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The Truth About Recycling

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes ran a story about recycled plastics exported to Malaysia from Australian kerbside recycling services.

What is in our recycling bins?

In the City of Charles Sturt, plastics make up around 2% (by weight) of our kerbside recycling bin contents. By contrast, 64% of our recycling bin contents is paper and cardboard, with the remainder being aluminium cans, steel cans, glass (including bottles and jars) and non-recyclable waste (contamination).

Who recycles on behalf of Charles Sturt?

The City of Charles Sturt sends its kerbside recyclables to Visy Recycling for processing and recycling. We have followed up with Visy following the 60 Minutes story, and this is what they said:

Visy has a long history in the recycling industry, with over 25 years of experience in the Australian market.

Visy is committed to re-using and recycling in Australia and has built a network of re-manufacturing facilities around Australia, including 8 recycled paper mills, 2 glass plants and Australia’s only food-grade recycled plastics plant in Sydney.

We strongly encourage people to continue recycling but also to ensure that they only put recyclable materials in their kerbside recycling bins. Residents can check with their local council as to what can and cannot be placed into their kerbside recycling bin.

Where does my recycling go?

Your kerbside recycling goes to one of Visy’s manufacturing facilities in Australia to be processed and treated.

Markets for the recycling of paper and cardboard, steel and aluminium cans, glass, HDPE plastic milk bottles and PET plastic soft drink bottles are still very strong. It is very important that we continue to support these recycling programs and continue to push for more and more of our recycling to be managed on-shore, here in Australia.

Why isn’t all recycling processed within Australia?

At Charles Sturt, we understand your concerns about the recycling process, and where our recycling ends up. We are advocates of transparent recycling processes, and of getting our recycling into manufacturing facilities within Australia where it will be recycled.

Recycling works best when it is done right here in Australia – where we can manage it ourselves and employ people within our own communities. This process is known as the Circular Economy. Learn more about the benefits of a Circular Economy here: 

There will always be a small proportion of recycling bin contents that can’t be recycled – because it should not have been placed in that bin to begin with. That non-recyclable material is sorted, separated and disposed of to landfill. It should have been placed in the landfill bin originally.

This non-recyclable waste that has been incorrectly placed in recycling bins is known in the recycling industry as ‘contamination’. In Charles Sturt, contamination makes up approximately 9% of recycling bin contents (based on our 2015 survey). This is a middle-of-the-range figure – we’re not the best, and definitely not the worst community around when it comes to keeping our recycling bins free of contamination.

Should I keep recycling at home?

While the 60 Minutes story raised some important questions, giving up on recycling is not the answer.

South Australians are statistically the best recyclers in Australia, recycling over 83% of all waste. This equates to 4.4 million tonnes of recyclable material not going to waste each year (source:

Recycling is far better for our environment than relying on virgin resources for our household paper and packaging needs. Further, the focus on mixed plastics, while valid, only represents 2% of our kerbside recycling.

What else can we all do?

The 60 Minutes story was a stark reminder that simply placing items in recycling bins is not enough.

We need to support our local recycling industry – and push for more of our recycling to be done right here in South Australia.

You can help by:

Charles Sturt’s role in supporting better recycling

The City of Charles Sturt does more than just send your recyclables to be recycled:

  • We buy compost and mulch products – and use them in our Council projects.
  • We install recycled plastic furniture, wheel stops and bridge materials.
  • We buy and use recycled paper and many other recycled products.
  • We build roads using recycled materials - and work with research organisations to trial and demonstrate new ways of recycling products in road building projects.

We will share these and other stories with you over the coming weeks.

More Information

Want to know more about the rest of it? This article gives a good overview:


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