

You can say:

This myth is a hangover from the early days of recycling when systems were new and developing.

There are rare, but highly publicised, incidents of individual workers in councils or recycling companies doing the wrong thing and sending recycling to landfill but in almost all cases they have failed to perform their duties correctly.

It's too expensive to landfill recycling. In the Sydney metro area it costs councils and businesses more than $80/tonne to put waste into landfill, in the ACT it costs over $100, and there are landfill levies in WA, SA and Vic too. It simply isn't economic for a council or contractor to collect recyclables and then send them to landfill.

When items in the recycling stream are contaminated they may have to be sent to landfill - this is true of items in plastic bags. Grease, food and polystyrene foam can contaminate the paper stream and mean a recycler may need to send some things to landfill. But this is a very small percentage of the total amount of material that is collected.

By following your council's recycling guidelines correctly you'll reduce contamination and ensure that your recycling is recycled. It's important to check with your council or about what items are recycled in your area, and to only put those items in your bin.


If they say:

"Of course organic waste biodegrades in landfill. It's all natural."

You can say:

This myth comes from the idea that a landfill is really just a hole in the ground, equivalent to digging a hole in the garden and burying food and garden scraps where it will break down.

But landfill sites are designed to take as much waste as possible, to give them a longer life. To achieve this they all have trucks whose one job is to squeeze any space - and therefore air - from between items.

When organic material breaks down without oxygen it produces leachate - an acid that can leak from landfills and contaminate ground water. It also, and even more importantly, creates methane - a greenhouse gas 21 times more powerful that carbon dioxide. Organic materials in landfill directly contribute to climate change.

Reducing food waste is the first and easiest step. Buy only what you need and use it. Then try worm farming to reduce what you send to landfill, and the worms will provide you with great fertilizer for the garden.


If they say:

"If I put my recycling in a plastic bag it will be recycled too." 

You can say:

The first level of sorting in a recycling station is people. These workers examine what's entering the sorting station and remove as much contamination as they can before it gets into the machinery. When items are put in plastic bags, these workers remove the bag from the conveyor belt and send it down a chute to be taken to landfill for disposal.

These workers need to review and sort up to 60 tonnes of recycling an hour. They simply do not have the time to open plastic bags to see if the items inside are recyclable. It is also not safe for them to do so, as they could hold dirty nappies, broken glass or worse.

If you put your recycling into the bin inside a plastic bag, you are wasting your time and imposing extra costs on the recycling system, making it less effective and efficient.

If you carry your recycling down to the bin in a plastic bag, open the bag and tip the contents into the recycling bin. Then throw the bag away or, better still, get a reusable bag or use a cardboard box which can be recycled too. Plastic bags are the number 1 form of contamination in recycling, so keep them out of your recycling bin!

Check out our full mythbusters guide for more.

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