Over 90 per cent of Australians believe recycling is the right thing to do. Per person, recycling is increasing faster than the generation of waste, but are our well-meaning efforts worth it? And where do the products and packaging we responsibly dispose of end up?
Paul Klymenko, CEO of Planet Ark, emphatically believes it's worth everyone's time and energy to use the recycling programs made available outside of our usual council kerbside collection - and the rewards go beyond just looking after our environment.
"Recycling doesn’t just benefit the planet through the use of less energy and water, but also reduces the number of materials that need to be mined, drilled and harvested," Paul tells us. "It also benefits people, with a study across 27 countries finding those who recycle have higher life satisfaction levels and are overall happier people, as a result of the positive emotions associated with doing the ‘right thing’."
So, how do we actually spot a legitimate recycling program?
"A recycler with third-party accreditation is a great way to ensure they’re acting responsibly. In this case, an independent body has reviewed the policies and practices of the recycler," says Paul. "Consumers can also look out for the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) accreditation."
Reputable recyclers will usually be members of waste industry bodies or associations, like the state Waste Contractors and Recyclers Associations.
It's great to hear so many recyclers are acting responsibly, but with little consumer visibility about what happens the behind-the-scenes after we drop off our coffee pods, out-of-date electronics and soft plastic bags to their relevant recycling points, we asked Paul to tell us where our recycled items really end up.
"Once you drop off your old mobile phone at any MobileMuster drop off point, they’re transported to recycling facilities in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane run by TES, a global leader in electronic waste recycling.
"At the recycling facility, the phones are disassembled. This maximises the resource recovery, as each component, such as the battery, accessories and handset, is processed separately and any data on the device is destroyed. Over 99 per cent of materials in a mobile phone are recovered.
"TVs and computers recycled through TechCollect are dismantled, shredded and sorted into various parts and then sent to various facilities for processing in Australia and overseas.
"Plastic mobile phone cases can be used to make shipping pallets, while the lithium from batteries can be reused to make new batteries and even extracted gold can be made into jewellery.
"The leaded glass from TVs and computers can be recycled into lead for batteries and building materials, glass can be made into concrete building products and steel from laptop computers batteries can be made into new steel products.
"Australians have helped MobileMuster recycle over 11 million items and recover enough steel to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge!"
"Nespresso offers four ways to recycle your used capsules – participating in a bulk recycling collection initiative, returning them to a Nespresso boutique, dropping them at a recycling collection point or using a special Australia Post satchel. After the coffee capsules are picked up from the recycling points, they’re sent to a recycling plant in Nowra, NSW.
"Once the used capsules reach this plant, the aluminium is separated from the residual coffee. The coffee is sent to an industrial facility to be transformed into compost, while the aluminium is recycled and returned to the aluminium industry.
"Nespresso's recycling program sits within a broader commitment to sustainability, including its work with local coffee farmers around the world to create shared value for both farmers and their communities."
"The baled soft plastics go through a shredder and granulator, then are further densified and blended with other materials to produce the properties and colour needed for the next step. Fully-automated robotics are used to create the various products.
"Replas turn soft plastics into boardwalks, speed humps, outdoor seats and tables and bollards. Close the Loop has partnered with Downer to produce a road surface that uses recycled soft plastics."
"Whether in one of the 30,000 workplaces or retailer drop off points, printer cartridges collected through the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program are transported to Close the Loop’s processing facility in Victoria. The transport, processing and consumer education is paid for by the participating manufacturers: Brother, Canon, Epson, HP, Konica Minolta and Kyocera.
"At Close the Loop, cartridges are sorted, and their brand and type recorded. Some are sent back to the original equipment manufacturers for re-manufacturing or component recovery, the rest are processed through the patented, Australian-made Green Machine, which shreds the cartridges into smaller particles.
"Magnets are used to remove iron-based metals while eddy currents are used to remove aluminium. The other materials are further filtered, upgraded and used instead of virgin materials in manufacturing. This is all achieved with zero waste going to landfill.
"Most of the materials are returned to manufacturers to make new cartridges but Close the Loop have also used the recycled materials to produce pens, eWood garden beds, benches, fencing and flooring.
"Close the Loop is independently audited on an annual basis to verify that zero waste is sent to landfill."
"Paintback is an independent not-for-profit organisation, funded through a levy on eligible paint products. Once households and trade painters take their unwanted paint and packaging to a Paintback site, it's stored ready for pick up and then transported for treatment.
"The paint and packaging are separated with the containers recycled, subject to contamination. The waste paint is treated in a number of ways, significantly minimising landfill over alternative practices.
"The water is separated from water-based paint and used in cement mixing and other industrial applications, solvent paint is used as an alternative energy source. Paintback’s program is working to achieve 100 per cent diversion from landfill.
"The Australian Government and paint manufacturers worked to support the creation of this national product stewardship scheme and so far over six million kilograms of paint has been collected for responsible disposal."