'It's about time': Council's recycling bin tactic divides opinion – but does it really help?

A photo showing a Melbourne council’s tactic to get their residents to recycle correctly has caused debate online.

One resident posted a photo to online forum Reddit showing a recycling bin with a notice attached warning its owner the bin had been inspected and was found to have contained items that “do not belong”.

The sign, which had the logo for Moreland City Council – in Melbourne’s north – on it, also showed a frowning face.

The person who posted the photo appeared to applaud the local council for issuing the warning.

“Our street is littered with these. It’s about time Melbourne learned how to recycle,” the person wrote.

Debate very quickly erupted over the post, with many pointing out that despite households separating their recycling from other waste, it often all ends up in landfill anyway.

recycling bin warning with frowning face attached to bin in Moreland, Melbourne
The recycling bin warning which was posted to Reddit by a Moreland City Council resident in Melbourne's north. Source: Reddit

“I mean didn’t they just tell us that all of the recycling and waste all ends up at the same place anyway?” one person wrote.

“I’m not saying it’s right and I try to do my best, but they don’t seem to hold up their end of the deal but will give us warnings.”

Another person, who claimed to be an industry employee, also confirmed this.

“I work in the plastic industry in Melbourne and can tell you that very little plastic gets recycled because of contamination and resources. And that’s on a[n] industrial level. So when it comes to your recycling bin that just goes to landfill now that China has stop[ped] taking plastic.”

This was a result of China shutting its doors to Australia’s plastic waste in 2018, which we had been reliant on to buy our waste for more than two decades.

Then in December of 2018, India – the fourth biggest importer of Australia’s plastic waste – followed suit.

An investigation by 60 Minutes earlier this year found most of Australia’s plastic rubbish was being stockpiled in warehouses or shipped to South-East Asia to be illegally burned.

Focus on two Rubbish bins - red lid is rubbish and yellow lid is recycling
Most recycling is done by private companies in Australia. Councils are responsible for collecting household recyclables but usually need to pay these private businesses to do it. Source: Getty

In 2017, the ABC’s 7.30 unearthed similar damning evidence that rubbish was being stockpiled.

However, as was rightly pointed out by some Reddit users, where household recycling goes completely depends on the local council.

“Some council areas are still recycling. The media has let us down big time by saying ALL recycling goes to landfill,” one person said.

“To be fair there's been extremely little attempt to educate people on this until recently,” someone else said.

“When China was taking all our 'recyclables' and sending it to landfill no-one in government or the industry cared.”

Earlier this year Warrnambool City Council and 32 other Victorian councils were left in limbo by SKM Services announcing they would no longer be accepting plastic waste.

Recycling contamination ‘significant problem’

According to the Moreland City Council website, the area where the Reddit photo was snapped, plastic is not sent to landfills and does go to recycling centres.

The council which has been conducting the bin inspections for a number of years also added its bin inspection program was to ensure waste suitable for recycling wasn’t “contaminated”.

“Contamination occurs when people place incorrect items in their recycling bin,” the council’s website said.

“Contamination is a significant problem in Moreland, where we have a contamination rate of 17 per cent, which is 7 per cent higher than the state average.

“When a recycling bin is contaminated with incorrect items, the recycling process becomes less efficient and can result in valuable resources being sent to landfill rather than being reused or recycled.

“This causes both financial and environmental loss.”

Many Reddit users also pointed this out, arguing this was why councils needed to be so strict.

“The reason recycling and rubbish are both being binned is that our recycling is too contaminated for on-sale,” one person said.

“One dirty nappy or full juice bottle can ruin an entire load of paper and cardboard. On the other hand, cans nearly always get recycled because it's still cost effective to do. I'm wholeheartedly in favour of strict sorted recycling requirements. Europeans have been doing it for decades.”

According to The Conversation there are currently 193 material recovery facilities in Australia.

“Most are hand-sorted; nine are semi-automated, and nine are fully automated. These are nowhere near sufficient to sort Australia’s annual recycling”, Jeff Seadon, from the Auckland University of Technology, wrote in August.

In 2017, the same publication reported Australia produced 50 million tonnes of waste a year.

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