Recycling Tips To Help Our Failing System

Our recycling system is in crisis.


Up until January 1, China had opened itself up to accepting the world's plastic. It was Australia's biggest buyer taking around 600,000 tonnes of our waste each year.

As part of a push by China's government to improve its own environment and reduce pollution, the ban was introduced (good on them!) leaving Australia scrambling. As our nation tries to develop a solution to our crazy overconsumption, our plastics/recyclables are piling up and piling up with no country willing to buy them – meaning some waste centres are resorting to dumping in landfill.

Despite this, people are still so caught up in recycling, but it just isn't this magical world we have created in our minds. 


These symbols are incredibly confusing and misleading! People rely on these packagings with the thought they can purchase and purchase and purchase these plastics without consequence, thinking “it doesn’t matter because they have the symbol, so they will be recycled!"

This just isn’t the case. The likelihood of our plastics being recycled at the moment is so low that we need to focus on shifting to a REUSE and REFUSE mentality and lifestyle. Recycling was the buzzword, then it moved to reusing (it’s still super awesome to reuse your plastics too by the way!) but we’re so far gone now that choosing to refuse to begin with is even more awesome!

Also! Keep in mind that every council and every waste centre accepts and processes different materials - making things even more confusing!

But just because our recycling system is a mess doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on the possibility of some of our waste being repurposed into new materials.


1.       Never put your recycling in a plastic bag! Collect your items in a bin/bucket/container in your kitchen and when it’s full, just empty straight into the wheelie bin!

2.       Always rinse and dry off any food! Food actually contaminates the process, meaning perfectly recyclable items go straight to landfill!

3.       Help the recycling centre sorters by grouping like materials together:

  • Stuff all paper/cardboard together in a paper box/big envelope/paper bag

  • Collect beer bottle tops in a rinsed out aluminium can (i.e. chickpeas, coconut milk etc!) until full then keep them contained by placing the can lid on top.

  • If you have a container that is hard plastic fill it up with other hard plastics like bottle lids etc and place the lid on.


4.       Try to steer clear of mixed materials – plant-based milk in plastic lined paper cartons with screw top round plastic lids – these are a recycling nightmare! Opting for strictly paper cartons are your best option.

5.       Choose glass bottles/containers over plastic – i.e. dips, sauces, spreads like jam and peanut butter, dressings – glass can be recycled infinitely and never lose quality BUT EVEN BETTER reuse the jars/containers at home!

6.    Flatten cardboard boxes - it creates more space for you, helps the sorters and prevents machine blockages.

7.    Remove the plastic ring around the top of plastic bottles and cut it - this prevents the rings getting caught around our wildlife’s necks, arms, flippers and wings!


  • Glossy magazines can be recycled - but even better donate to an Op Shop or business waiting room!

  • Steel and aluminium bottle tops - only if washed from any food residue, placed inside a can of similar material & squeeze the can to close it.

  • Pizza Boxes - potentially only the cardboard lid as long as NO FOOD/GREASE has touched it, otherwise rip up for your home compost or pop into general waste.

  • Bottles containing goods like milk, orange juice and soft drink can all be recycled - always remove the lids though because they're so small they clog up the recycling machines.

  • Plastic & aluminium lids of spreads like jams/peanut butter - as long as they aren't too small, bigger than the size of a business card!


  • Contaminated products like paper towel or tissues should go in your general waste bin (or tissues in the toilet).

  • Disposable coffee cups are lined with a waterproof plastic called polyethylene which makes them non-recyclable and a contaminant. On top of that, these cups release methane gas in landfill! Keep Cups to the rescue!

  • Clothing - there are very limited options for recycling textiles and clothing. You're better off putting old clothes you don't want in a charity bin, better yet try to choose quality items over quantity!

  • Across the country at the moment increasing numbers of waste collectors are refusing to accept aerosols — even if they have a recycling symbol on the can — due to the risks posed to their workers.

REMEMBER - Being vigilent with the above still does not mean your items will be recycled! This is dependent on the council waste centre your items go to, if buyers are interested in these materials, only if they aren't contaminated by someone else's food-riddled recycling haul - SO MANY FACTORS ARE AT PLAY.

"Recycling should be considered the last line of defence. What should be first is reducing the need for that product in the first place.”

- Jenni Downes from the University of Sydney's Institute for Sustainable Future.

Kate BakerComment