What are the benefits of recycling?

Australian’s are concerned about the environment.  When it comes to environmental sustainability our top three concerns are plastic in the oceans, landfill waste and natural environments.  

Recycling is something we can all do to help address all of these concerns.  Recycling diverts resources such as plastic, paper, glass and aluminum away from our natural environments, like the ocean. It diverts usable materials from ending up in landfill where its value is lost forever and the resources that went into extracting it and processing it are wasted. Recycling also helps to keep precious resources in circulation rather than constantly relying on raw materials from our natural environments.   

Recycling sometimes gets a bad rap. There are concerns that some of our kerbside recycling is being sent to landfill and there is a great deal of confusion about the state of the recycling industry across the country and internationally.   

But there are good things happening in recycling and we should all continue to recycle. Whether you are aware of it or not, we are transitioning to a more sustainable way of ensuring our precious resources are not wasted. Recycling will continue to be a big part of that.

And in case you needed some motivation to keep up your recycling efforts, did you know:

  • 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today
  • 9.2 jobs are created in recycling for every 2.8 in landfill
  • Recycling reduces and can even eliminate the need to extract raw materials
  • Recycling diverts waste from landfill
  • For many materials like paper and aluminum recycled materials requires less energy and resources than producing the same product using virgin materials
  • Research has even shown that people who recycle have higher life satisfaction and feelings of well-being.

Kerbside recycling

Different councils have different rules around recycling which can cause confusion. The main area of confusion is understanding what is and isn’t recyclable in our kerbside recycling bins.  Because different councils accept different materials it’s always best to check what rules apply in your area. Most councils have information on their websites, in brochures and some even have apps.   

Despite some differences, one thing that is generally common across the country is that our recyclable material all goes into the one bin – ‘commingled’.

Commingling hasn’t been an issue since much of our recycling was sent off shore for processing, and high levels of contamination were accepted. This is no longer the case.

While our recycling sorting stations do an amazing job of sorting our recycling into their relevant categories, they generally aren’t able to remove contamination to the low levels now required for export. And even if contamination could be reduced,there is a strong argument that we should invest in the infrastructure required to recycle our own waste.

By developing our own recycling infrastructure and industry, the country could move toward a circular economy.  A circular economy is where material is diverted away from landfill by redesigning as much waste as possible out of products before it is created, and then re-purposing or recycling products so the resources remain in circulation for as long as possible.   Recycling is obviously a key factor in a successful circular economy.  

The development of a domestic recycling industry would also have economic benefits. The economy would be boosted by infrastructure investment, the creation of new jobs, and access to a growing market for high quality recycled materials.  While the market for recycled materials is a new one, it is also a growing one.  Companies and manufacturers are looking for more sustainable products and government waste policies are increasingly based on the circular economy model, including the increased use of recycled materials.  

Good news story – bottle and container refund schemes

Almost all states and territories have a container or bottle refund scheme. While the schemes are a little different in each location, the basic premise is the same.  You collect eligible bottles and return them for a 10c refund.  

Refund schemes challenge the idea that bottles and containers are worthless by assigning a monetary value to them. While the monetary amount is relatively low, it is still effective in changing our perceptions. We are more likely to recognise the value in used bottles and containers and view them as a resource if they have a monetary value attached.  

In places where container refund schemes exist there are:

  • lower rates of litter due to the incentive associated with collecting containers for a cash refund
  • higher recycling rates with more material being recycled
  • reduced waste to landfill because more containers are being recycled rather than sent to landfill   
  • higher value recyclable materials because the containers recovered for recycling through these schemes are of a much higher recycling grade due to less contamination.

Good news story – MobileMuster

Mobile phones contain a lot of rare and precious metals. When these are set to landfill they can leach into and contaminate the environment, including our groundwater systems. The problem is so bad that some places around the world have banned mobile phones from landfill and actively support mobile phone and electronic recycling.    

MobileMuster is one such initiative that takes your old mobile phone and ensures that all its components are processed in an environmentally responsible way resulting in 99% of materials being recovered.  This includes:  the glass from the touch screen;  valuable metals such as gold, silver and palladium from circuit boards; plastic from the casing; graphene, nickel, and lithium from the lithium batteries, and aluminum from the casing.  

By recycling mobile phones we avoid contamination of our natural environments and groundwater systems, save the energy and resources required to extract and process raw materials and conserve our natural resources.   

Why we take action

Recycling is a necessary part of the waste management system that will ensure material that is already in circulation remains in circulation and is reused and repurposed for as long as possible.  

How we can take action

While the best options is always to avoid bringing unnecessary things into your home, what we do with the products we do own when we are finished with them can have a significant impact on our environment. The key message is keep recycling!   

  • Get informed about what material is recyclable in your kerbside collection.  
  • If you have one, use your bottle refund scheme and get cash back for your recycling efforts.  
  • Take your soft plastics to the Redcycle drop off points at your local supermarket so they can be recycled.
  • Take your old mobile phones and chargers to a MobileMuster drop off point so they can be recycled.
  • Donate your quality clothing to charity shops so they can be reused.  
  • Ask your local council or search online for places where you can recycle or re-purpose other household items such as e-waste, metal and furniture.  

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NT), (2018), Evaluation of the Operation of the Northern Territory Container Deposit Scheme.

Never waste a crisis: the waste and recycling industry in Australia, (2018), The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee.

Planet Ark, (2017), What Goes Around: Why Buying Recycled matters: A guide for Households, Business and Councils.  

Planet Ark, (2015), All Sorted: Answering the Big Recycling Questions.

2018 National Waste Policy: less waste more resources, Commonwealth of Australia 2018.