The cycle of life
Despite recycling being part of Australian household routines for more than two decades, there is still plenty of confusion around what can and can't be recycled.
Council kerbside recyclable materials go to a materials recovery facility (MRF) where they are sorted by machines and people into types (paper, plastics, glass and metals). They are then baled and transported to facilities for reprocessing at paper mills, metal smelters, glass and plastics factories. But these facilities are limited in what materials they can process.
As companies wise up to the lost value in single-use items, though, recycling technology is evolving.
Below are five common household products that can now be recycled – and they might just surprise you.
1. Soft plastics
(Cling wrap, bubble wrap, plastic bags, orange nets
and plastic bags)
Soft plastics can cause havoc for the machinery at the MRF, getting wrapped
up in conveyor belts, costing time and money. They need specialist
facilities to be processed, so they can't go in most council kerbside recycling streams.
The good news is they can be collected and deposited at Redcycle drop-off
bins, which are widely available at Coles, Woolworths and Safeway supermarkets.
To find the soft plastic drop off locations near you, use the Redcycle locator.
They'll accept "scrunchable" plastics such as re-usable green shopping
bags, newspaper wrapping, bubble wrap, cling wrap, plastic bags, zip-lock
bags, biscuit wrapping (not the trays), lolly packs, bread bags, pasta and
rice bags, courier satchels, cereal box liners, chip and cracker packets.
There are a small number of councils that do accept these items in their
kerbside recycling, including Lismore, Ballina, Moreland, Cockburn,
Vincent, City of Fremantle, Town of East Fremantle, Kwinana, Melville,
Subiaco and City of Perth.
2. Aerosol cans
Even though 90% of people live in a council area that accepts aerosols,
almost half of Australians think they aren't recyclable, according to
Planet Ark. In fact, Planet Ark estimates that well over half the 250
million aerosol cans sold in Australia each year are going to landfill
Aerosol cans are made from steel and aluminium, both of which are
non-renewable and can be recycled over and over without loss of quality. It
takes far less energy to recycle steel and aluminium than it does to
produce them from new material.
To make an aluminium can from recycled materials takes only 5% of the
energy required to make an aluminium can from raw materials. And producing
steel from recycled materials only requires 25% of the energy required to
produce the cans from raw materials.
The great news is that for many Australians, aerosols can simply be
deposited in the kerbside recycling.
Check if your council will take aerosols at Recycling Near You
Remove the lids. If the lid doesn't have a plastic identifier symbol
with a number 1 through 6, bin it.
Make sure the can is empty. If not, send it to your council's hazardous
3. Coffee pods
Australians are using more than three million coffee pods per day
and about 1.5 million households have a pod machine. We might love this
convenience at home or work, but these single use capsules are an utter
disaster for the environment – one big reason being that none of them can be
included with the kerbside recycling.
Nespresso coffee pods are made up of used coffee grounds and aluminium.
CHOICE has estimated that millions of kilograms of aluminium may have been
sent to landfill in the form of used Nespresso pods – which is shamefully
wasteful given that, as mentioned above aluminium is infinitely recyclable and energy intensive
to produce from raw materials.
Dolce Gusto and other supermarket brands are usually made of variations of
plastics. Because of their composition, council materials recovery
facilities don't have the capacity to deal with items that small, and if
people put them in their kerbside recycling bin the pods will become a
The good news is that there are now avenues to direct some of these pods to
recover the materials and re-use the resources.
have a free post-back program and
drop off points, run by
Postage-paid recycling satchels that hold 130 capsules can be purchased
from Nespresso online for$1.90 and then dropped into Australia Post Offices
or boxes. Postage costs are included in the satchel price.
A network of florists across the country will accept your collections of
Nespresso pods, and they can be dropped off at Nespresso stores.
The coffee grounds are recycled into compost and the aluminium is smelted,
refined and used again.
Nestle's Dolce Gusto
pods can also be recycled through the TerraCycle Collection program.
- Drain your capsules, put in a sealed bag, then place the sealed bag in a
- Request a pre-paid shipping label via email.
- Affix the pre-paid postage label and dropping it off at an Australia
Post Office where it will be shipped to TerraCycle.
The Dolce Gusto capsules are then cleaned and melted into hard plastic and
used to make new products.
Two cents per capsule collected will be given to an Australian charity of your choice.
And for a fee of $107.48 you can fill a special Terracycle
Coffee Capsules Zero Waste Box
with any make of hot beverage pod or capsule, which will be recycled.
However, as Brad Gray from Planet Ark says, pods are like plastic bags or
disposable coffee cups. "If you can find options that are not single use,
in almost all cases that is better for the environment."
4. X-ray film
While most X-rays are now digital, there are still many film X-rays floating around. These are made from PET plastic with a film of silver in the
form of halides. The silver can be extracted and converted into pure silver,
which can then be used for jewellery, silver solder, electrical components and
Some radiology providers and hospitals will collect old X-rays. You can
check collection points for X-rays by contacting Quantum Technical Services, which has drop-off locations in each state. Alternatively, they can be posted to:
Quantum Technical Services
1/30 Glendenning Road
Glendenning NSW 2761
Many homes have a collection of half-used tins of paint tins in the shed or
under the house. The good news is that tins of interior and exterior
household paint can now be dropped off at Paintback collection sites.
This industry-led paint recycling program began in May 2016, and collection
points are continuing to increase. The program is designed to
reduce end-of–life problems from the paint industry and funding is provided by a levy on the sale of all Paintback accepted products.
The tins and containers are separated from the paint and recycled. Waste
paint is treated to recover solvents and separate liquids and solids.
Deck coatings, floor paints, primers, undercoats, stains and varnishes are
all accepted. But Paintback won't take automotive paints, aerosol paints, resins, thinners, roof patch,
tar-based or bitumen-based products, epoxies or glue, or metal coatings.