A few weeks ago I toured the DASMA Materials Recovery Facility in Morwell. All of the kerbside recyclable material from Latrobe City goes there as well as a bit from Baw Baw Shire and South Gippsland Shire. It was really interesting to see how the facility operates but the most interesting thing I learnt was that contamination of recyclable material had dramatically and steadily increased from 9% in April 2014 (placing Latrobe City in the top 10 in the State) to 15% in January 2016! Contamination levels of 8% are considered acceptable in the industry. What’s worse is that the top five contaminants are not things that are easily confused as being recyclable.

Unbelievably, the top five contaminants are:

  1. Plastic shopping bags (by far the most common offender)
  2. Dirty nappies
  3. Bedding like doonas, pillows and mattresses
  4. Syringes, and
  5. Food waste.

I find this very disappointing; it doesn’t seem to be a case of people just getting it wrong, especially considering the amount of education about recycling that has occurred in the past.

The main reasons these and other contaminants are so problematic is because most of the material at the facility is sorted by hand; putting hazardous material like syringes and dirty nappies in a recycling bin can really hurt someone and cause illnesses to workers.  This level of contamination also means that 1000 tonnes of extra material is added to landfill each year instead of being recycled. The combination of mechanical breakdowns (mostly from plastic bags), additional labour, and extra material going to landfill results in higher operational costs which costs taxpayer’s money.

Plastic shopping bags at MRF are a souce on non-reyclable contamination.
Plastic shopping bags should be recycled at the supermarket, not in your kerbside bin. It is actually a form of pollution and an offence under the local laws act to place plastic bags in recycling bins. I am aware that neighbouring Cardinia Shire can recycle plastic bags in kerbside recycling, but this is not the case in Gippsland Shires. Please note that there are no soft plastic recycle (REDcycle) bins at supermarkets in Gippsland. To change this, you need to put pressure on your local supermarket. In the meantime, you could post your soft plastics to REDcycle or use their locator to find a store to drop them off at during your travels. Image taken by Easaw Easaw, DASMA.
Dirty nappies are not recyclable; they must go into your landfill bin. It’s a no brainer. Image taken by Easaw Easaw, DASMA.
Dirty nappies are not recyclable; they must go into your landfill bin. It’s a no brainer. Image taken by Easaw Easaw, DASMA.
We all go through doonas, pillows and mattresses, but that’s no excuse to stuff them in the bigger bin
We all go through doonas, pillows and mattresses, but that’s no excuse to stuff them in the bigger bin. Mattress recycling may be available at transfer stations so please check your options, otherwise these must go in the landfill bin. Image taken by Easaw Easaw, DASMA.
Syringes are a hazardous material and cannot go in the recycle bin.
Syringes are a hazardous material and cannot go in the recycle bin. For information about safe disposal call 5136 5400. Image taken by Easaw Easaw, DASMA.
Food scraps do not belong in the recycle bin. If you leave pizza crusts in a pizza box, that box is no longer recyclable.
Food scraps do not belong in the recycle bin. If you leave pizza crusts in a pizza box, that box is no longer recyclable. The best place for food scraps is in a home composting system or worm farm. If you haven’t set yours up yet, then it must go in the landfill bin.

Other sources of contamination in Latrobe City include:

  1. Children’s toys
  2. Tarps
  3. Building rubble
  4. Polystyrene foam, including meat trays
  5. Bubble wrap and plastic film
  6. Garden hoses (I saw lots of these)
  7. Dead animals
  8. Clothing
  9. Shoes
  10. Plastic containers with residual material (e.g. oil)
  11. Household electrical items
  12. Toilet seats
  13. Clothes baskets
  14. Car parts (e.g. engine blocks, exhaust parts)
  15. Tyres
  16. Used engine oil
  17. Tool boxes
  18. CD’s and VHS tapes
  19. Garden prunings
  20. Electrical cords and rope

Any thoughts about what’s going on here? Has anyone put these things into their recycling bin and would like to explain their thinking (I mean that in a nice way)? I can see that some people might put things like plastic hoses in the bin in the hope that someone will ‘sort it out’ and it  will be recycled. But unfortunately it doesn’t work like that because of the combination of mechanical and human sorting elements, and the speed with which the facility must operate to be profitable.

I have to admit that before I started living plastic free and zero waste I found all the dos and don’ts of recycling a little overwhelming, but I tried my best. Now, I love that I have so little waste to deal with, that recycling is easy. My family of four produces one 10 litre bucket of recycling per week. It consists mostly of toilet paper rolls, a bit of paper, a bit of cardboard and sometimes a can or jar. If you haven’t already, check out the rest of my blog to learn how we do it. In addition, Latrobe City Council have developed the Check Before You Chuck resource to help residents make better decisions and reduce contamination. And Planet Ark have developed the Australian Recycling Label.

Find out more about recycling in each of Gippsland’s municipalities:

Here are some videos from my visit to DASMA which might interest you. Beware the sound is quite loud and I’m not great at videography with my phone.

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19 thoughts

  1. I think one of the main problems here in Latrobe is that there is no cheap or free way to get rid of these waste items. With a cost attached to most hard waste people find anyway to dump rubbish they can, whether it be the bush or incorrectly the recycle bin. We do all we can to refuse, reduce, reuse, re-home, re-purpose, recycle and we still have things that we can not get rid of in Latrobe. This is something that council needs to address, this is no excuse for mis-using recycle bins just maybe an explanation!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jo, I sometimes wonder if people should be paying for the waste they create, and the more difficult that waste is to dispose of the more they should have to pay. I think it might be one of the best ways to force people to think about the public and natural resources they are draining through their consumption and disposal habits.
      But then again, perhaps a lot more people would recycle if it was free for them to do so. This still doesn’t solve the resource drain from overconsumption though. I wonder if there is research about which approach works best.
      I spoke to staff at Latrobe City Council and I believe they do take waste management and this contamination issue very seriously. In response they have developed the Check before you Chuck education campaign. How much they can do comes down to funding I guess. Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it’s difficult. Because everyone is. Lots of people would be motivated if it wEre free, lots of they had to pay. Sadly, no one size fits all.
        I’ve unfortunately been guilty of putting containers into recycling with food remnants in them. I have to say I was a fastidious cleaner of plastics and that dropped off as someone convinced me it was fine because they are washed upon recycling. I still u sure but may be contaminating.
        I’m in Cardinia so should ivestigate some more!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think there has been mixed messaging about that particular aspect of recycling. Obviously they don’t want it in Latrobe, but I do remember a while ago being told the same as you, that a little bit is okay. I rinse all the time now just to be sure. I use the water at the end of hand dish washing.

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  2. Victoria needs to ban plastic bags and introduce cash incentives for bottles and possibly other waste. Local Councils must champion the introduction of tip shops at transfer stations. Definitely helps with promoting reuse, and clothes can be recycled. RUDE [reusers of unloved discarded excess] have been championing our say no to landfill and frugal lifestyle for a decade. We wear worn scavenger style from Tip Shops 24/7.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. HinTammy. Woolies in Warragul and Drouin both have the red soft recycling bins inside the front of the shop. My understanding is that any clean scrunchable plastics can go in ther, like the cereal bags from snide the boxes etc, not just shopping bags. So interesting to read about the recycling. Thanks for letting us know,

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m afraid this is incorrect and a common misunderstanding in Warragul. REDcycle have confirmed with me twice that other soft plastic recycling does not occur in Gippsland. The closest is Pakenham according to the locator. The problem is that the staff are also misinforming people. Another women has been working with me on this issue and finally got confirmation from Coles head office yesterday that REDcycling does not happen in Gippsland stores. Only plastic shopping bag recycling. The Head office said they would contact our local stores to give them the correct information on this. I’ll be doing a post about all of this in the future because it comes up every time I mention soft plastics, lol. Thanks for your comment though, I have been wondering how you were going with your waste jar because I hadn’t heard from you in a while 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Too add to the mix of confusion i have seen that soft plastics e.g. some brands of pre-packed salad leaves note on their packets that they have a deal with Coles that such packaging can be recycled via the ordinary Coles Shopping Bag Recycling bin too.

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  4. The waste jar is going well. That is sad news indeed about the red bin. The lady in the shop certainly told me the wrong thing. We’ve almost used up all the plastic, so we won’t need the bin much now anyway. I’m also doing a jar at work, a school, and it’s generating quite a bit of interest as it’s nowhere near full yet for the year.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, thank you for suggesting it Alison. I was really surprised about the contamination levels but also interested in how simple yet effective the sorting facilities are. 😊

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  5. I wonder if some of the contamination (kids toys and meat trays etc) is because these items often have the recycle symbol (triangle and number) on them.

    The real hurdle I am finding at the moment is not that stuff is not recyclable but that much of it has to be taken to different drop off points ie. Altona North for video cassettes, Dandenong for Xray film, Moonee Valley for polystyrene…

    With excess packaging on everything it’s becoming so much harder to refuse or reduce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes you are right. It is a hurdle when so many things need to go to different places. And speaking as someone who works towards zero waste, excess packaging is very hard to avoid. Hopefully we can change these things by standing up and demanding the change we want to see.

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