A waste campaigner in NSW has called for more action after a “disturbing” discovery in her local park.
Anita Horan, who has worked tirelessly in recent years to remove single-use plastics from society, revealed her shock when her 14-year-old daughter came home from a picnic with a handful of metallic canisters and she discovered their common use online.
“We didn’t know what they were and we were perplexed because they’re so unusual looking,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“We were really shocked when we found out they were being used as a drug.”
Ms Horan’s daughter had brought back a handful of nitrous oxide canisters, primarily designed as gas cartridges for mechanisms such as whipped cream dispensers.
Yet the gas cylinders, commonly referred to as ‘nangs’ or laughing gas, have become increasingly popular with youths across the country.
The gas can give users a brief high of around 20 seconds who feel euphoria and relaxation and can also feel dizziness, confusion and prompt laughter.
And while there is a concerted effort to ensure the health risks associated with inhaling nitrous oxide are relayed to Australian teens, there is little consideration of the environmental impact the canisters are having, which are often left behind in public places by those inhaling the gas.
‘Nang’ canisters ‘like the plague’ in Australia
Amie Green, the founder of Green Chief Sustainability in NSW which recycles waste at music festivals where inhaling nitrous oxide is rife, says her company can collect up to one tonne of canisters at a festival.
The majority of those end up in landfill due to the reluctance of recycling companies to take the canisters in case a bulb has not been used, which could later explode in the recycling process, Ms Green told Vice.
It is believed up to 15 tonnes of canisters, which are made of zinc-coated steel, end up in landfill in Australia every year.
Such a statistic is alarming to Ms Horan, who says with care, the canisters could be “easily recyclable”.
“The waste aspect is enormous to me because people are saying they’re finding these things everywhere, they’re almost like a plague,” she said.
She noted the canisters would likely not work in kerbside collection bins as they would fall through the sift at the plant meaning they would be taken to landfill.
Ms Horan calls for an overview of the canisters to see if there is a way to make them reusable.
Yet for the campaigner, the main issue surrounding the canisters is awareness.
While some people are still oblivious as to what they are, people discovering them will likely have no idea what to do with them.
“There should be some way to easily know where they can be recycled,” she said.
And with some recycling plants refusing to take the cylinders, Ms Horan believes Australia would benefit from a national campaign where nangs could be dropped off in stores in a similar way to batteries being collected at Officeworks or soft plastic collected in Coles and Woolworths via the Redcycle scheme.
“There should be some sort of campaign to change it so there is an implementation of a recycling program.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.