Less than a year after Cleanaway’s bin tagging program commenced in Central Coast, contamination dropped from one in four bins to one in ten.
Australians are conscientious recyclers but many councils still report high levels of contamination in kerbside recycling bins. Insights from our customers tell us that this is mainly due to lack of understanding over what goes into each bin rather than lack of care.
Contamination happens when the wrong items are put in a particular bin. This causes problems during the sorting process and reduces the quality of good recycling.
Bin tagging programs have proven to be an effective way to reduce contamination in recycling by providing on-the-spot feedback about the contents of a recycling bin. The tag on the bin indicates if contamination has been identified and explains why the bin has not been emptied. Common contaminants in the commingled recycling bin include food, liquids, soft plastic and textiles.
How bin tagging works
While tagging programs differ across councils, a typical system would involve inspectors visually assessing the bin for:
Partially open lids
If a bin is severely contaminated, it will not be collected as contamination could spoil an entire truckload of otherwise good recycling. Conversely, if the contents of a bin are on point, the bin may be tagged with positive feedback through a congratulatory bin tag.
An essential element of a bin tagging program is enforcement. After a certain number of inspections, consistently contaminated recycling bins may be taped shut and not collected. While this step is rarely needed, it is a clear and tangible repercussion of not using the recycling service correctly.
Bin tagging is effective for improving bin behaviours
Similarly, trials in South Australia and Western Australia have also reported up to a 48% decrease in contamination through bin tagging programs.
Bin tagging has been a successful way to improve recycling behaviours because:
Tags are usually colourful, making for better visibility
Information is given on the bin itself rather than through the letterbox, which is more effective for gaining attention
The tags provide immediate feedback to reinforce the desired behaviour especially when there is a disconnect between what residents think is the correct way to recycle and what actually is the correct way
Repeated feedback keeps proper bin behaviours top of mind and encourages the forming of good habits
What you can do to avoid a bin tag
We encourage people to follow the three golden rules of recycling:
Know the right materials for recycling
Separate each material before disposal
Use the right bin
Every council has different rules for recycling, so it’s best to stay on top of the practice in your local area by visiting your council’s website.
Closed loop recycling is the end game for a sustainable recycling system. Container return schemes make this possible by separating drink containers at the source to produce a clean, high-quality stream of recyclables that can be turned into new items again and again.
Find out more about container return schemes and how they impact litter reduction in this article.
Looking for a one-stop resource to make #realisticplastic choices in your life? Visit this page for downloadable resources with simple actions anyone can do to avoid single use plastic and save the use of plastic for when it is essential in our lives.
Contact us to learn more about how we’re making a sustainable future possible for our communities.
Plastic is a lightweight material that can be moulded for different medical applications such as prosthetics, pacemakers, and other devices that increase mobility and quality of life.
From disposable syringes and surgical gloves to reusable sharps containers, essential plastics help minimise the risk of infection and stop the spread of disease amongst patients and staff in healthcare facilities.
Completely eliminating plastic isn’t possible but making #realisticplastic choices in our everyday lives is. To learn more about how you can sustainably manage the plastics in your life, download our #realisticplastic guide here.
Contact us to learn more about how we make a sustainable future possible for businesses, industry and communities.
Plastics are a durable and flexible material that plays many roles in our lives – in manufacturing, healthcare, transport and many more.
Syringes and straws, for example, are essential in healthcare, preventing infections and improving quality of life. They are also used in construction as long-lasting materials for building bridges and park benches. However, when disposed of carelessly, plastic can harm the environment and wildlife.
Quitting plastic altogether isn’t the solution. Making better, #realisticplastic choices is. Our Plastic Waste Hierarchy is a handy guide for realistic plastic use, focusing on how to make sustainable choices in selecting and disposing of plastics in our lives.
Avoid and reduce
There are certain kinds of plastics that most of us can do without. Plastic straws and disposable coffee cups, while unrecyclable in most cases, are essential in healthcare and medicine. These are often unrecyclable, so if you don’t need them, don’t use them. When it comes to single-use plastics, the less you can use, the better.
Durable, long lasting plastics such as kitchen utensils, white goods, and electronics are often still working perfectly when we decide to replace them. In these cases, consider donating or upcycling them to extend their lifespan.
Many throwaway plastics in our lives can be avoided if we used reusable containers for shopping and food instead. When making a decision about whether to consume a material with plastic in it, think about its applications and whether you can maximise its lifespan for repeated usage. The longer and more it can be used, the better.
If you choose to purchase single-use plastics, choose plastics you know can be easily recycled. Rigid or ‘unscrunchable’ plastics like milk jugs, shampoo bottles and stiff biscuit trays can be recycled in most kerbside bins.
Soft plastics like plastic bags, bubble wrap and cereal bags cannot be recycled in your kerbside bin. Although they are accepted at most major supermarkets with soft plastic collection points, it’s always better to go back to steps one and two in the hierarchy – avoid them if possible, and go with reusable bags, paper bags or boxes instead.
Plastics like bandages, adhesives and blister packs may be convenient but they can’t be recycled in most cases. Try to avoid them but if you can’t they go in general waste when you’re done.
Using the waste hierarchy can help optimise the use of plastic and help make #realisticplastic choices.
From just a few participants in Western Australia in 2011, Plastic Free July has grown into a worldwide movement with millions of people across 170 countries. Plastic Free July aims to encourage people to be more aware of their plastic use by supporting behaviour change.
This year, we are keen to lift the conversation beyond just avoiding single use plastic. We believe that people are ready to have a more sophisticated conversation about plastic – to understand what we need to do to consume the material in a sustainable way while reinforcing the unsustainable applications that we must avoid.
Using the hashtag #realisticplastic, we’re asking, “Are you having the right conversation about plastic?” and talking about the practical applications of plastic in healthcare, manufacturing and more, through a series of films, awareness visuals and educational assets.
1) #realisticplastic infographic
Confused about which plastics you should avoid? Download our handy infographic perfect for use in the office, school or at home.
Many Australians diligently recycle their packaging waste but figuring out which products to recycle can be confusing at times. To make the rules clearer, a new nationally consistent label has been created.
The Australasian Recycling Label (ARL), developed by Planet Ark, PREP Design and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), shows what parts of product packaging can be placed in the commingled recycling bin, and what should go to general waste. It’s already being used on packaging in supermarkets across the country with the support of leading organisations like Nestle, Unilever and Woolworths.
Since launching in 2018, more than 270 businesses have agreed to adopted the label, and the next few years should see even more companies using the label on their products.
Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price launched the label at the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation’s Towards 2025 event in Melbourne. “It provides people with easy-to-understand recycling information when they need it most, in those few seconds when they are deciding what bin the package goes in,” she said.
Adrian Cullen, Woolworth’s Sustainability Manager explained how the company is using the label on Woolworths branded products. “On some of our ready meals range, there’s a tray, it’s covered on top with a sheet of plastic, and it might come with a cardboard collar,” Adrian explained. “So (the new label) will probably tell the customer that the tray is recyclable, the plastic sheet on top would need to be torn off and that would go into the general waste, and the collar made of cardboard would then also be recycled.”
• What can be recycled in the commingled bin
• What to place in the general waste bin
• What can be possibly recycled but should be checked for further instructions or with council
Recyclable items: This means that the packaging is likely to be cardboard or rigid plastic and should be clean of food and placed in the commingled recycling bin.
Conditionally recyclable items: These items can possibly be recycled but should be checked for further instructions below the label or with council for local recycling options.
Not recyclable items: These are items such as soft plastic wrappers or film that is not recyclable and should be disposed of in the general waste bin.
Why the recycling label is useful
Contamination continues to be a risk to commingled recycling and confusion over what products can and cannot be recycled is a major contributor. Cleanaway has been working with our municipal, commercial and industrial customers to improve the quality of recycling in the commingled bin.
China’s National Sword policy to increase the threshold of acceptable contamination on imports created greater urgency around improved recycling quality.
We surveyed Australian consumers on our social media channels and discovered that most Australians understand the basics of recycling, but are confused about more complex questions around the different types of materials and how to treat them for recycling
At Cleanaway, we believe that simple and effective recycling information delivered at the point where waste decisions are made are likely to have the most impact on positive bin behaviour. With less contamination and better quality recycling, recovered materials have better market value because they are in a better condition to be used in the manufacture of new products.
What more is being done to improve waste management in Australia?
The Australian Environment Minister has announced national packaging targets to support the Federal Government’s commitment to make 100% of all packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
To achieve these targets, industry-wide collaboration between key stakeholders and greater investment in waste sorting and processing infrastructure will be necessary to support the domestic recycling market.
APCO Chief Executive Brooke Donnelley said, “We need to address the use of recycled content, packaging being recycled or composted, and what materials are unnecessary or problematic.”
Cleanaway’s Footprint 2025 roadmap is committed to ensuring we have the right infrastructure in place to maximise resource recovery and optimise the quality of recycled material. Cleanaway’s state-of-the-art Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Perth which is capable of sorting eight waste streams, and our container sorting facility in Eastern Creek is custom-made to count, sort and process more than 250,000 plastic, aluminium, steel, and LPB containers per hour.
The impact of improperly-managed waste goes far beyond a messy nature strip – it can lead to fines, stop-work orders, site-sealing and even court charges. We compiled a list of stories about waste management gone wrong that will set you thinking about the proper disposal of waste:
Faulty grease traps can be a nuisance
Depending on your location, regular grease trap maintenance is required by law. Neglecting regular maintenance can lead to fines and overspills. In extreme cases, it may also lead to a business being sued by its neighbours. A restaurant in Macquarie Street, New South Wales found themselves the subject of a nuisance suit due to odours from a grease trap in their basement.
In Tasmania, a blocked grease trap shut down the Emergency Department of the Royal Hobart Hospital and caused an evacuation event that was classified as a “disaster that requires an emergency and immediate response.”
For restaurants, cafés and other businesses in the food and beverage industry, it’s always a good idea to service your traps two to six times a year to prevent bad smells, risk of flooding and overspills.
Pharmaceutical waste polluting the environment
Expired, unused and contaminated medication flushed down the toilet can find its way into our waterways, impacting wildlife. A study conducted in Victorian creeks found traces of human medication in river wildlife, though the long-term effects are yet to be fully understood.
Medical waste disposal is highly regulated and should be managed by a services provider licenced to safely collect and dispose of all types of medications and pharmaceutical by-products.
Hazardous waste leaching into the environment
Hazardous waste such as fuel oils, cooking oils, disinfectants, paints and cosmetics can damage the environment, wildlife and human health.
For householders, there are drop-off events such as Detox your Home in Victoria that will accept hazardous waste. Leftover paint and its related packaging are collected and recycled through Paintback. You can also drop off leftover paint at most local transfer stations, as well as batteries, fluorescent lights and motor oil.
Businesses with difficult to manage waste should contact their waste management provider for advice. A certified “trackable” waste transporter will be able to explain how your waste is processed, including tracking and documentation on how and where your waste is recycled or disposed.
Safe, efficient and documented disposal is critical to avoiding stockpiling that can put local communities at risk. Most recently there was a major factory fire in Melbourne involving flammable solvents that resulted in two workers sustaining significant injuries along with other major community impacts including the closure of several schools and other evacuations.
Don’t take the risk
A reputable waste management service provider can go a long way to help prevent these horror stories from happening. It’s more than simply collecting your waste, but helping your business minimise waste production and maximise recovery to meet your economic, environmental and social bottom lines.
Whether its medical waste, grease trap servicing or hazardous waste collection, disposal and recycling, Cleanaway offers a total range of waste management solutions with complete waste tracking from source to disposal and full compliance with all state regulations.
Container return or deposit programs are proving to be a successful way to maximise recycling and recovery.
What is a container deposit scheme?
Container deposit schemes incentivise consumers to return their beverage containers to a collection point by offering a small cash or voucher refund. They aim to encourage recycling by rewarding good recycling behaviour, which means less containers disposed in general waste or littered. Returns are made at designated collection points, which can include reverse vending machines (RVMs), over-the-counter at shops or charity organisations, or large collection depots.
Container deposit schemes work
The main driver is the financial incentive, where customers can get back between five to ten cents for every container deposited. The more containers returned equals the more money you can earn. They’re also a fundraising channel, often used by schools, clubs, teams and community groups to raise money through container or cash donations.
One of the most efficient ways to recycle is to separate materials at the point of disposal. This decreases sorting costs at the Material Recovery Facility and increases quality by removing contaminants. Because container deposit schemes create a single stream for beverage container material, they promote source separated recycling and improve recycling outputs.
Widespread awareness of the scheme’s positive benefits further encourages people to recycle their containers over general waste disposal.
South Australia was the first state to adopt the scheme back in 1977. SA currently has an overall return rate of 76.9%. Last year alone, almost 603 million containers (42,913 tonnes) were recovered by collection depots for recycling. With the refund scheme, beverage containers make up only 2.8% of litter in the state.
In January 2019, the state’s Minister for Environment and Water announced a review of the scheme to investigate ways to build on their success and further recycling and litter reduction efforts.
The Northern Territory launched their CDS in 2012, with beverage container litter dropping by 50% in the first year. By 2016, the stream had decreased to a record low of 24% litter by volume. The state also reported a significant 34.5% decline in overall litter, mainly attributed to lower volumes of takeaway packaging and beverage containers in the litter stream.
New South Wales
New South Wales introduced their Return and Earn scheme in the end of 2017. Since then, they have successfully brought down their total litter volume down by almost half, with drink containers hitting an all-time low of 37%. The state is currently well on track to reaching its goal of a 40% state-wide reduction by 2020.
As of 15 March 2019, Return and Earn announced that more than 1.5 billion containers had been returned since the scheme started.
With close to three billion beverage containers in circulation, in November 2018 the state kicked off their container refund scheme, called Containers for Change. At the time of writing over 300 million containers had been returned through the scheme.
Western Australia reported that around 47.5% of its total litter were beverage containers. WA has committed to begin a CDS in January 2020 as part of their efforts to lift the state’s low recycling rates.
How else can you make a difference?
Maximise commingled recycling
Don’t ruin good quality recycling by contaminating your commingled bin. Make sure your beverage containers are clean, dry and empty before disposing of them in the bin.
Minimise single-use products
Reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place by avoiding single-use containers and other products wherever possible. Go reusable instead.
Buy products made from recycled material
Prevent materials from ending up in a landfill and maintain demand for recyclables while ensuring that recycling programs remain viable.
Contact us to find out how we make a sustainable future possible through our partnerships with government, industry and the community.
Recycling and good bin behaviour is easy once you’re in the right routine. That can be difficult for adults who have years of embedded habits and too many other things to think about. Young people, on the other hand, love learning new things and get a kick out of finding out how things work. So why not get them started on good sustainability behaviour early? Imagine what they’ll be able to teach us about our impact on the world!
Make sustainability part of the lesson plan
Sustainability lessons in school are a fun and easy way to start teaching recycling early. Kids are surrounded by everyday examples of waste materials and schools can set up really clear bin education that supports and reinforces correct behaviour.
“The idea is they teach mum and dad, grandparents, brothers and sisters, anyone who’ll listen and we basically try and get them to promote recycling and, sustainability,” says Cleanaway Education Officer Lisa Mansfield.
Our education officers in NSW have been running kNOw Waste™ since 2007. The program’s train-the-trainer approach means students often end up teaching their peers and family with an average reach of 2.7 people per household. Communities usually report a positive impact on kerbside recycling contamination rates after program delivery.
In WA, the ABC reported that councils that engaged the longest with Cleanaway’s education programs have the lowest rates of contamination, making it one of the most cost-effective methods of education.
Looking for fun ways to fit litter into your lesson plan? Here are five ways to get started.
Incursions can be an exciting way to get students involved and excited about recycling. We regularly visit schools across the country to discuss the importance of recycling correctly, and sustainability at home and in school. The highlight for the kids is seeing our trucks in action, especially the rear lift mechanics.
Get the basics right at home
Kids mimic our behaviours both good and bad, so it’s important that we set the right example for them at home.
This means putting the right waste in the kerbside recycling bin – clean, dry, and unbagged. Common contaminants like food waste, textiles and soft plastics should go to general waste or better yet, be recycled separately, upcycled or donated to charity.
Set up a clean recycling station at home that helps everyone sort their waste correctly. Download a bin poster here or check your council website for more local recycling advice.
Teaching kids to sort waste before it reaches the bin not only produces a higher quality stream of material for recycling into new products, but it’s also a fun activity the whole family can get involved in.
Start at the top
True sustainability starts at the point of purchase and waste production. Make the waste hierarchy a household mantra by focusing on avoiding waste production like not buying single-use packaging or eating all the food in the fridge without waste. Work down the hierarchy and come up with different ways you can be more sustainable.
Container deposit schemes in New South Wales, South Australia and most recently Queensland, are a perfect example of how incentivising kids can be an effective tool for sustainability. Under these schemes, eligible beverage containers made of plastics, glass, aluminium, steel and liquid paperboard can be returned to collection centres for a refund.
There are many examples of kids across the country embracing container deposit schemes as a fun way to do their bit for the environment and in some cases, for the benefit the community. Here are just a few:
Nine-year old Charlie Crouch from Moree returned over 5,000 containers in just three weeks and used the refunds earned to buy himself a golf cart. To set an example for other kids across the country, Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall named Charlie the state’s top container deposit recycler and encouraged others to follow his lead.
10-year-old Taran Vallentine from Queensland’s raised more than $350 collecting containers over the school holidays and he decided to donate it to a food bank to help people who don’t have enough food.
Vinnie’s Container Deposit Centre is another example of a community organisation doing it right by encouraging kids for sustainability. They rewarded young Hamish and his mom for regularly depositing around 200 containers each month.
Meet Noah, our Eco-champion
Noah has been obsessed with everything Cleanaway since he helped his aunt, Kelly Seibold during Clean Up Australia Day last year. Noah even started ‘Cleanaway Clean Up’ in his school oval to pick up rubbish. Whenever he gets the chance, Noah waits for Cleanaway trucks at home and looks out for our compactors behind major shopping centres.
Cleanaway’s Hugo Parris, Resource Recovery Manager at our Hemmant commercial recycling sorting and baling facility, took Noah for a tour of the plant, where he was thrilled to learn all about how trucks, front end loaders, conveyor belts and sorters work.
When Ian Kiernan started Clean Up Australia 30 years ago, he called out Australia’s increasing dependence on single-use items. Today, we’re seeing record numbers of single-use litter found in our streets, waterways, and bushland.
In announcing this year’s Rubbish Report, Pip Kiernan, newly announced Chairman of Clean Up Australia and daughter of Ian Kiernan said “30 years ago my dad predicted the problems that single-use plastic would pose. Since then we have seen ever increasing dependence on plastic as a throw away-item – and that needs to change. The choice is simple – take action or plastics will continue to be a problem well into the future.”
According to the 2018 Rubbish Report, litter directly associated with single-use packaging is the number one source of rubbish reported by volunteers. In 2018, it was as high as 88% of all reported items. Of this, food packaging represented just under 19%, non-food packaging over 26%, beverage containers 18%, beverage rubbish 11.8%, chip and confectionery wrappers recorded 7% and plastic bags 4.5%.
Is plastic itself the problem?
Plastic is a lightweight, durable and versatile material, and is less resource-intensive to produce than paper. Plastic is recyclable when properly separated and disposed of correctly. Hard plastic can be recycled when processed with commingled recycling or through container return schemes. Soft plastic can be recycled if collected and taken to major supermarkets through their soft plastics recycling service. Businesses may also be able to choose a soft plastic recycling service from Cleanaway.
Unfortunately though, when plastic is carelessly discarded it litters our streets, waterways and oceans, causing serious harm to wildlife and this is where the problem lies.
What is being done to keep packaging out of the environment?
Tangible packaging waste targets set
Regulators are working with industry to reduce the amount of packaging waste produced while increasing options for recycling. Last year, the Meeting of Environment Ministers endorsed a target of 100% of Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.
This meeting resulted in the 2025 National Packaging Waste Target, which aims to:
Make 100% of all Australia’s packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier
Make 70% of Australia’s plastic packaging recyclable or compostable by 2025
Include an average of 30 recycled content across all packaging by 2025
Phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through design, innovation or introduction of alternatives
The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) is supporting the initiative through its representation of over 900 leading companies such as Aldi, ALGA, Close the Loop, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, Nestlé, Planet Ark, REDcycle, Unilever and Woolworths.
Improvements in resource recovery infrastructure and planning
The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) recently released a 10-point plan for results-based recycling, which has been submitted to regulators for consultation. Recommendations outlined in the plan include:
Standardising recycling methods
Optimising container deposit schemes to promote domestic recycling
A national recycling infrastructure audit
Development of new metrics for waste, recycling and resource recovery activity
$1.5 billion investment of waste disposal levy funds into recycling
Cleanaway has been investing in Australia’s resource recovery infrastructure to support communities in managing their growing waste. We call it our Footprint 2025 roadmap – state-of-art facilities designed to maximise diversion such as the Eastern Creek Container Sorting Facility that processes containers collected through the NSW Container Deposit Scheme.
Read more about our recent investments in Australia’s future here.
Stewardship by leading companies
Nestlé has set its own global goals to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, and to send zero waste to landfill by 2020. The initiatives include EcodEx, a packaging eco-design tool designed to measure the environmental performance of a packed food product, which it uses in new product development.
At a local level, the multinational company is using its online Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal (PREP) to assess the recyclability of its packaging and assist in building design for recycling up front in new product development processes.
What can you do to play your part?
For the individual, the everyday decisions we make about consumption can make a huge impact on sustainability.
Participate in Clean Up Australia
Out of sight, out of mind. Actually seeing the amount of litter up around us is one of the best ways to highlight our dependence on single-use plastic and packaging. Initiatives like Clean Up Australia and Plastic Free July aim to inspire people to reduce plastic waste by casting a spotlight on its impact on our environment.
Let the waste hierarchy guide you
While recycling is essential in reducing the number of packaging waste sent to landfill, avoiding non-essential packaging in the first place is the best way to start. The waste hierarchy can be used as a guideline where disposal is considered the last option for an item at the end of its useful life.
Take up the Nude Food challenge
A great way to reduce packaging waste, the nude food challenge helps avoid unnecessary packaging for your food. This accomplishes three goals: you and your family get to eat and live well, packaging waste can be reduced without being sent to landfill and cost savings are made possible in the long run.
Visit your nearest REDCycle
The REDcycle Program makes it easy to divert plastic bags and packaging waste away from landfill. Find REDCycle points closest to you before dropping off eligible food and non-food packaging such as:
Biscuit packets (wrappers only)
Paper goods packaging
Pasta and rice bags
Frozen food and veggie bags
Old green bags
Cereal box liners
Partner with us and learn more about our bespoke waste management solutions if you want your packaging waste recycled, not sent to landfill.