Leave the bag out

In 2019, Ballarat residents heeded the call to ‘pass on glass’ and leave glass bottles and jars out of their yellow-lidded recycling bins. Now it’s time to ‘leave the bag out’.

A plastic problem: APR Managing Director Darren Thorpe with plastic bags contaminating our recycling.

The recycling crisis can seem like a distant memory, having been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’ve forgotten where we were up to, here’s a quick refresher.

Rather than exporting our recyclables as we did in the past, the future of recycling in Australia is based on a ‘circular economy’, where paper, plastic, aluminium and cardboard from kerbside collection are turned into new products which can themselves be recycled.

This is in line with the City of Ballarat’s Resource Recovery and Waste Management Strategy 2018-2022, which aims to support the development of viable resource recovery markets.

For this to work, Australian-based companies need to receive recycled material that is clean and separated, making the removal of contamination from kerbside recycling a major priority.

The City of Ballarat’s Pass on Glass system, introduced in 2019, was aimed at preventing a significant contaminant – broken glass – from polluting otherwise valuable plastics, paper and cardboard, and aluminium. But other contamination remains a serious challenge.

Leave the bag out

City of Ballarat Coordinator Environmental Services Louise Turner says about 4,100 household recycling bins are collected by City of Ballarat recycling trucks each weekday.

About 17 per cent of the recyclable material is contaminated, with much of the contamination caused by plastic bags.

These bags cannot be recycled through kerbside recycling and can prevent otherwise useful materials from being recycled.

Why is leaving out the bag so important?

“When people put their recyclables in a plastic bag, the recyclables cannot be processed and reused,” Louise says.

“That means instead of recyclables being recovered and turned into useful new products, the contents of the plastic bag end up in landfill.”

Louise says some residents are still putting plastic bags full of rubbish into their kerbside recycling bin.

"One bag of rubbish can split apart and contaminate everything else in the load, which then ends up in landfill rather than being recycled."
– Louise Turner

How is our recycling processed?

After it’s collected and transported in a larger truck, Ballarat’s kerbside recycling is processed at Australian Paper Recovery (APR) in Truganina.

At the APR plant, recyclables are sorted, by hand and using sophisticated machines, into categories such as fibre (paper and cardboard) and three different plastic types. These materials are then sold to Victorian companies which turn them into new products.

In this way the plant processes 50 tonnes of recycling received from councils each day, but there is capacity for much more.

APR Managing Director Darren Thorpe says these new products include everything from egg cartons made from fibre (paper and cardboard) to pipes and pallets made from plastic milk bottles and other types of pipes made from detergent bottles.

“If residents put the right sort of materials into their recycling bins, those materials can be recycled into new products.”

Plastic pollution: Australian Paper Recovery staff manually remove plastic bags from the conveyor belt to prevent recyclables being contaminated.

How can you help?

Pass on glass: Do not include glass bottles or jars in yellow-lidded recycling bins. Take them to a drop off station or visit recyclingballarat.com for collection locations.

Leave the bag out! Put clean plastic bottles and containers from your kitchen, laundry and bathroom in your yellow-lidded recycling bin. Remember plastic bags can still be diverted from landfill through the REDcycle program available at major supermarkets.

Don’t put rubbish in your recycling! A list of what can be recycled can be found at recyclingballarat.com.

Purchase products made from recycled materials. Buying recycled and local products helps save our resources by closing the loop on recycling.