What happens to my recycling?
Published on 08 August 2017
Last night's episode of ABC TV's current affairs program Four Corners highlighted some of the challenges facing the recycling industry in Australia.
Here in Northern Tasmania, around 85% to 90% of the items collected in kerbside recycling are recycled, with relatively low contamination rates of about 10% to 15%.
This means that about 10% to 15% of the items collected in kerbside recycling consist of non-recyclable items, or contaminated items which can't be recycled, and have to be placed into landfill. The common sorts of contamination we see are plastic bags containing food, nappies, green waste and other household rubbish.
Last night's program had a particular focus on the re-use and recycling of glass.
Once a relatively valuable recycling commodity, recycled glass has fallen in value compared to more lucrative recyclables like copper, aluminium and steel.
On the mainland, some recycling companies are stockpiling glass, as shown in last night's Four Corners story, presumably awaiting an increase in the commodity's value or new processing innovations to value add to recycled glass.
Here in Northern Tasmania, the situation is a little different.
With a smaller population, we have lower volumes of glass to deal with, and while we're also affected by the commodity price slump in glass, we're fortunate to be able to re-use an estimated 85% of the glass put into kerbside recycling.
If you've driven on a road in Launceston recently, chances are you've driven on an asphalt road mixed with glass.
Next time you're at the Launceston Waste Centre, you may notice the roads in that facility are particularly glittery, featuring a high proportion of glass.
Next time you buy pavers or bricks from local companies, you may also find glass is used in some of their products.
Unfortunately, similar to the overall recycling contamination figures, about 15% of the glass collected in kerbside recycling is contaminated in some way, most typically with jar and bottle lids. You can help us reduce this percentage by removing non-recyclable lids from jars and bottles and placing them in your kerbside rubbish bin.
While we're on the subject, you may be interested to know what happens to other recyclable items in Northern Tasmania.
Glass, as we've seen, is incorporated into paver and brick products, and in asphalt for roads and highways.
All cardboard is recycled to produce new cardboard boxes.
The majority of newsprint is sent to Victoria and recycled into egg cartons. Some newsprint is shipped overseas and used in paper mills to produce new paper.
High density polyethylene (or HDPE) plastic is granulated and recycled into milk bottles, plant pots and clothing.
PET plastic is recycled into plant pots and clothing.
Mixed plastics are recycled into low-pressure irrigation pipes.
Steel and aluminium are recycled into new steel and aluminium products.
One subject last night's program did not raise was that we all have a choices and responsibilities as consumers.
We choose which products we buy, and which businesses we support. We each have the ability to choose products which are packaged in more environmentally friendly ways, or how carefully we recycle or re-use materials.
At the City of Launceston, our focus is on diverting waste from landfill, because it's the environmentally friendly thing to do, and because landfills are extremely expensive pieces of infrastructure that must last us many years.