6 Ways to Resolve Australia’s Recycling Crisis

Australia's recycling industry needs your help to avert crisis.

Since China's ban on foreign waste, the recycling industry has been left to find solutions to deal with the extra waste. According to Garth Lamb, landfill is not the option. Photo by Bas Emmen on Unsplash
Since China's ban on foreign waste, the recycling industry has been left to find solutions to deal with the extra waste. Photo by Bas Emmen on Unsplash

Recycling at home has become second nature for most Australians. In fact, around 90% of Australians consider recycling important to them says Garth Lamb, Business Development Manager of Re.Group. But do you know where your recycling is going after it has been collected? Is it actually being recycled?

For the last 40 years, China has collected foreign waste from around the world – including Australia. Earlier in the year though, they announced a ‘ban’ on imported waste, leaving the Australian recycling industry in crisis.

We have already seen the effects of the ban take place. Kerbside recycling collection ceased in Ipswich and more recycling is ending up in landfill and our oceans where it will continue to exist, longer than you or I are alive.

From 2014 to 2015, Australians produced 64 million tonnes (Mt) waste. That's 2.2 tonnes per person! Where does this waste go? From the 35Mt of recycling collected, 1.27Mt were sent to China.
China will no longer accept foreign waste. Information from the government-funded report Data on Exports of Recyclables from Australia to ChinaPaige Murphy / Creative Commons 

So, what can we do as individuals and a community to help?

1. Educate

How else would we know what to recycle, where to recycle it and why we are even recycling in the first place? Spokesperson for Planet Ark, Josh Cole says they have made it their mission to educate and encourage positive environmental actions.

“Planet Ark provides the biggest repositories of recycling information at a nationwide level in Australia, Recycling Near You for residents and Business Recycling for business owners and employees,” said Cole.

Planet Ark have also joined forces with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation and PREP Design to create the new Australasian Recycling Label. Designed to educate consumers, the packaging clearly states what parts are recyclable and what bin they belong in. These labels can now be seen on packaging at places like Woolworths, Officeworks and Australia Post.

Use information from organisations like Planet Ark to educate yourself and educate others to make the right recycling choices.

2. Recycle the right product in the right places

Contamination is one of the biggest issues recycling faces. By placing items that cannot be recycled in with those that can, the whole process can be affected.

At a household level, the quality of materials people put into their bins is a really critical factor,” said Lamb.

“First, we have to pull it out at the recycling facility, which increases our operating costs. Then we have to pay for it to be disposed to landfill, which again puts a huge strain on the viability of recycling… That’s why we always say, ‘if in doubt, leave it out’.”

Step 1: Stay Loose. Recycling goes into the bin loose - never in a plastic bag, and keep other soft plastic out too.
Step 2: Easy Does It. Paper, cardboard, glass jars and bottles, metal cans and aerosols, cartons and rigid plastics are easy to recycle and accepted in almost all kerbside collections.
Step 3: Into the Garbage. Crockery, window and drink-ware glass, polystyrene, plastic bags, nappies and food are the big baddies in the recycling - put them in the garbage.
Step 4: Keep It Clean-ish. Recycling does not need to be spotless - just scrape of solid food and give it a quick rinse.
Step 5: Drop 'Em Off. Kerbside systems cannot separate items like mobiles, computers, batteries and printer cartridges - find local drop off services at RecyclingNearYou.com.au
Step 6: If In Doubt... Leave It Out. Putting the wrong thing in the wrong bin can ruin your good recycling efforts.
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Golden Rules of Recycling Step 1: Stay Loose

Not sure what you can and can’t recycle?

Check out Planet Ark’s Golden Rules of Kerbside Recycling or visit your local council’s website for full details of what they will accept.

(We will test you on this later!)

3. Stop using plastic bags & single-use plastic products

“Every piece of plastic made still exists today,” said War on Waste’s Wendy Harmer (there is some food for thought!).

According to an OECD report, 380 million tonnes of plastic was produced worldwide in 2015 – only 15% of this was recycled (imagine how much exists if no plastic created has ever broken down!). Where does the rest end up? See for yourself…

via GIPHY 

Just this week, a sperm whale has died after ingesting eighty plastic bags. So, what is the answer?

In 2015, Britain introduced a 5p charge on plastic bags which the Guardian has reported led to an 85% decline in their use within six months. As of July 1st, this year, NSW will be the only state left in Australia without a ban on plastic bags. Despite the ban in other states, Greenpeace says that Australians are still using around 10 million plastic bags a day.

Plastic bags and soft plastics cannot be placed in your kerbside recycling bins as they jam the machines at recycling facilities. Organisations like REDcycle are making it easier to recycle these items though. Now you can take them to the red bins provided by REDcycle at major supermarkets where recycling company Replas takes them and turns them into items like outdoor furniture!

What you need to remember…

Take a reusable bag with you when you go shopping.

Make conscious decisions to avoid plastic where possible.

If you do have soft plastics, keep them all together and place them in the REDcycle bins.

If this 12-year-old boy can live life without plastic, then so can you!

PLASTIC ALARM! Trailer from Karin Ecker on Vimeo.

4. Join the Last Straw movement

Everyone has seen the horrific video of a turtle of with a straw up its nose. Everyday McDonald’s uses around 60 million plastic straws worldwide. Every plastic straw you have ever used will outlive you.

The Last Straw Movement is calling for a worldwide ban on plastic straws. Britain has started to pave the way banning them, along with cotton buds and plastic stirrers. Unfortunately, Australia will not be following suit at this stage, SBS reported but that doesn’t mean you can’t.


Stop using plastic straws.

If you need a straw, choose a biodegradable paper straw or a metal one.

Sign this petition to show Environmental Minister Josh Frydenberg that Australian citizens want the plastic straw banned.  

5. Purchase products made from recycled materials

The whole point of recycling products is so we can create new products and avoid using virgin materials. Despite this, many products are still being packaged with new plastic due to lower production costs.

“Consumers should… help to promote the domestic recycling industry by buying products made from locally recycled materials. Businesses need to design their packaging for recyclability and work together to increase the amount of recycled content in their products and packaging,” said Cole.

To ensure that they can produce better recycled products at Re.Group, Lamb says the products they collect need to be cleaner and of a high quality.

“Our approach is to maximise the quality of the materials we’re recovering,” he said.

The cleaner the materials, the more valuable they become and less they have to charge for them.

Image: Re.Group’s Townsville MRF where recycling product is sorted and cleaned, ready to be turned into new products. Image provided by Garth Lamb on behalf of Re.Group.
Re.Group’s Townsville MRF where recycling product is sorted and cleaned, ready to be turned into new products. Image provided by Garth Lamb on behalf of Re.Group.

Next time you’re shopping, try to remember why you’re recycling in the first place.

Stick to products made from recycled materials where possible.

6. Upcycle

Upcycling is a great way to minimise waste – the basic principle being that you take something old and recreate it to have a different purpose.

With a myriad of DIY and upcycle ideas available on the Internet, here are a few of our favourites:


For the less creative, simply repurposing or reusing items like bottles and containers are easy options too.

Got anymore tips on recycling or upcycling? Share in the comments below.

What can you recycle?

It’s time to put your recycling knowledge to the test. Will you recycle right or are you a contaminator?

Paige Murphy
About Paige Murphy 4 Articles
A postgraduate media student at the University of Sydney. With a background in the fashion & lifestyle industry, she looks to put an ethical and socially responsible spin on her work.

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