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Misconceptions and lack of knowledge around recycling

Why some people don’t recycle, and why they really should.

Why are people resistant to recycling?
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You will have noticed all the different kinds of bins with red, yellow, and green lids all marked with various instructions to separate waste and recycle. This handy colour coding system is designed to reduce confusion and contamination, and yet there are still many misconceptions and lack of knowledge around recycling that are compromising efforts.

According to Clean Up Australia, 47% of Australians believe that soft plastics can be recycled; 26% are unaware that food containers need to be rinsed before being recycled, and 15% believe that we can simply dispose of anything in the bin, and it will get sorted at the recycling facility. Over a third of Australians 36% do not believe their waste is properly recycled and 15% believe it all goes to landfill.

According to the 2022 National Waste Report, Australia generated an estimated 75.8 million tonnes of waste in 2020-21, which equates to 2.95 tonnes per person. The report also stated that Australians generated nearly 3% more waste than in 2018-19, while the country’s recycling rate remained stable at 60%.

According to the Cleanaway Recycling Behaviours Research 2022, over a third of Australians (38%) believe it is difficult to find clear instructions on how to recycle and that recycling is confusing (34%). Around 56% of Australians consider unclear product labelling, and unclear and inconsistent information to be the most significant barriers to recycling.
It is also worth noting that more than a quarter of Australians (27%) admit to simply throwing items in the general waste bin if they are unsure whether or not they can be recycled.

Household waste accounts for only a small percentage of the total waste we generate each year, however commercial and industrial waste are the ones that significantly stand out. From manufacturing, construction, retail to the hospitality industry, different businesses generate different kinds of waste that goes into the landfill. In Australia, majority of businesses lack an adequate recycling policy and as a result 37 percent of businesses pile up daily waste owing to a careless recycling process. According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority, a waste bin in a commercial office is made up of 76 percent paper and cardboard, 12 percent food wastes, and 6 percent glass and plastic. According to the Waste Contribution Monthly Report, around 80 percent of business and commercial waste is disposed of in the Sydney Metropolitan Area, while the rest is disposed of in the extended regional areas.

It’s surprising to know that between 10% and 15% of items placed in recycling bins are not recyclable, contaminating loads of recyclables and increasing the amount of waste sent to landfills. To raise awareness and educate people the Australian Government has launched different recycling apps to help people better sort their waste and ensure less plastic waste is sent to landfills. Despite all these efforts, some remain sceptical of recycling’s potential as they believe it’s time-consuming, takes up too much space, and offers little value.

So, why are some people so resistant to recycling?

No space for recycling

No space

It takes space to properly recycle, and for many space is already at a premium. Things like making better purchasing decisions can help to reduce the quantity of packaging you’re left to dispose of each week. Buying in bulk is one great way to save on waste, for example, one large bottle of dishwashing liquid decanted into a small, reusable bottle can save you many smaller bottles being thrown away. A little mindfulness goes a long way, and these small decisions can have a big impact on the environment.

Recycling is a time-consuming process

Time- consuming

Cleaning out take-away containers, jars, bottles, and cans, and then separating them all can feel like a bit of a chore. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but there are ways to make the job a little easier. Don’t allow containers to pile up, this will just mean way too much time spent rinsing all at once. Instead, rinse as you go! The lunchroom is one place where this can really be encouraged, signs reminding staff that once they’ve finished that takeaway meal to give the container a quick rinse before placing it in the (correct!) recycling bin.

how recycling can help in climate change

Doesn’t make a difference

Another reason why people don’t recycle is that they think there is “no hope” left for a change. They believe recycling is pointless as landfills are already overburdened, and climate change is irreversible. However, neglecting to recycle will only lead to environmental deterioration, putting us in dire conditions much sooner. It’s easy to tell yourself that one plastic straw won’t kill all the seals but just imagine for a second if everyone thought this way, your small actions matter, and they do make a difference. The damage we cause to the environment with our collective trash can only be improved through a combined effort to reduce it.

Recycling confusion

Recycling confusion

It’s common for recyclables to be contaminated by unclean or inadequately sorted items, causing the entire load to go into landfill. As people are unaware of what can and cannot be recycled, they recycle non-recyclable products such as plastic, straws, and takeaway containers all in the same bin. There are a ton of recycling guides, mobile apps, and waste disposal service providers that can help you to clear the confusion.

Coloured recycling bins

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