Phase two is all about recycling with a focus on plastic! It’s important to remember that recycling is just delayed landfill, so we’ll be aiming to recycle less as part of reducing our waste, but we’ll be savvier with what we recycle so we can divert more waste away from landfill. In phase one we focused on what was in your bin after the pause, double check and google, my guess is it was mostly plastics, likely a bunch of lids and a decent amount of soft scrunchable plastics. Well the good news is, this is also recyclable.
During phase two we'll focus on separating out our plastics in a bit more detail, and in doing so we'll pay close attention to the types of products they belong to so that we can start to make some changes to avoid these types of packaging in the future. Keep front of your mind that recycling is just landfill on hold, learning how to avoid some of this waste will be a big part of your journey and fixing it into your thinking helps the zero waste transition.
One of the things I like to remind myself of when I'm tempted to buy something made from or packaged in plastic, is that every single piece of plastic ever made is still on earth today!
It takes up to 1000 years for plastic to biodegrade so we should actually be trying to avoid buying plastic as much as possible, especially the kind of plastic that's used once then thrown away. As much as your next step is learning about how to get savvier with your plastics recycling, I want to plant that little seed in your mind that plastic is an almost forever material. It has such significant longevity that we really need to rethink how we use it. Going zero waste will help you to gradually break up with plastic, but for now I want to encourage you to reuse the plastics you have until they die, and to try and avoid buying any new plastic - even if it's recyclable.
What kinds of plastics should I be looking out for?
Basically all of it! Plastic surrounds us so it's not difficult to keep an eye out for it! It packages so many different consumer goods from food to toys that dealing with it can become overwhelming. No one is suggesting that you should cull all your plastic and start afresh - plastic is durable and can come in handy so if you have some lying around, use it! And when the time comes, recycle it properly.
Different councils will accept hard plastics like yoghurt containers and fruit punnets but there are a lot more that can be recycled. There are a heap of scrunchable soft plastics that you can recycle as part of the redcycle program. Redcycle bins are outside most Coles and several Woolies supermarkets with more set to roll out in 2018. Redcycle have partnered with Replas to take our soft plastic waste and turn it into outdoor furniture and play equipment. Things like bottle tops, lids, and soft plastic packaging are going to be prime targets on our hit list. Other usage to note would be disposable razors, toothpaste tubes, and plastic toothbrushes, which can all be recycled through terracycle. Even bottle tops and lids can be recycled if you collect them properly!
Where do my bottle tops go?
There's been a lot of confusion about bottle tops and plastic lids with many people believing that they go to landfill and others leaving them on their bottles/containers and placing in the recycling bin. Well, neither of these approaches are actually true! Lids must be removed otherwise the pressure from the air trapped in the containers makes them errrr, explosive! As they go through the recycling equipment those containers are crushed, a lid under pressure can also pop off and cause an injury. That doesn't mean you need to throw the lids away though. The lids are recyclable, but because they're so small they can get caught in the sorting equipment so save them up and store them all in a clear container e.g. a milk bottle. When the bottle is full put the lid on it and place into your kerbside recycling. This way sorting staff are easily able to see the container and can pull it off the sorter to be dealt with appropriately.
You can also save up other types of similar plastic in the same way e.g. bread tags, those little plastic 'open here' tabs from containers - these can go in the same container with your bottle tops.
What kinds of soft plastics can I redcycle?
The redcycle website has a great list of dos and don’ts, but in a nutshell things you can recycle in the redcycle bins include wrappers from pasta, rice, frozen vegetables, snack foods, post satchels, glad wrap and more - the general rule of thumb is, if plastic can be scrunched then it can be redcycled.
Use your leftover dish (or bath) water to wash your soft plastics and hang them on the line or open them up to air them out over the sink. Redcycle can't accept wet plastics due to their tendency to grow mould, so part of using soft plastics will involve taking a little more responsibility and washing/drying them properly so they can be recycled.
What kinds of plastics can I terracycle?
The terracycle program let's you recycle almost anything, from a stapler to a contact lens packet. The bigger challenge is accessing their bins! Check with your local council to see if they're participating in the terracycle program, or if you have a local sustainability centre like we do in Adelaide you may find bins located there. The most common items recycled through Terracycle in Australia are health and beauty products like toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, old makeup and contact lens packaging. Whilst there are lots more options, terracycle charge for their bins so the majority of those stocked are supported/funded by brands like Colgate, L'Oreal and Bausch & Lomb.
I used to save up my terracycling and drop it off once or twice a year, but now that I am avoiding many of these products by using sustainable alternatives, I don't have much to drop off and can do this even less frequently. The beauty of refusing plastic packaging is that you end up with less you have to deal with!
Wait, do I need more bins yet?
Not really, you can use an old milk bottle or other clear plastic container to collect lids, and soft plastics can just sit inside another soft plastic bag so you can collect them in themselves - they’re very meta like that!
Some important notes about our responsibilities...
This is another one of those mindset changes I keep banging on about... you'll notice that I like to frame a few of these things with this idea of personal responsibility. If I am in possession of a plastic container then it is my responsibility to use it, care for it and dispose of it properly. This idea of care and of custodianship doesn't usually get applied to trivial things like plastic bags or takeaway containers, but the reality is they are made from a significantly durable material that is a long term environmental pollutant, so they must be dealt with appropriately.
Collecting soft plastics is easy enough, you just grab a plastic bag to use as the receptacle and go for it! But it's important to understand that soft plastics need to be clean and dry before they can be recycled, because moisture leads to mould. If they contained something like raw meat, fish or chicken they must be washed extra thoroughly to remove ALL food traces, they must also be dried thoroughly before being redcycled. Soft plastics that packaged dry goods that are clean or even just cleanish (like a chip bag with some crumbs in it) can go straight into the bag without washing first, but anything with moisture must be dried. Shall I say that again? Anything with moisture MUST be dried first!
Using the rethink rubbish philosophy, part of your responsibility in purchasing a product is managing its waste, and if that takes a few extra minutes of your day then so be it (this is my commit the crime, do the time mentality!). If you want to avoid spending time cleaning plastics or sorting them for recycling then don't buy them in the first place! Simple! And let's face it, from both an after-care commitment and an environmental management perspective, refusing plastic all together is definitely the preferable outcome!
Let's not forget about reusing our plastics!
Reusing should always come before recycling, but depending on the item unfortunately this is not always possible. Some bags are now designed to biodegrade more rapidly, which means their potential for reuse is quite limited as they become weaker over a shorter space of time. However anything that still has a useful life should be used up before it is recycled. Soft plastics are handy for carrying a lot of different things and of course they can be taken back into the shops to be used for your fruit and veg. Containers also come in handy for freezer storage and re-purposing or reusing containers before recycling them extends their useful life, which is a good thing! Plastic is a pretty durable material, even when used for so-called disposable products - remember to reuse your plastics!
Other reuse options could include:
- Using your larger bags or packs as the receptacle for your redcycling or as a bin liner
- Storing leftover food for the freezer in old yoghurt or margarine tubs - I use old containers for storage when I meal prep for my dogs
- Speaking of dogs, before I discovered the joy of compostable bio bags I used old plastic bags as dog poop bags
- Feeling creative? Why not make plastic yarn from your old bags that can be woven into new (stronger) bags to carry groceries
- Creating thicker plastic is also possible by ironing bags together (remember to protect your iron with some parchment paper or an old tea towel!) the heat from the iron fuses the bags together and creates a kind of soft plastic textile that can be stitched into a tote bag. One to try on your next crafternoon!
How long should I spend on phase two?
Phase two is kind of a forever phase! Once you start, you'll get into a good groove with separating your different plastic waste for recycling. It can take a moment or two to break the habit of opening the bin to throw things away, but it won’t be long before you are taking every piece of plastic straight to your recycling station instead. At the end of this phase you should have a better idea of what kinds of plastic waste you create, so now we can start to make some changes to avoid these plastics in the future. The average Australian creates around 2000kg of waste each year! We are fast running out of rugs to sweep it under and to really make a difference to the waste problem we all need to make changes in our spending habits. Now that we have a better awareness of what we're buying that's creating so much waste it's time to start learning the art of saying no, and explore some alternatives.
We love-love-love juice. OMG, is there anything more thirst quenching than a mouthful of pineapple juice?! When we first started our transition to zero waste, juice was one of the products we targeted as we recognised that we were recycling a few plastic juice bottles every fortnight. First we cut back, we bought less juice. Then we looked for better packaging and found juice in glass. It wasn't anywhere near as tasty as the other brand, and eventually we came to the conclusion that maybe we didn't need to drink so much juice! Now when we're craving juice we squeeze some fresh, and use coconut water as a thirst-quenching electrolyte boost, which we were already buying to make our own smoothies.
So our transition took us from full blown juice addicts to drinking less to changing packaging types to eliminating this product all together and replacing the habit with something we already had in our arsenal. All in all it took about 6 weeks for us to decide to break up with store bought juice. These changes don't always happen overnight, but as your mindset shifts your behaviour will follow.