The most common recycling mistake made by Australians is to throw soft plastics, such as bread bags, into the kerbside recycling bin.
Research commissioned by Planet Ark for National Recycling Week found more than 90 per cent of Australians believe recycling is the right thing to do and 59 per cent have a high level of trust in kerbside recycling.
Australia has had kerbside recycling for about 30 years, starting off in Sydney with paper, glass and aluminium.
But simple mistakes continue to be made that can clog up recycling machines, degrade the value of recycled materials, increase waste going to landfill and increase the cost of recycling.
More than 180 councils across Australia said the top recycling mistake was throwing soft plastics, which get caught in sorting machines, into the recycling bin. (Soft plastic can be dropped off in REDcycle bins at Coles and Woolworths.)
Other common mistakes were to put recyclable material in bags, which have to be picked out manually and end up in landfill, and throwing food scraps and organics in the kerbside recycling bin, which makes paper mushy and clogs up machinery.
“Almost all councils listed reducing contamination and reducing resident confusion as a priority,” the report, From Waste War to Recycling Reboot, says.
Planet Ark deputy CEO Rebecca Gilling said it was notable that while 71 per cent of people were confident in knowing what can and can’t be recycled there were still high levels of contamination.
“There is an interesting tension between those two things,” she said.
The report says there has probably never been a more challenging time for managing Australia’s waste after China’s National Sword policy effectively banned 99 per cent of the recyclable material previously imported from Australia from the beginning of 2018.
Although some paper, cardboard and plastics are now being imported to other Asian countries, other recyclables are being stockpiled in Australia while new markets are found and “unfortunately a proportion may end up in landfill”.
The report says that in most states it was not economically viable to send recyclable materials to landfill due to waste levies, which were as high as $141 a tonne in metropolitan NSW.
However, the oversupply of recyclable waste on the global market in the wake of the China bans meant commodity prices for mixed plastic and paper had crashed.
“Local councils have gone from receiving revenue for recycling to paying a price,” the report says.
The research found two-thirds of Australians were willing to pay $1 to $2 extra a week in council rates to help cover the cost of kerbside recycling.
Councils believed the biggest waste problems they would face in the future were how to deal with food and organic waste and developing markets for recyclables in Australia.
The research found 61 per cent of Australians still want more information about what can or can’t be recycled.
Planet Ark’s Ms Gilling said the Australasian Recycling Label provided easy to understand recycling information for each piece of packaging and Planet Ark’s Recycling Near You website helped households find recycling options in their area.
On the plus side, the report says ABC TV’s War on Waste series had had a “highly positive impact on waste and recycling in Australia”.
Woolworths and Coles have banned single-use plastic bags, McDonalds, Starbucks and the Sydney Opera House are phasing out plastic straws, and reuseable coffee KeepCup sales went up over 400 per cent during the first series.
Australian industries are also improving recycling, with Nespresso establishing more than 20,000 collection points for its coffee capsules and popular Unilever brands to have 25 per cent locally sourced recycled plastic on shelves by 2019.