Reducing waste

Australians generate about 64 million tonnes of waste a year, and that figure is growing. We need to take action on waste. Australian governments have committed to preparing a National Waste Policy and to work together to better manage waste. There are many actions that you can take at home to reduce waste and save money.

Ways to reduce, reuse and recycle

  • Limit your use of single-use and disposable products and choose alternatives which can be used again.
  • Opt for products with minimal packaging where possible.
  • Refuse plastic bags when you don't need them. Keep reusable bags handy so you remember to take them to the shops. You can also use boxes or your own shopping trolley bag or backpack.
  • When buying fruit and vegetables, put them into your trolley rather than plastic bags.
  • If you don't read advertising mail, put a sign on your letterbox.
  • When building or renovating, build only what you need and think carefully about your design. Choose durable materials and finishes as they should last longer.

Repairing household items instead of replacing them can be a great way to reduce waste and save money.

There are many ways to reuse household items:

  • Give unwanted clothes, household items, furniture or appliances to family or friends, or donate them to charities. Freecycle and other online groups help communities give away unwanted items.
  • If purchasing something, try to find it second-hand or buy items containing recycled content.
  • Use washed takeaway containers as stackable containers for frozen food.
  • Use glass jars to store food or other items, or pass them on to friends or groups who make jams.
  • Use small plastic bags to wrap wet and smelly rubbish or to pick up after your pet.
  • If building or renovating, consider using recycled materials such as windows or floorboards—you can save money and add character at the same time.
  • Putting the wrong materials in your recycling bin may lead to large amounts of recyclable material being sent to landfill because it's too difficult to separate them out.
  • It's dangerous to put hazardous waste like batteries, motor oil, chemicals, paints, and used lighting products containing mercury including compact fluorescent lamps in kerbside recycling.
  • Find out what drop-off and recycling facilities are available in your local area. Contact your local council - they may collect other items for recycling, including mobile phones and printer cartridges.
  • Contact your local council to find out what e-waste recycling services they offer for larger electronic and electrical products.
  • Check with your local council for safe ways to dispose of hazardous household waste as it can’t go in your normal garbage.
  • Recycle unwanted plastic bags or soft plastics including pasta and rice bags, shopping bags, net bags, cling and bubble wrap at most major supermarkets.
  • Roll aluminium foil into a ball and place it in a recycling bin, even if it has food stuck to it.
  • Compost your organic waste.

Types of household waste

Organic waste

In 2014-15 around 6.5 million tonnes of organic waste was sent to landfill and included food waste, biosolids, green waste and timber. When organic waste decomposes in landfills, it produces landfill gas which consists of about 55% methane. Methane is a much more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). It's also foul-smelling and highly flammable.

Organic material sent to landfill would be better composted at home or dropped at a local green waste recycler. Check with your local council or Planet Ark's Recycling Near You to find out about organic waste facilities in your area.

Paper

When buying paper or cardboard products, look out for items that contain a high percentage of Australian recycled fibre or are made with fibre content from sustainably managed sources, such as plantations or sustainably managed native forests. Australian paper manufacturers have to meet environmental production standards which may not have to be met in other countries.

Paper and cardboard can be left for kerbside recycling.

Plastics

Plastics are man-made products that come from valuable non-renewable resources like oil, gas and coal. Plastic has been the most common item collected on Clean Up Australia day for 20 years.

Hard plastics can generally recycled through kerbside recycling programs, where they are then melted, stretched, cut and moulded into a recycled product.

Some supermarkets now offer a drop-off point for recycling soft plastics including shopping bags, cling and bubble wrap, pasta and rice bags, and biscuit packets.

Packaging

Packaging makes up a significant part of the rubbish in landfill. Buying in bulk can save you money, packaging and transport costs. If not, try to choose products that use less packaging.

Remember to take re-usable bags out with you to avoid the need for single-use plastic bags.

Aluminium and steel

Aluminium is a common metal and is used widely in cans (including aerosol) and for food-related products like foil and pie trays.

Producing aluminium uses so much energy that the metal is sometimes called 'frozen electricity'. However, aluminium can be easily recycled, and many times over. Even aluminium with food scraps stuck to it can be recycled.

When recycling steel cans, it's best to put the lid inside the can and then squash the top of the can before placing it in your recycling bin. 

Electronic waste (e-waste)

Electronic waste or e-waste includes products such as computers, televisions, home entertainment systems, printers, faxes and mobile phones. Only about 10% of e-waste is recycled compared to 52% of general waste.

E-waste contains many parts that can and should be recycled so that the resources can be used again. E-waste also contains a range of hazardous elements such as lead and mercury which can be released into the environment if not disposed of properly.

E-waste can’t be recycled in your kerbside bin, but it can recycled or safely disposed of through other services.  Check Planet Ark's Recycling Near You or TechCollect. The Australian Government has also introduced an industry-funded National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, which also accepts used computer accessories such as keyboards, mice and hard-drives.

E-waste you may be able to recycle includes:

  • mobile phones and components, and telephone systems
  • stereo components, DVD and video players
  • TVs
  • computers and accessories
  • printers, faxes and scanners
  • batteries
  • cartridges

Bathroom, toilet and laundry waste

The bathroom, toilet and laundry can be high use areas for chemicals. Try to limit the chemicals and waste that you put down the sink and toilet. It’s possible to clean effectively without chemicals, for example using bicarbonate of soda or white vinegar applied with water and a soft cloth. You could also:

  • reuse existing containers and buy refills
  • buy toothbrushes and shavers with replaceable heads
  • refill your liquid soap containers
  • buy toilet paper made from recycled paper or plantation timber
  • recycle paper and cardboard products

Kitchen and food waste

In Australia we waste up to 30% of the food we purchase. In 2017 it was estimated that food waste cost the Australian economy about $20 billion each year.

When rotting food ends up in landfill it turns into methane, a greenhouse gas that is particularly damaging to the environment. Food waste costs Australian households between $2200 to $3800 a year.

Much of the food waste in our kitchens comes from inadequate planning or simply buying too much food. To work out how much you and your family really eat, check a portion guide. For detailed information on how to choose and store different foods visit the Food Safety Information Council website.

Here are some other tips to help you save energy and reduce waste in the kitchen:

  • Avoid wasting energy by having the fridge set at the right temperature—between 3 and 4°C for the fridge and between minus 15 and minus 18°C for the freezer.
  • The majority of packaging that comes with food can be avoided or recycled. Fresh food doesn't need packaging and can be placed in your own reusable bags. Rigid (hard) plastics, tins, paper, foil and pie trays, cardboard and drink containers can all go in your home recycle bin.
  • Check what’s in the fridge before going shopping, and plan your next meals around what needs to be eaten. Put things in the freezer if you aren’t able to eat them soon.
  • Most vegetables keep best in the refrigerator—in the vegetable drawer if you have one.
  • Remove vegetables, herbs and mushrooms from plastic bags as they will 'sweat' and spoil.
  • Store potatoes, onions and other root vegetables in a cool dry place. If potatoes turn green, don't eat them—put them in your compost or worm farm.
  • Refrigerate raw meat immediately after purchase until cooked. Keep meat in a sealed container so it doesn't contaminate other food. Store it in the coldest part of your fridge (usually at the rear).
  • Store opened pasta, rice and cereals and other dry ingredients in air-tight containers.
  • Store leftovers for in the freezer for later. Do not reheat more than once.
  • Lots of fruits and vegetables are suitable to freeze. You can blend frozen strawberries or raspberries into a smoothie or use it as a topping. Freeze bananas (without the skin) that are getting very ripe, these are great for baking or eating.
  • You can even freeze some cheeses like parmesan or gruyere.
  • Freeze liquids like stock and even wine in small containers or in an ice cube tray and use as needed in cooking.
  • Keep scraps for pets. Make sure the food is suitable—for example, onions are toxic to dogs.
  • Chickens will eat a variety of kitchen scraps. 

Coffee and hot beverage pods, capsules and discs

Hot beverage pods, capsules and discs are not recyclable through kerbside recycling. Putting these items in the recycling bin can make the sorting process more difficult and may contaminate the recycling stream.

However, there are other ways to recycle these items. Several brands have a post-back program through TerraCycle. You can request a pre-paid shipping label from TerraCycle by email and drop the bagged items off at a post office. TerraCycle also ​has drop-off location details for two manufacturers’ products:

You can also buy TerraCycle’s Coffee Capsules Zero Waste Box and fill it with any brand of hot beverage pod, capsule or disc and then send it back for recycling. 

Building waste

About 35% (7 million tonnes) of building waste goes to landfill each year in Australia, so minimising and recycling building waste can have a big impact.

When designing your home or extension, think about what's needed and design for that need. Smaller spaces can be cheaper to build and much cheaper to run in the long term because they require less heating, lighting and maintenance.

Work with your designer and builder to plan how to minimise waste during the project and recycle leftover building materials. If they don’t have a waste plan, talk to them about making one. Up to 90% of critical decisions, including waste minimisation, are made during the design stage so it's important to talk about waste at the beginning of a project.

Be clear about your goals about reducing waste and gain agreement from people you're working with—you may want to get this in writing.

Use recycled materials and materials with high recycled content where it's fit for purpose—this helps to lower waste volumes and increase the viability of recycling which in turn will develop the market for recycled resources. Buying recycled goods can also save you a lot of money and add character to your home.

Once you start generating building waste, remember that many building materials and appliances that can be reused and recycled including windows, doors, roofing tiles and dishwashers.

Talk to your builder about where to recycle building materials. You can also contact your local council about recycling facilities or look at Planet Ark's Recycling Near You.

Building materials that can be recycled include:

  • steel
  • aluminium
  • gypsum plasterboard
  • timber
  • concrete
  • most glass
  • carpet
  • bricks and tiles
  • plastics

Hazardous waste and materials

In 2014-15 Australia produced around 5.6 million tonnes of hazardous waste, and this is increasing at a rate of approximately 9% a year.

Hazardous waste includes products such as motor oil, brake fluid, kerosene, mineral turpentine, pesticides, herbicides, batteries, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), oven cleaners and pool chemicals. Some of these products can ignite at relatively low temperatures, or react with air, water or other substances, and explode or produce toxic vapours.

These products cannot be disposed of in your regular garbage collection, and for many hazardous wastes, it can be illegal to do so as they can leak into the environment and waterways and cause serious health risks.

It's important to manage hazardous waste and dispose of leftover chemicals correctly at a hazardous waste centre. Check with your local council or Planet Ark's Recycling Near You for collection services available in your area. Victoria has a toxic waste collection service which travels to regional areas.

Garden chemicals, insect repellents and rat poison

There are natural alternatives to pesticides, weedkillers and fertilisers which are healthier for you and your garden. If you can't use a natural product, choose the least toxic alternative and buy and use only as much as you need.

To reduce use of chemicals, consider whether you need your property to be completely pest-free. By correctly identifying the pest before you buy a pesticide, you can ensure you buy the right product for the job. If you cannot identify the pest, your local garden centre might be able to help.

There are also natural and effective insect repellents and rodent traps that don't need chemicals to work. Avoid putting out food scraps for birds or possums to reduce the number of rodents in the backyard. Your compost bin should be well-sealed to stop rodents and keep flies away. Mosquitoes need water to breed, so change the water in the bird bath regularly, clean out the gutters so water doesn't accumulate and use a screen on rainwater tanks.

Don't re-use chemical containers or wash them out. Instead, recycle them through a hazardous waste centre. When you take chemicals to the disposal site, keep them in their original container with the lid tightly fitted.

Household cleaners

Many cleaning products commonly used in bathrooms, laundries and kitchens contain harmful irritants and dyes. Oven cleaner is one example: it contains many toxic chemicals, but a paste of bicarbonate of soda and water is an effective degreaser if baked onto your oven walls: simply brush it off when dry.

You can wash clothes, wash and polish floors, clean the windows, disinfect drains and much more, all without using really harmful products. Bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, borax and salt are all effective, cheap and healthy alternatives.

Lighting containing mercury

Many householders are use fluorescent lamps (including CFLs) as an energy-efficient lighting option. They are safe to use but contain small amounts of mercury, so take care when cleaning and disposing of them at the end of their working life.

Check with your state environment agency, local council or Planet Ark's Recycling Near You for information on where to recycle CFLs and other mercury-containing lamps in your local area. Some states have introduced household chemical collection programs or drop-off points that accept small quantities of CFLs and fluorescent tubes for recycling.

Paint

Paint is toxic to the environment. If allowed to run into waterways it also harms fish and wildlife. If dumped into the garden it can pollute soils. When renovating:

  • buy only what you need
  • use leftover paint on the next project or give it away to friends, neighbours or community groups
  • reduce the amount of water you use to clean paint rollers, brushes and trays
  • re-use the water you use to clean your painting equipment until the job is finished

Paints, thinners, turpentine, mineral spirits and solvents should be re-used as often as possible.

Solvent and acrylic-based paints can be recycled using Paintback, collection centres are located in every state and territory.  

Planet Ark's Recycling Near You also has paint drop-off locations.

Houses built before 1970 often contain lead-based paint which, if disturbed, can be hazardous to your health. If you're doing renovations or maintenance that could disturb paint containing lead, take care to protect yourself, your family or pets from even small amounts of dust or chips of paint.

Lead-contaminated waste needs to be disposed of correctly. Contact your local council or state environmental authority before renovation or building work begins and ask how you should dispose of lead-contaminated waste. If you have a builder or project manager, discuss this with them.

Recommended precautions and information on waste disposal are outlined in Lead Alert: The six step guide to painting your home and Lead in house paint has further information about lead-based paint.

Batteries

Household batteries are the most common form of hazardous waste disposed of by households. These cannot be left for kerbside recycling and shouldn’t be put in your regular bin, as most batteries contain heavy metals which are can leak into the ground if not disposed of correctly.

If you need to buy batteries consider rechargeable batteries. Although slightly more expensive, they will soon pay for themselves. 

Car, mobile, rechargeable, smoke alarm and button batteries can be recycled or go into hazardous waste collections.

All used lead acid batteries, including car batteries, are hazardous because they contain lead and/or sulphuric acid which is corrosive. Lead is very toxic and lead compounds can be absorbed into the body through breathing or ingesting.

Car batteries can be processed to recover the lead. Recycling lead uses less energy than mining and refining metals in the first place.

Search Planet Ark's Recycling Near You to find out where you can recycle car parts and car batteries in your area.

Asbestos

Asbestos was used widely in buildings up until the mid-1980s because of its strength and ability to resist heat and acid. It is no longer allowed to be used in building products for the home.

Asbestos is commonly found under eaves but may also be found as roofing, wall linings and cladding. Generally, home building products containing asbestos are not a health risk but if asbestos is disturbed, fibres may be released into the air and inhaled.

If renovating a home that was built before 1990 or if you suspect it has asbestos, contact your local council or state health and environment authority. Always seek professional advice about identifying, removing and disposing of asbestos in your home. It can be difficult to identify and immediate removal is often not the best option.

More information

RecyclingNearYou  Planet Ark

MobileMuster  Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association

National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme  Australian Government

Recycling e-waste  TechCollect

Used oil recycling Australian Government

Waste minimisation Your Home

ACT Recycling and waste ACT Government

NSW Managing waste at home NSW EPA

NT Recycle Guide City of Darwin

NT Recycling in Alice Springs Arid Lands Environment Centre

Qld Recycling Queensland Government

SA At home Zero Waste SA

Tas At home Reth!nk Waste Tasmania

Vic Get it Right on Bin Night  State Government of Victoria

WA Recycle Right Government of Western Australia