Keep up your good recycling habits

07 March 2019

There are a lot of challenges facing Victoria’s recycling processing following the recent closure of several recycling facilities due to Environment Protection Authority (EPA) safety breaches. Despite this, it’s as important as ever to keep up your good habits and continue to recycle. Why not use this as an opportunity to pick up some new information about recycling correctly and how you can reduce your waste in the first place. 

Want to know more about the current situation? 

What can you do if your recycling is going to landfill?

1. Keep recycling and get it right

Recycled bottles illustrationIt’s more important now than ever to make sure that our recycling is sorted correctly.

Even if you think that it's all going to landfill, continue to sort your recycling as the situation may change quickly as possible alternatives become available. 

Recycling should be loose in the bin. Do not put recycling in plastic bags. Bagged recyclables can be a hazard to sorters and can clog the machinery at processing facilities. Plastic bags and other soft plastics, like bread bags, can be recycled through RedCycle bins at major supermarkets. Find out where to RedCycle near you. 

Textiles, including clothing and shoes can’t be put in household recycling bins, they are considered contaminants and can clog machines. There are many alternative disposal options, including donating and selling. Find out more about reducing, reusing and recycling your unwanted clothing

E-waste (items which use cords and plugs, or batteries) can’t be recycled through kerbside collections. Check with your council as e-waste recycling might happen in your area.

The Victorian Government is banning e-waste in landfills from July 2019 and is investing in upgrading processing facilities across the State. Learn more about the e-waste program.

Other items like fluorescent tubes, paint, and batteries can be recycled by different pathways, but not through kerbside collections. Find your nearest site for free disposal of household paint, batteries and fluorescent lights. 

2. Avoid creating waste

Waste avoidance is the best option to reduce the volume of recycling being processed. 

A lot of kerbside recycling is food packaging, so you can make a difference when shopping by avoiding unnecessary packaging and trying reusable items where you can.

  • Buy in bulk or buy larger-volume packages rather than individual items and transfer to smaller reusable containers (for example: buy a one-litre yoghurt tub rather than a smaller six-pack) 
  • Use reusable containers such as water bottles, coffee cups, packaging and shopping/produce bags to reduce packaging
  • Look for reusable covers like beeswax wraps or silicon stretchable and washable wraps instead of cling wrap and foil
  • Eat in rather than getting takeaway or try taking your own reusable containers – this is happening more every day
  • Make some longer terms changes when you see what works for your household, and reduce your general waste as well. A great place to start is with sustainable shopping and making the best choices for you and the environment when it’s purchasing time.

3. Safely store recycling at home

Family recycling

If your recycling bin isn't full, skip the next collection. Many councils have fortnightly recycling collections and the situation might have changed by then. Make more room in the bin by squashing items that can be flattened, like juice or milk cartons, egg cartons, or cereal boxes.

4. Reuse or re-home items

Vets and animal shelters might be able to use newspapers for animal beds or schools and kindergartens might be able to use clean items like egg cartons, cereal boxes and plastic bottles for craft supplies. Check in first to see if these items are needed before dropping them off. 

5. Check what's happening in your council

Not all councils are currently affected, and some of those affected have found alternatives to landfill, so don’t assume that your items are being sent to landfill. Check with your council to get the most up to date information for your area. 

Recommendations can change from one day to the next as councils work through their options. The Victorian Government is working hard to find temporary, safe storage locations for recycling, and if councils are temporarily sending items to landfill, it is as a last resort and means that they are unable to process it elsewhere or safely store it. 
Protecting the health and safety of Victorians is the first priority.

What is happening with recycling in Victoria?

Some Victorian councils have been forced to send their recycling to landfill due to the closure of several SKM recycling facilities. SKM is a major recycling processor in Victoria – it services 34 regional and metropolitan councils in Victoria, accounting for more than half of Victoria’s kerbside recycling. They receive mixed recycling that is collected by Victorian councils and process the commingled recycling at their facilities. It is sorted according to streams of waste (i.e. paper, glass, metal) baled up into large bales and in the past, some of this waste has been sent to China for further sorting.

Why is it happening now?

In January 2018, China imposed strict quality standards on the import of low quality mixed recyclables, including paper and plastic, known as the 'National Sword' policy. This change to international market conditions has led to processors stockpiling recyclables at storage facilities, in the hope of finding new markets for this product. 

The EPA is responsible for inspecting these facilities to make sure that they do not pose a hazard to the public as recycling can be vulnerable to fire. In 2017, a major blaze occurred at the SKM recycling facility in Coolaroo due to the stockpiling of recyclable materials. This blaze burned for 11 days with surrounding residents being evacuated from their homes and some reporting health issues. 

An inspection in February of SKM facilities in Laverton and Coolaroo resulted in the EPA banning SKM from accepting any further recyclables for health and safety reasons until the current stockpiles were cleared.

UPDATE: On 12 March, the EPA inspected the Laverton site and determined that SKM had met the conditions of the notice served on them and that they are able to resume accepting recyclable waste materials at this site.

What is the State Government doing to assist?

The Victorian Government is working in partnership with the 34 affected councils to identify contingency arrangements and minimise disruption to kerbside recycling collections. Several affected councils have found alternatives to sending their recycling to landfill.  

Long-term initiatives are being supported by the release of the Recycling Industry Strategic Plan, a $37 million-dollar investment in Victoria’s recycling system. Find out more about how the Victorian Government delivers on recycling with a plan for a ‘safe, resilient and efficient’ recycling system.   

What is Sustainability Victoria doing?

Under the Recycling Industry Strategic Plan, Sustainability Victoria (SV) introduced a range of short, medium and long term initiatives that were commenced progressively during 2018, starting within weeks of the introduction of China’s 'National Sword' policy. Further investment is continuing through 2019 and beyond.

SV is helping Victoria’s recycling sector to grow and build new products that can use recycled products. This plan aims to stabilise the recycling sector, increase the quality of recycled materials, improve productivity of the recycling sector and to develop markets for recovered materials.

SV is helping: 

  • Householders – advising on ways to reduce waste, reuse items and letting you know what can and can’t be recycled  
  • Local Government – grants for processing recycling, immediate relief to keep operations running smoothly and e-waste recycling infrastructure
  • State Government – Recycling Industry Strategic Plan, researching innovative ways to recycle which are best for our environment and encouraging public uptake of recycled products. Here are some of the areas we have worked in so far:
  • Business and industry – developing a strong Victorian market for the recycling industry via the Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund and advising local business on ways to cut costs and boost productivity. 

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