Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle (And Where to Recycle Them)
Just because something can't be recycled in your curbside bin doesn't mean it can't be recycled! We are lucky enough to have some other amazing avenues through which we can recycle in Australia, like Redcycle, Simply Cups and TerraCycle. We list the things you didn’t know you could recycle…
While zero waste is the goal, minimal waste is the reality and we will all continue to create some waste until society changes overall. This is why having awesome companies like Redcycle, Simply Cups and TerraCycle and special council recycling initiatives is so important. Through these, the waste we do create can at least be recycled and used again in another form.
This waste usually does end up in landfill eventually, so recycling is not ideal and not the solution, but it is better than sending stuff straight to landfill.
We list the waste you should start collecting and recycling below, and share how and where it can be recycled in Australia.
1. Soft plastics
REDcycle changed the soft plastics game in Australia! For ages it couldn’t be recycled and had to go to landfill, but now soft plastics can be recycled through REDcycle.
A voluntary, industry-led initiative developed by Melbourne-based organisation, RED Group,the REDcycle Program partners with Replas, which makes products using the recycled soft plastic, such as park benches, fences, fitness trails, signs and traffic control products.
There is an extensive list of what you can and can’t REDcycle on their site, but basically, you can recycle dry, empty soft plastic through the program. How do you know if a plastic is a soft plastic? Do the scrunch test! If it can be easily scrunched into a ball, it is soft plastic. For example, bread bags, biscuit packet wrappers, pasta and rice bags, frozen food and veggie bags, confectionary bags, plastic bags, cereal box liners and chocolate wrappers are all soft plastic.
You can even recycle fruit stickers through the service by sticking them to a piece of soft plastic! Other larger adhesive materials and sticker backing sheets are not recyclable through REDcycle though.
You should find REDcycle bins in your local Woolworths or Coles. For a map of where you’ll find bins to place your soft plastics in go here: www.redcycle.net.au/where-to-redcycle.
A few interesting facts from REDcycle’s website:
“RED Group recovers and recycles over 3 million pieces of soft plastic (bags and packaging) every week
RED Group has recovered and recycled over 380 million pieces of soft plastic since 2011
That's over 1580 tonnes of soft plastic that will never end up in landfill, on our beaches or in our waterways
That's the equivalent to 395 elephants (weighing 4 tonnes each)”
That’s a lot of plastic and why it is important to refuse and reduce the amount of soft plastic you use! But if you do end up with soft plastic, REDcycle it!
Not in Australia? Look for a similar program in your country. Receptacles for recycling soft plastic are often found in supermarkets. I know I saw some in one in England.
2. Toothpaste tubes and beauty product packaging
When it comes to hard-to-recycle materials, TerraCycle is the go to. TerraCycle is a worldwide recycling company that accepts and recycles all sorts of difficult-to-recycle things. And this includes toothpaste tubes and all that packaging beauty products come in (as well as a lot of the waste mentioned below, number 3 to number 5 in fact!).
How does TerraCycling work? You can either find a drop-off point near you that has a box you can put your waste in or you can buy your own box, fill it up and return it. It has different recycling programs per product to keep the waste streams separate, so find the program you need on its website and find a public drop off place using the drop off locations map for that program or buy a box for that program.
For its Oral Care Recycling Program, through which you can recycle toothpaste tubes and caps, toothbrushes, toothbrush and toothpaste tube outer packaging, and floss containers,for example, you can find public drop-off locations here: www.terracycle.com.au/en-AU/brigades/oral-care-brigade.
Or you can join the program via the TerraCycle website and “when you are ready to send in a shipment, download a shipping label from your TerraCycle account, print out your label and tape it securely onto your box, and ship the box to TerraCycle by dropping it off at your nearby post office”. You don’t even have to pay for shipping!
It has a few programs for beauty products, including its overall Beauty Products Recycling Program, which accepts all used personal care and beauty product packaging, the Jurlique Recycling Program, which recycles Jurlique product packaging, and the L'Occitane Recycling Program, which recycles used L'Occitane products. Both these specific product recycling programs have in-store drop off.
For its Beauty Products Recycling Program, as with its oral care one, you can either find a drop-off point or post them in via Australian Post. Cosmetics packaging, hair care packaging and skin care packaging can be recycled through this program.
Look for drop-off locations here: www.terracycle.com.au/en-AU/brigades/beauty-products-recycling-program.
Remember to remove any excess product and to ensure it is completely dry before recycling it.
What happens to the waste collected? After being separated by composition, these tubes, brushes, and bottles are shredded and melted into hard plastic that can be remolded to make new recycled products.
We recommend reducing the waste in your beauty routine in the following ways:
choose bamboo toothbrushes over plastic ones (here are our fav sustainable toothbrush options)
pare down your beauty routine - remove unnecessary products
use bars instead - soap bars, shampoo and conditioner bars and face wash bars
DIY beauty products instead of buying them in plastic where possible
But, don’t do it in a way that is detrimental to your health. We still buy products that we need to stay healthy in plastic and TerraCycle the packaging.
Personally, my teeth need fluoride to stay healthy so I will continue to use toothpaste in tubes until I find a more sustainable option that has fluoride in it. And we don’t recommend DIYing your own sunscreen so we still buy a sunscreen in a plastic tube - read our article on why homemade sunscreen doesn't work and what natural, reef-safe ones do for more info on this.
3. Contact packs and lenses
Another normally unrecyclable item that you can recycle through TerraCycle is contact lenses. They also recycle the packs they come in.
Through TerraCycle’s Bausch + Lomb Recycling Program, any brand of contact lenses and blister packs can be recycled. They also recycle contact lense cases.
As with the above programs, you can either collect it and drop it off at a drop off location or collect it in a box and ship the box to TerraCycle.
If possible, wear glasses rather than contacts or switch from daily contacts to longer use contacts to lessen the amount of contact lense waste you produce.
4. Coffee capsules
Swopping coffee machines that use coffee capsules with ones that don’t create any waste, such as a French Press or Moka pot, and getting a reusable coffee capsule like this (AU) or this (US/CAN) are way better than using coffee capsules and recycling them, but as not everyone will make this change and a lot of offices have these machines, it is great that there is an option to recycle these coffee capsules.
If your family or colleagues create coffee capsule waste, get them on to TerraCycle’s coffee capsule recycling programs. They have programs for Nespresso, Nescafe Dolce Gusto, L'OR, and Moccona.
They can be collected and dropped off at a recycling location or a Coffee Capsules Zero Waste Box can be bought. This box can be placed near the coffee machine at work and posted back for recycling when fill.
New aluminium products are made from the capsules after they are shredded and melted down, while any residual coffee sent to an industrial composting facility.
5. Mailing satchels
Mailing satchels are sometimes unavoidable and they are another thing often found in the office that can be recycled instead of sent to landfill through TerraCycle.
Australia Post has partnered with TerraCycle for its Mailing Satchel Recycling Program. Both used prepaid mailing satchels and padded satchels can be recycled through the program.
As with all of TerraCycle’s programs, they can be posted back or dropped off at one of the available drop-off locations.
6. E-waste and batteries
E-waste includes mobile phones, televisions, laptops, cameras, tablets, CDs, DVDs, VHSs, batteries, and all the accessories that come with all the technology we accumulate. And a lot of it can actually be recycled. In fact, up to 90% of the materials in phones, TVs and computers can be recycled.
As this is a big area, we have covered it in a separate article: How to Recycle E-waste and Why We Should All be Recycling Our Phones.
In this article, we share where can we offload these items so that the resources they are made of can be recycled and reused, and how can we ensure that any personal details that may be on our old mobile phones or computers are deleted and not accessible after we drop them off.
We also cover where this e-waste goes and importantly, how can we stop creating all this e-waste in the first place.
7. Clothing and shoes
What to do with clothing and shoes that aren’t fit for donation to second hand shops? These can actually be recycled in various ways!
You can recycle them yourself and reuse them by cutting them up into rags for cleaning or into fabric you can use for a DIY project like DIY produce bags or straw pouch.
Or you can place them in one of the various drop-off bins for damaged clothing found around Melbourne. In fact, there are 1 350 clothing bins spread across Victoria, according to Sustainability Victoria. But make sure the bin is asking for worn/damaged/un-saleable clothing and not quality clothing as a lot of the bins are for clothes that can be resold.
Also, if you want to make sure your donation goes to charity, look for a bin with the NACRO symbol or stick with known charity organisations, as they are not all run by charity organisations, with most being commercially run for financial gain.
Or contact your local charity to find out if they accept damaged clothing for recycling. Some sell un-saleable clothing to companies that recycle the textiles for industrial rags or other textile byproducts.
You can also drop off your clothing at H&M stores and Monki stores, as they collect clothing and textiles for recycling. Clothing that can be worn again is sold as second-hand clothes, old clothes and textiles are turned into other products, such as cleaning cloths, and what is left over is transformed into textile fibres and used for insulation and in other ways.
8. Takeaway coffee cups and straws
Takeaway coffee cups and straws are not recyclable, unless you give them to Simply Cups! Simply Cups is Australia’s first coffee cup recycling program. It combines these cups with other plastic materials to create a resin that can be upcycled into new products such as bench seats, kerbing and car stops.
Even a reusable coffee cup is made from the recycled takeaway cups! The rCUP is made from recycled coffee cups collected through the UK’s Simply Cups program and we think it’s a really good-looking and practical choice if you need a reusable cup. You can buy them here.
You’ll find its tubes, into which you can place takeaway coffee cups, at participating 7-Eleven stores in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. Go here to find your closest collection point.
Obviously it is better to have a reusable coffee cup and to avoid using a takeaway cup, but this is useful for when miscommunication strikes and you end up with a takeaway cup, when you think you’re getting a ceramic mug because you’re dining in but you don’t (please don’t do this cafes!) and for when you pick up other people’s cups that they’ve littered.
Setting up a Recycling Station
As a lot of this waste is collected for drop-off or posting off, we recommend setting up a recycling station so everyone in the household can easily see where to put each item. You can collect these items in boxes, tins, buckets, bins or whatever you have. Clearly label each receptacle so it is easy to see what should be placed inside.
Alternatively, you can use one big bin for all these items and you can separate them when it is full.
We collect soft plastics in the large soft plastic bag we buy our dog’s food in. This is generally the only item we still buy in soft plastic (and we buy the biggest bag - 12 kg - to minimise it), but it gets filled with plastic picked up while litterpicking, rescued from colleagues and friends who are going to throw it in the bin, brought into our home by others and from fails (cause we’re not perfect!).
You can also include a tin in which to collect bottle tops and a plastic container in which to collect plastic bottle tops and other small bits of plastic as these small pieces need to be enclosed inside something bigger for them to be recycled. They will slip through the recycling process otherwise. What you place them in should be made of the same material so the whole thing can be recycled together, so a metal tin for metal and a plastic container for plastic (preferably the same type of plastic too!). You can then place it in general recycling.
We also collect bits of foil as foil needs to be rolled into a ball the size of a tennis ball to be recycled. This includes any foil around chocolates (pure foil, not foil covered in plastic!), foil pulled off of pill packets and foil picked up when litterpicking. Once a big enough ball has been rolled, it can be recycled in curbside recycling.
Our recycling station lives on top of our fridge and spills over next to our fridge.
Do you have a recycling station? What do you save for future recycling in the right place?
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