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:
- Plastic shopping bags (by far the most common offender)
- Dirty nappies
- Bedding like doonas, pillows and mattresses
- Syringes, and
- 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.
Other sources of contamination in Latrobe City include:
- Children’s toys
- Building rubble
- Polystyrene foam, including meat trays
- Bubble wrap and plastic film
- Garden hoses (I saw lots of these)
- Dead animals
- Plastic containers with residual material (e.g. oil)
- Household electrical items
- Toilet seats
- Clothes baskets
- Car parts (e.g. engine blocks, exhaust parts)
- Used engine oil
- Tool boxes
- CD’s and VHS tapes
- Garden prunings
- 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:
- Wellington Shire Council
- Latrobe City Council
- East Gippsland Shire Council
- Baw Baw Shire Council
- South Gippsland Shire Council
- Bass Coast Shire Council
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.