According to the WWF, the average Australian uses 130kg of plastic per year, with only 9% of that being recycled. Likewise, the problem in New Zealand is just as bad, with Kiwis discarding around 15.5 million tonnes of waste every year.
Despite a growing concern for the environment, many us are unknowingly participating in ‘wishcycling’ – this is when you try to recycle a coffee cup, or a cardboard food container with grease or food still on it, or even aluminium coffee pods, in the wish that these things are recyclable, when in fact they’re not.
The issue with putting the wrong things in the recycling bin is that it causes contamination, which leads to things that could be recycled being thrown into landfill because the machines that process the recycling aren’t set up to deal with unexpected material.
So how do we avoid wish cycling? And what should you do when you’re in doubt? To help you with this, we thought we’d share six easy tips to avoid wish cycling!
Tip 1) Always check your councils website
Each council in Australia and New Zealand has varying rules for what can be recycled. You can move ten minutes to a different address in another council, and find that your council doesn’t accept the same waste. That’s why it’s really important to visit your local council website to understand what waste is and isn’t accepted, so you don’t risk contaminating your recycling.
Tip 2) Make sure things are clean and empty
It’s always best practice to ensure that anything you throw away is empty and as clean as possible. If a pizza box is covered in grease, or cardboard packaging is covered in food, it won’t be recycled and is best to throw in your rubbish bin.
Tip 3) If it’s smaller than your fist it’s likely that it won’t be recycled
A common mistake that people make is putting small bits of paper and scrap tinfoil in the recycling bin. When these are getting processed, it’s more likely that these will slip through processing and end up in landfill anyway. Sometimes it can get confusing, for instance with bottle caps, where varying councils provide different recommendations – so again, it’s always best to check in with your council’s recycling rules.
To avoid this, it’s always best to follow the general rule of the thumb, that if it’s smaller than your fist, don’t recycle it – or at least yet! You can always store bits of foil and paper, and scrunch it in a ball until it’s big enough.
Tip 4) Check the resin codes
On all plastic packaging, there is a number inside a triangle from one to seven, which can tell you a lot about whether something is recyclable or not. Each number represents a different resin code, which essentially indicates what type of plastic it is made from. To understand more about what these codes mean and which ones belong in your recycling bin, read our blog – here.
Tip 5) Check the labels
You may have also noticed the following through images on your packaging:
Recyclable: The coloured/opaque recycling symbol, means that this piece of packaging can be placed in the recycling bin as it is. Each piece of packaging with this label has to be placed separately in the recycling bin.
Conditionally Recyclable: The clear/ transparent recycling symbol means that you must follow the instructions to recycle this packaging component. If you don’t follow the instructions it has to go in the rubbish bin, as it will otherwise not be recycled and cause contamination to the recycling stream.
Not Recyclable: The bin symbol means that this piece of packaging is not recyclable and you must place it in the rubbish bin. DO NOT place it in the recycling bin. It will not get recycled and it will contaminate the recycling stream.
Tip 6) Recycle the unrecyclable through TerraCycleIf something fails all the above tests and isn’t accepted in your councils recycling, there’s always a chance that it could be recycled through one of TerraCycle’s free national recycling programs. As experts in hard-to-recycle materials, TerraCycle will often provide a solution for waste streams that would otherwise end up in landfill. To learn more, check out some of our free programs in Australia and here for NZ.