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National Recycling Week is celebrated from Monday the 9th of November to Sunday the 15th of November across Australia. Organised by Planet Ark, the premise of this week is to educate the community about recycling within their communities, schools, workplaces and homes.
Whilst recycling should be something that everyone does their best to do all year round, initiatives like this are a great way to remind everyone who has lapsed on their habits to start recycling more and to teach new habits to others.
The theme for National Recycling Week 2020 is “Recovery – A future beyond the bin” where we are encouraged to buy and use more recycled products, rather than virgin resources, and to then reuse and recycle those products further. This helps us keep waste out of our landfills and reduces both greenhouse gas emissions and the mining/harvesting of new resources.
Many of the Yarra River’s typical contaminants are litter, plastics and microplastics, all of which can be disposed of properly or recycled. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of the impact of their actions and the consequences that littering is having on our rivers and environment.
Our Yarra River Blitz and Litter and Flows projects found that expanded polystyrene (EPS) is the most damaging pollutant within the river. This is particularly disappointing as EPS is a recyclable product. However, unlike paper, glass and plastic bottles, this is not recyclable in your weekly council bins. According to the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group, we only recycle 27% of expanded polystyrene.
To recycle EPS, you can collect it across your home, office and school and then take it to your nearest EPS recycler. The best way to organise this is to set up a large collection bin somewhere indoors, such as in your garage or near where other bins are located in your school or office.
The only type of EPS that can be recycled is clean white expanded polystyrene foam. This is the type of insert you might find inside boxes of appliances or furniture. Thick white polystyrene crates used for shipping fruit and vegetables are also recyclable. However, anything coloured, thin, polystyrene, or contaminated such as meat trays, takeaway coffee cups, bean bag beans or shipping peanut foam cannot be recycled.
Check out this google map to find a polystyrene recycler near you
Plastic does not decompose, it simply breaks down into smaller fragments or microplastics which ultimately end up in the ground, rivers and sea. This is why recycling plastic bottles at home, work and school is so important. It is also why Australian supermarkets and major retailers phased out single-use plastic bags in 2018, relying instead on reusable alternatives.
A great and easy recycling program you can set up in your home, school or business is a plastic bag or “soft plastic” recycling system. Essentially, any plastic bag or similar soft plastic that can be scrunched up in your hand such as bubble wrap, chip packets, rice packets, pet food packets can be saved and returned to the REDcycle bins near the checkouts at major supermarkets.
Putting aside a designated soft plastics bin next to your regular rubbish and recycling is a great way to collect any soft plastics that people may have otherwise thrown out. You can then put the contents inside one of the larger bags and take it with you next time you go grocery shopping. It’s amazing how quickly this will fill up and the space you’ll save in your regular rubbish bin will surprise you.
2020 has introduced a whole new type of litter into the world, the disposable face mask and rubber gloves. Whilst many people have moved on to reusable masks, it is difficult to leave the house without finding a discarded disposable mask tumbling by in the wind or a rubber glove sitting in the gutter.
The popular plastic masks many people are wearing will take up to 450 years to completely degrade and will produce microplastics that sea creatures may eat. In the short-term, the elastic straps on masks or the hem on gloves can tangle fish, birds and other wildlife. Cutting these before disposing of may help.
It should also be noted that the best way to dispose of these items is the same as disposing of other medical waste and not simply put into regular waste. The inconvenience of this alone should be reason enough to buy reusable alternatives.
In the spirit of National Recycling Week, we can’t help but share additional everyday items that can be recycled and kept out of the landfill.
Although we live in a digital age, Australians still buy 25 million printer cartridges per year with 70% of these ending up in landfill and taking 400-1000 years to decompose. It is now possible to send away your used printer cartridges for recycling via post or by dropping them off at your local office supply store. Printer manufacturers have been making a big push to ensure their cartridges can be recycled and there are numerous initiatives such as turning toner cartridges into asphalt for roads.
The metal coffee pods made popular by NESCAFÉ are terrible for the environment and a waste of metals, but luckily you can enjoy this coffee guilt-free with their recycling program. You can return these and even non-branded coffee pods to their stores or participating florists for recycling. It’s quite easy to put a coffee pod collection container near the machine. One tip is to put some paper towel at the bottom to soak up any leakage.
Computers are full of metals and other recyclable materials that will never degrade in a landfill. Try a Google search for charities or recyclers in your town to find somewhere to dispose of these. The same goes for mobile phones, printers, CDs, DVDs and other e-waste.
Don’t throw out your old double-A, triple-A or other batteries such as those from laptops or mobile phones. Keep a container for these and then return them to your local office supply or battery store. Call ahead to ensure they will accept them to avoid disappointment.
Any clothes that are not stained or overly damaged should be donated to your local op shop or put out in a donation bag if you find one in your letterbox. Some local clothing stores may also offer free textile recycling for clothes that would otherwise go in the bin.
TerraCycle and Colgate have a program where you can send away your old toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, caps, floss containers and electric toothbrush heads. These materials are there grouped alike and melted down for recycling. TerraCycle even offers its own rewards points program for schools and non-profit organisations that can be redeemed for cash, so you can raise funds whilst recycling.
Whilst National Recycling Week is an annual event, the aim is to improve everyone’s recycling habits all year round. Add a few extra containers under the sink or near your bins in your home, office or school and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can collect items for recycling and the earth and the Yarra River will thank you.