Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Lately, we have been receiving more and more questions from our customers related to recycling and waste disposal in general with many of you have been asking whether it’s OK to throw away loose garbage. To eliminate any confusion we got in touch with the major city councils across Australia asking them for their final verdict. Continue to read to learn what we have found out! Also, since over 60% of Australians feel that they lack knowledge on the do’s and don’t’s of recycling, we summed up the information on which rubbish goes in which bin. Considering almost all Australians are concerned about the environment but only half believe they are doing enough, we believe that this ultimate guide will make your conscious clear and our environment cleaner:)
What goes in my general waste bin? And can I throw away loose garbage?
In 2006 Australia introduced a national standard for mobile bin colours to keep it more consistent between different councils and states and reduce contamination. Since then dark green or black bins with red lid (or general waste bins) are used for unrecyclable and uncompostable material. Or, in other words, for your household general waste such as:
Packaging (biscuit and cake trays, meat trays, etc.)
Plastic cling wrap
Coffee cups and lids (*surprised? the reason is that their linings are typically made of a polyethylene, which does not belong to your recycling bin)
Coffee pods (*not always you need to put those in your rubbish bin - for example, Nespresso runs a recycling program for its coffee pods with 19,000 collection points across Australia).
Single-use plastic cups, cutlery, plates and straws
Dust from your vacuum cleaner (*wrapped)
Toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes
Fabric (sheets, towels)
Lids (bottles, beer bottles)
Stationery (pen, pencils, binders)
String and twine
Wipes and tissues
You can also place any plastic bags including single-use shopping bags and produce bags into this bin, but know that in this case those would end up in landfill. If you want to be nice to the environment, we recommend you avoid using them altogether by switching to reusable alternatives or bring them to the nearby REDcycle drop off point (more on that below).
But what about single-use plastic garbage bags? Is it possible to stop using those and throw away your garbage loose? We have contacted all major city councils in Australia including The City Council of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart, but also Greater Geelong, Banyule (Victoria) and Gold Coast asking them to confirm whether it’s not against any law to put unbagged garbage in general waste bins. All the aforementioned councils confirmed that there is no rule to bag rubbish when placing it in your general waste bin. Judging from the overall response we got, many councils are in fact encouraging their residents to stop using single-use plastic garbage bags since they acknowledge the problems related to single-use plastics in general. The City of Sydney council even shared with us a link on the article with recommendations on how to go garbage bags-free! Cleaning up plastic waste that pollutes natural environments costs Australian government money and requires additional human resources - it is predicted that the government spends about $4 million every year to clean up plastic bags only. In relation to plastic garbage bags, we found the information that selected councils have on their websites is often contradictory to what we’ve heard while contacting them personally - possibly due their websites being not up-to-date. For that reason we suggest to personally contact your local council in case you seek confirmation on whether they accept loose garbage. At the end of this blog post you can find links for all your states councils.
With all that being said, we recommend to wrap all your wet garbage into an old newspaper. The same applies for the vacuum cleaner dust. All that is to avoid litter, keep your main garbage bin clean and prevent rubbish from getting stuck to its walls.
REDcycle is a program for recycling soft plastics such as plastic bags and packaging, that would otherwise end up in your general waste bin and go straight to landfill. REDcycle partners with main Australian supermarkets - Coles and Woolworths - where it has special drop off points. There you can leave the following items for them to be recycled:
Pasta and rice bags
Biscuit packets (no trays, wrapper only)
Frozen food and veggie bags
Paper goods packaging
Cereal box liners
Before placing anything into the REDcycle bin, you should always do a scrunch test: place it in the bin only if it’s soft plastic and can be scrunched into a ball. For the extensive list of what can be REDcycled please visit here.
What goes in my yellow bin?
9 in 10 Australians believe that recycling is the right thing to do and 85% of us think recycling at home is easy. At the same time many still find Australian recycling rules confusing. So, let’s start from the basics: mixed (commingled) recycling goes into your dark green or black bins with yellow lid. But what exactly goes in the recycling bin? Examples include:
Paper and clean cardboard (books, envelopes including windows, junk paper mail, magazines, newspapers, office paper, wrapping paper)
Plastic plant pots
Clean aluminum foil
Glass jars and bottles
Milk and juice boxes
All hard plastics such as plastic containers and bottles
A recent research study, compiled from sources including focus-groups, publicly available resources and a survey of over 180 Australian councils, identified mistakes in recycling Australians are guilty of. These mistakes may lead to contamination which happens when things that can’t be recycled end up in the recycling system anyway. Contamination can create the whole list of issues such as when recyclable items ending up in landfill, the output of recycled materials is less pure, workers at sorting facilities are put at risk or when recycling machinery is damaged by clogging up. All that might result in increased costs of recycling that may be passed on to residents.
Almost half of the councils that were a part of the research project agreed that number one mistake made by their residents is throwing away soft plastics in recycling bins. Any plastics that can be scrunched into a ball do not belong to your yellow bin! Please, use your nearby REDcycle drop off to get rid of any soft plastics you have.
Nearly same number of Australian councils mentioned bagged recyclables as another large issue in residential recycling bins. Plastic bags (including plastic shopping bags and plastic garbage bags) can’t be recycled - at the sorting facility any bagged recyclables get picked out manually and end up in landfill. If you don’t want all your recycling efforts go to waste, keep your recyclables loose when placing in the recycling bin and return all the plastic bags you have to major supermarkets to be recycled.
Councils also warn that some plastics is non-recyclable. Before placing anything into the recycling bin they recommend to look for an Australian Recycling Label. If you can’t find the label, better leave it out - placing the wrong item into the recycling bin can affect overall recyclability.
You also shouldn’t be placing any polystyrene and clothing into yellow lid bins - it can either be thrown away in your general waste bin or you can find a drop off option via the RecyclingNearYou.com.au website.
Finally - a note for parents - nappies go in the general rubbish bin and never in the recycling bin. The reasons are pretty obvious.
A note on home composting
Here is some more of recycling statistics in Australia: 35% of the average Australian household garbage bin is food waste. Nearly 50% of us are throwing away food scraps in the general waste bin. Food wastage is directly linked to global warming and climate change. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global food loss and waste generate around 8% of total greenhouses gases which affect air quality and contribute to climate change. If food wastage were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world!
Some councils have combined food and garden waste collections. Check your council website to see if your council offers one. Use a bin with a burgundy lid for any food waste a the one with a green lid for any green waste and organics. Disposing of your food waste in such way will help to reduce your individual carbon footprint by reducing landfill waste.
One fifth of the Australian population chooses to dispose of kitchen and food scraps through composting. You can set up your own compost, bokashi bin or worm farm. All three options are designed for breaking down organic waste matter, but work in slightly different ways.
Compost bins would suit best those of you who have bigger gardens and produce larger amounts of food scraps. Compost bins utilise microorganisms and oxygen that turn organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil you can use for your garden and plants.
Worm farms are ideal for homes with small yards, but can be also used if you live in a city apartment with no outdoor space. Worm farms produce rich castings and a fertiliser in a liquid form. You can use this liquid to feed your pot plants - they will thrive! If you have a pet, you would get an additional benefit since worm farms can be used for cat and dog poo.
Having a Bokashi bin would again benefit those that are living in an apartment since they can be used indoors. Bokashi bin will never smell so it’s OK to place it in the kitchen. Just keep in mind that bokashi bins maintenance requires special bran that would need to be sprinkled regularly into the bin’s content in order for the organic waste to turn into compost. The result of all your composting efforts with Bokashi is a nutrient rich liquor that can be collected every couple of days.
If you want to compost your food scraps and organics but don’t know how to utilise the resulting compost, you can always share it with someone else - friends, family members, neighbours and even total strangers using ShareWaste app.
New South Wales: