Everyday Enviro with Elise - If in doubt, leave it out

Everyday Enviro with Elise - If in doubt, leave it out

By Elise Catterall  October 25th, 2018

This week in Everday Enviro, Elise looks at the issues with wishful recycling ('wish-cycling') and why the first rule should be if in doubt, leave it out.


I just wanted to write a little bit about something that hit home for me recently and it relates to ‘wishful’ recycling. 

We here in NSW (and likely other parts of Australia and the world) have a serious issue with contaminated household recycling and the impact that has on the ability of processing plants to effectively recycle our recyclable items. I recently learned that around 50% of household recycling bins contain contaminants – items that can’t be recycled and, in many instances, can’t be separated out of the recycling stream.

The message given by Planet Ark regarding recycling is ‘if in doubt, leave it out’ and I have only just realised the importance of heeding that message. I, like many I have spoken to, am definitely prone to popping things in my recycling bin that I think and hope (but don’t know for sure) can be recycled purely because I want them to be recycled.

For me, it’s been things like the moulded plastic packaging that my kids’ toys come in but I know, for others, it can be things like tissues and paper towels, polystyrene, broken glass, packaging beads, or light bulbs. None of which can be recycled.

When these things enter the recycling stream and contaminate it, there is a big risk that the entire load will be sent to landfill, even if the rest of the load is recyclable. This is because the non-recyclable items often can’t feasibly be separated out from the recyclables.   So, because something that should have gone straight to landfill has been put in with items that shouldn’t go to landfill, there is now the strong possibility that it will all go to landfill.  If that makes sense.

I’ve learned now that we should lean the other way.  It is better to have a pure recycling stream (with a 100% recycling rate) and have a few things go through to landfill that perhaps are recyclable, than to risk contaminating the stream and seeing it all go to waste.

The decisions about what is and what isn’t recyclable will only get easier and easier with the introduction of the Australasian Recycling Label system, but for the moment it truly is better to leave out anything you aren’t totally certain can be recycled.  Wishful thinking isn’t helpful thinking.  

For guidance about what is definitely accepted, visit Recycling Near You. For the rest – if in doubt, leave it out.

See you next week! - Elise

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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 


By Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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