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For a short time in 2019, recycling collections in some Victorian council areas were sent to landfill. Changes to global recycling markets in 2019 left many recycling businesses with few buyers for some materials. This led to an oversupply and a major drop in the value of these materials.
These challenges forced one large recycling company to go out of business. This left several council areas without a recycling service. While some council areas soon gained new recycling providers, many had no choice but to send recyclables to landfill during that time.
Since then, another provider has taken over the sorting facility and recycling has resumed in the remaining areas.
To prevent these issues in future, in 2020 the Victorian Government released its plan, Recycling Victoria: a new economy. The plan will cut pollution and boost economic growth and jobs.
Recycling is contaminated when the wrong items are placed in the recycling bin.
These wrong items can damage sorting equipment and risk worker safety. They can also damage recyclables, making them hard to resell. Most damaged recyclables end up in landfill.
So you’ve sorted your recycling correctly and put the bin out for collection on the kerbside. What happens next?
After your recycling bin gets collected by a recycling truck, it then heads to a sorting facility called a Materials Recovery Facility, or ‘MRF’ for short.
Your recyclables are then put on a conveyer belt to get sorted into different recycling categories such as paper, cardboard, plastic, steel, aluminium and glass.
It’s a big job and takes a combination of people power, those who manually sort items on a moving conveyer belts, and high-tech sorting machines.
Before your recycling hits the automated sorting machines, pre-sorters pick out items that aren’t recyclable. But they can’t pick out everything that doesn’t belong on the fast moving conveyer belt. These items are called contaminants and include things such as soft plastics, recycling in plastic bags and clothing. Contaminants get caught up in the sorting machines and can be dangerous to employees.
Contaminants cause problems to those who buy our recycled paper, plastic and metal to make new products. A few plastic bags mixed into a pile of paper can mean the recycled paper can’t be used to produce new high-quality paper.
At the MRF, different machines sort different types of recyclable materials. Powerful magnets pick up steel cans and optical scanners separate paper and plastic.
At the end of the process, paper, cardboard, plastic, steel and aluminium all get sorted into separate groups and made into large bundles known as bales.
Glass is the only material that does not get baled. It goes into silos to be transported to a glass colour-sorting facility. Once glass is coloured, it stays that colour. So the glass in a green drink bottle will be green forever. Glass is sorted into the same colour so it can be recycled correctly.
Separated materials are then transported to processing facilities so that they can be prepared for turning into new products.
A hard plastics processor, like Advanced Circular Polymers, will turn the plastics into flakes, wash them and then sort them by colour. The flakes are then sold to plastic manufacturers to become new products, like bottles and containers.
Paper and cardboard is often processed and turned into new products in the same manufacturing facility. The bales are first pulped in a large vat of water to remove any plastic and glue. Next the inks are removed, then the pulp is dried and ironed under heavy rollers to remove any remaining water, and to flatten it into new paper.
Glass is crushed and melted into a new product called 'cullet', which is often sent to another plant to remove any contaminants. The clean cullets are then crushed further and melted in a furnace. The molten glass is then poured into moulds to become new jars, bottles and fibreglass.
Glass does not degrade through the recycling process, so it can be recycled again and again.
Aluminium bales are processed at a facility called a smelter, where they are shredded and passed under another magnet to remove any remaining steel. A 'decoater' blasts hot air onto the pieces to remove any paint. They are then melted in a furnace to form a liquid, which is poured into moulds to form blocks called 'ingots'. The ingots are sent to mills where they are flattened into sheets, which are then ready to be turned into new products, such as cans.
It might be a road you drive on every day, the railway sleepers your train passes over on your daily commute, or the footpath you walk on in your local park.
All over Victoria, your recycling is being made into new products to minimise waste ending up in landfill and to make the most of existing resources.
This reduces the environmental impact of using new or raw materials to create new products, and is all part of Victoria’s shift to a circular economy.
Recycled materials like glass, rubber, plastic and concrete are going into building roads across Victoria.