Author: Brad Gray
From the NSW Central Coast to Perth, thousands of used nappies make their way into the recycling system every day which, you have to admit, is a pretty awful thought. But it's even more disgusting when you realise that people hand-sort that recycling.
In even the most automated recycling facilities there are people whose job is to remove – by hand – non-recyclable items like car batteries, gas bottles and used nappies. It is estimated that sorters like Jason, the bloke in the picture, remove over 5,000 nappies from the Central Coast's facility each week.
And this isn't just a local problem. The sorting facility for the Southern Metropolitan Regional Council in WA (which includes Fremantle, East Fremantle, Cockburn, Melville, and Kwinana) has to remove around 1,000 nappies a day. To address the issue new parents in the area are given a nappy-shaped flyer telling people to put nappies in general waste bins. The flyers will be included in the 'Mother-to-be Bounty Bags' hospitals distribute to the 21,000 new mothers in WA each year.
So why do people put nappies in the recycling? Well it seems that some people genuinely believe they are recyclable, after all, they are made from plastic. If the nappies are processed in specially designed systems, the waste and plastic can be separated and recycled. But those systems do not currently exist in Australia for households and our council collections are not set up to separate the nappies for future processing.
As well as being yucky and a health risk the, let's call it waste, in the nappies also contaminates the paper recycling stream reducing its potential uses and value as an export.
You can help address this problem.
Brad was Planet Ark's Head of Campaigns for 10 years. He trained and worked as a history and geography teacher before moving into the health education sector for 14 years. With a strong passion for human environments, Brad started with Planet Ark in 2007 as Recycling Programs Manager.