Warning after disturbing finds in Aussie recycling bins

Disturbing finds in Aussie recycling bins prompts safety warning to households.

Unbelievable tales of the horror items Aussies leave out for recycling are as bizarre as they are disturbing, with a major firm opening the lid on what actually goes into the bin.

Recycling and waste management company Veolia said over the years it had found a samurai sword, explosives, a cow cut in half, money, ammunition, a donkey's head, syringes, dead pets, drugs, asbestos and a car engine.

Pile of gas cylinders at recycling station; Gas cylinder
Aussie households are putting items into the recycling bins that could potentially explode at landfill or injure waste management workers. Source: Supplied

Workers at risk

"We even had something a few years ago that looked like a fully wired bomb at our Clyde transfer station in NSW," Craig Barker, Veolia chief operating officer of resource recovery, told Yahoo News Australia. "That saw the whole place cordoned off and the bomb squad called in."

"It turned out to be a very realistic looking movie prop. These all make for good stories but the other side of the coin is that many of these items can put the people in our sorting facilities at risk.

"So, putting the right rubbish in the right bin isn't just important for recycling and sustainability, it matters for the safety of the people working in the industry too."

While most households try to do their best at recycling, there are many common mistakes that can be dangerous or result in something that could have been recycled going instead to landfill.

'Wish-cycling' habit hard to break

"We call it 'wish-cycling', which is when someone isn't sure but hopes something they put in the bin can be recycled," Mr Barker said.

"Empty barbecue gas bottles are one of the common and yet dangerous items that get 'wish-cycled' into our bins, along with vapes, batteries and small electrical goods. All have the potential to cause explosive fires in trucks and landfill. None should be put in any kerbside bin in the first place.

Broken cake or dough mixer at recycling station
One person thought this object - a commercial cake or dough mixer - was suitable for putting out for recycling. Source: Supplied

"Textiles, like old clothes, also pose a danger in the yellow bin, especially when they get tangled in the sorting machinery, which brings it to a grinding halt. The only way to remove textiles is to shut down operations and carefully disentangle them, which can take some time."

Spooky season plea

Halloween brings its own issues too once the decorations are down and the lollies are eaten. "Around this time of year, the most common thing to end up in the wrong bin are soft plastic lolly wraps going into the recycling bin and plastic decorations," said Mr Barker.

"But one thing that can definitely be recycled, especially if you have a FOGO bin, are the pumpkins you carved into jack-o-lanterns. These candlelit horrors from your doorstep can be processed and turned into compost that will help grow next year's perfect crop of Halloween pumpkins. Just don't put it in a plastic bag, or it will almost certainly go to landfill, and this applies to all recyclable items."

Piles of old crockery in wheelbarrow and on stone wall at recycling station
Old crockery, anyone? This pile of treasures is definitely not meant for the recycling bin. Source: Supplied

Doing your bit for the planet

Every year, Veolia's household recycling facilities in Australia receive and process more than 160,000 tonnes of recyclable material, so getting rubbish into the right bin really does matter.

"At the same time, Australia landfills 27 million tonnes of waste every year," Mr Barker added. "Landfill generates methane that is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This matters in a climate crisis with droughts, floods and natural disasters growing.

"Every time an Australian family puts the right rubbish in the right bin, they are reducing landfill and playing their part in ecological transformation and the battle against climate change."

Confused about recycling? Click here for Veolia's handy guide to recycling in your state or territory.

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