Thursday, May 30, 2024

Audit finds improvement in household recycling

The Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (SSROC) has conducted its eighth waste audit of household bin services, revealing an improvement in household separation and disposal of general waste and recycling. 

Covering 11 councils across Southern Sydney, 46 tonnes of material was collected for the audit, with samples were taken from the red, yellow and green lidded bins from 2,444 randomly selected households in the first half of 2023.

The organisation says the audit revealed that despite an improvement in households separating and disposing of items correctly, many items that could have been recycled were put in the general waste (red) bin. 

By weight, 12% of the general waste bin contained recyclable containers, paper and cardboard that should go into the recycling bin (yellow lidded bin for most councils) to be recycled. A further 2% is garden and lawn materials that should go in the green lidded organics bin.  

The audit revealed 4.6% of the general waste stream was textiles and, concerningly, a significant portion of this was wearable clothing (14% of the 4.6% textiles component). Wearable clothing in good condition could be going to charities and clothing bins for reuse, the Council said.

Another significant portion of the textiles was shoes (12% of the 4.6% textiles component) while the remainder was mostly damaged clothing, linen and carpet.  

The data also showed the top five contaminants in the recycling stream including contaminated paper 4.6% (this is mostly used paper towels and disposable paper products not suitable for recycling), bagged garbage at 2.7%, bagged recyclables 2% (where recyclable items are placed in a plastic bag, preventing them for being recycled), then smaller amounts of non-recyclable plastics (soft plastics, and non-recyclable plastic containers) and textiles. 

“When people put their recyclable items in a plastic bag and then into the recycling bin, their efforts to recycle are completely wasted. Staff working in the recycling sorting facility can’t open each plastic bag for both safety reasons and because they are sorting through huge volumes of recycling on fast-moving conveyor belts every minute. Plastic bags also need to be removed because the bags can get caught in the machinery,” said SSROC President, John Faker.

“The data also shows that if households unbag their recycling, by emptying recyclable containers, paper and cardboard loose into the recycling bin, and keep plastic bags out of the recycling bin then we will be able to increase the amount of recyclable items that can be recovered.”

Mr Faker said that while the overall times series from eight consecutive waste audits since 1999 show a general reduction of garden organics, food, recyclable material and other waste the amount of containerised food and liquid, non-recyclable paper and soft plastics has increased over the years. 

At 12% of the general waste stream, containerised food and liquid presents an opportunity for increasing resource recovery, he said. If households empty and rinse containers, removing all food and liquids, then that container can be recycled. 

While contamination in the commingled recycling stream has continued to increase, households have the greatest opportunity to reduce recycling going to landfill, but awareness and further education will be key to that success, the Council said in a statement.

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