Next time you have takeaway pizza, think twice before putting it into your recycling bin. (Unsplash: Alexandra Gorn)
As China crackdowns on the standard of waste it will import, many Australians are still confused about what can and can’t be recycled.
Under its National Sword policy, China has decided to accept only material with a lower contamination rate, no more than 0.5 per cent.
Planet Ark said that in Australia alone, 619,000 tonnes of materials per annum may be affected by the restrictions.
City of Sydney councillor Linda Scott said that would mean things such as used pizza boxes with grease on the base would become too contaminated for China to accept.
“So this kind of material needs to be put in normal waste bins,” she said.
But despite local councils around Australia spending a lot of time and money educating people about what they can and cannot recycle, it’s still pretty confusing.
Can I recycle my used pizza box?
The answer to that is not a simple “yes” or “no”.
Ryan Collins, recycling programs manager at Planet Ark, said the first thing to do is check with your local council.
“Councils have different waste management companies, they potentially have different rules,” he said.
What can be put in recycling bins?
- Newspaper, glossy magazines, phone directories, junk mail
- Cardboard boxes and general cardboard, such as toilet rolls
- Office paper, scrap paper and other general paper, such as envelopes
- Liquid paperboard such as milk and juice cartons
- Plastic products with identification codes 1-7
- Empty steel cans, aluminium soft drink cans, clean aluminium foil and pie trays, empty aerosol cans
- Empty glass bottles and jars
“With pizza boxes there’s a big risk that there will be food and grease, so a lot of councils are saying no to pizza boxes.”
Mr Collins said it all came down to the waste companies the council used, whether their waste was being sent to China, or another country, or remaining in Australia to be recycled.
A waste company will get less money for a product with grease and food left on it, and so many councils have decided to say no to products like pizza boxes going into the recycling bin.
One problem many consumers have is the differing labels found on packaging, some pizza boxes have a recyclable logo on them and others do not.
To try and help with this problem Planet Ark are working with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to introduce a standardised recycling label that is evidence based.
So if you can’t recycle your pizza box, what do you do with it?
Mr Collins said they could be placed in a compost bin or a worm farm.
Another idea from Mr Collins was to rip off the top of the pizza box that generally has no grease on it and put that in the recycling bin.
He also said some pizza chains put a layer of cardboard between the pizza and the box to keep the grease off
What about green bins?
According to Clean Up Australia, 47 per cent of Australia’s household waste is made up of organic waste like food scraps and garden cuttings.
Most councils have always supplied bins for garden waste, but now a number of them have started introducing green waste collections for people to put their food organics.
“And as those systems grow and we’re able to deal with that type of waste, then hopefully that’s going to be one of the solutions for this,” he said.
What can and can’t be recycled?
When it comes to plastic there are many types, and it can be hard to know what can or cannot be put in the recycling bins.
What can’t be put in recycling bins?
- Paper and cardboard heavily contaminated with food or grease
- Bases and other takeaway packaging
- Wax coated cardboard, such as fruit boxes
- Plastic bags
- Ceramics, cookware and crockery
- Oven-proof glass, medical glass, light bulbs, broken drinking glass
Mildura Rural City Council’s poster to explain what goes in which bin. (Supplied: Mildura Rural City Council)
Mr Collins said a big no no was plastic bags and any soft plastics — things like bread bags, pasta bags and dry cleaning bags.
“They can all be recycled at local drop off points such as supermarkets that have the red cycle bins,” he said.
Most metropolitan supermarkets have these bins.
“Some of the other issues, a household putting their recyclables in a plastic bag and then putting that in the recycling bin — those recyclables aren’t going to be recycled,” Mr Collins said.
One plastic bag will contaminate the whole load, causing havoc with the machinery at the recycling plants.
“So basically the manual workers just take those out and that goes to landfill,” he said.
“So don’t put your recyclables in a plastic bag.”
What about strawberry or blueberry punnet plastic containers?
Mr Collins said those were fine to recycle. But not polystyrene, which cannot be recycled.
To find out more about what can or cannot be recycled, and even where certain materials can be taken to be recycled, Planet Ark run a website called Recycling Near You.
Are consumers getting better?
Mr Collins said when it came to coffee cups at least, programs such as the ABC’s War on Waste appeared to have made a difference in consumer behaviour.
“Anecdotally I’ve definitely seen an increase in the use of reusable coffee cups in cafes,” he said.
“After The War on Waste I do know that keep cup sales went up about 400 per cent, after the first three episodes.
“As well there are many more responsible cafes — cafes that offer a discount for people using reusable coffee cups.
“Before The War on Waste there were about 450 cafe’s registered, and after it’s over 3,000.”