Can I recycle my pizza box? Do I need to wash out my tins before they go in the recycling bin? What do I do with my coffee cup? With the help of Planet Ark we’ve answered some of the most common questions about recycling.
1. Does recycling have to be clean and dry?
A quick rinse is all that’s needed. Common recyclables like plastic and metals don’t have to be squeaky clean. A rinse in the dirty dishwashing water will do the trick – and save water in the process! As for cardboard, just make sure you remove any food or major grease stains. If it’s really dirty, put it in the landfill (red) bin.
2. Where do I put food containers?
Most plastic containers that food comes in can be recycled – just make sure you remove all the food first. You also need to distinguish between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ plastics. Soft plastics are ‘scrunchable’, which means they don’t pop back to their original shape. These need to go in the REDcycle bin at your local supermarket – whereas hard plastics can go in the yellow bin.
Paper containers can go in your yellow bin, but make sure they’re not greasy with oil (if the paper looks ‘wet’, put it in the red bin). Biodegradable containers need to go into the red bin because they will just break down into little pieces.
3. What should I do with my compostable containers?
While compostable might seem like the most sustainable alternative, you still need an organics recycling bin to break it down – the Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO) bin. So if you don’t have a compost or organics bin, it needs to go into the red bin. It can’t be recycled.
But don’t stress – the main environmental benefits of using compostable containers lies in the manufacturing process, so it’s still better than using virgin plastic (ie, plastic that has been made from new materials).
4. Can coloured plastic be recycled?
It depends on the colour and type of plastics. For example, some black plastic has carbon black dye which means it can't be sorted correctly – so it won’t be recycled.
In general, opaque plastic has less value in the recycling market than clear plastic. If in doubt look at the label – especially when the Australasian Recycling Label launches (more on that below).
5. What about paper with a plastic covering?
It’s neither paper, nor plastic, so this one can be confusing! If in doubt, check with your council or business waste contractor.
The plastic coating on paper can be important because it’s used as a protective barrier for the product inside. If damaged, the product would all go to waste which has a much higher environmental impacts than not being able to recycle the packaging. So while it’s not a perfect solution, it’s better than nothing.
6. Can I recycle my coffee pods?
Some brands of coffee pods are recyclable but not through your kerbside recycling. This is because they are too small and fly off the recycling conveyor belt. But also because a lot of them have leftover coffee grounds still inside.
The best thing you can do is to choose a coffee pod brand that offers a recycling service. For example Nespresso has 22,000 collection points in Australia. You can either return them to Nespresso through Australia Post or make sure your workplace has a recycling box.
7. What about takeaway coffee cups?
Coffee cups can’t be recycled. They have a plastic lining to ensure they don’t leak and to insulate your coffee. While there are some councils that do allow recycling of coffee cups, unless you’re 100% sure put it in the landfill bin so it doesn’t contaminate other recycling. Plastic lids can go in your recycling bin.
Of course, the best solution is to get yourself a reusable coffee cup and save the waste!
Look out for the Australasian Recycling Label
Recycling labels have been so confusing, but not any more! The Australasian Recycling Label, launched by Planet Ark last year, spells out how each component of a product needs to be recycled. For example, a box might be recyclable while the plastic wrapping inside needs to be returned to REDcycle bins at the supermarket.