Author: Brad Gray
Even though Australians are good recyclers almost all of us have some questions about the process. What happens when recycling leaves the kerbside? What is the biggest mistake (and am I making it)? What are the benefits of recycling?
Planet Ark’s National Recycling Week, now in its 20th year, is the right time to find the answers to these and the other big questions.
Having an understanding of the recycling process helps make sense of the rules and why it’s important to put items in their correct bin. After the truck picks up your recycling it gets taken to a material recovery facility (MRF), where it is put through a series of processes designed to separate out the different materials. Fans blow the paper into one area, magnets pick up the steel, and light beams and jets of air are used to separate the plastics.
These processes work well for the materials they are designed to sort. When items that aren’t supposed to be in the recycling bin arrive at the MRF they can cause a range of problems. Polystyrene foam, for example, is a plastic but acts like paper in the sorting facility. The fans pick it up and send it to the paper collector where it prevents any of the paper it’s mixed with from being recycled.
Check out our animation of the sorting process to see what happens to your recycling.
We asked 115 councils around Australia what the biggest recycling mistake was. Nine out of ten agreed that putting recycling in plastic bags was the biggest mistake. When a bag of recycling arrives at the sorting station it is removed from the conveyor belt and sent to landfill. The staff at the facility can’t open the bags for both time and health reasons.
Recycling needs to go in the bin loose. If you (like us) get frustrated when your family, housemates or neighbours put recycling in plastic bags we might have the answer. Print off and display our ‘don’t bag it’ poster.
Pretty much everyone knows that recycling has benefits for the planet but it also has benefits for profits and for people too. Some examples include:
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.