What Happens When Recycling Is Contaminated? ♻️: Recycling contamination is a real problem that can happen due to a number of reasons and needs to be addressed. Discover everything you should know about it by reading this blog.


Recycling has really changed over the year and decades. We discover more and more recycling innovations as time goes by. But even with all the recycling innovations that happened (and still continues to happen), certain problems still occur that resulted from either confusion or even plain ignorance (sorry for the harsh term).

One certain problem Waster will discuss today will be recycling contamination. Recycling contamination brings about headaches for waste management companies and recycling facilities. What do you think happens when recycling is contaminated? How does this problem even occur? And, what can we do to solve and prevent this problem from happening? Below, we discuss what you need to know.

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A bit about Waster

Before we continue our topic on what happens when recycling is contaminated, let me share more information about Waster.

We here at Waster provide you with innovative solutions for your and your business’s waste management and recycling needs. Additionally, we provide flexible, 30-day contracts instead of the typical lock-in contracts, which proves to be better.

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READ: Textile Recycling ♻️


Here is what happens when recycling is contaminated

You must know beforehand what the term “recycling contamination” means.

Basically, the recycling and waste management industry use the term recycling contamination when they refer to anything inappropriate found in the recycling bin. Simply put, these are items that should not be thrown and found in the recycling bin.

We can consider many items as contaminants when recycling. Generally, recycling contamination happens when non-recyclable items make their way to a recycling bin, mixed with the recyclables.


The negative effects

When recycling contamination happens, it brings about a number of undesirable negative effects.

First, it ruins a whole batch of recyclables in the process. Contamination results in the decrease of the recyclable’s value, spending more money than necessary to fix the process, putting workers in danger and of course, sending the recyclables into landfill, instead.


A quick rundown on how this problem started

Once upon a time, people did not even know the concept of recycling contamination. Contaminated recycling did not happen to them when they had their own way of recycling back then.

People usually separated waste back then: aluminium goes with other aluminium items, the paper goes with other paper materials and plastics went with other plastics, of course.

That all changed when the world introduced single-stream (what we know as commingled recycling) wherein you could put different kinds of recyclables without having to separate them. Commingled recycling had its fair share of positives as it encouraged households and businesses alike to recycle as it became easier. As a result, more people participated and recycling rates became higher. Everything seemed good and all, but then came the negatives.

Packaging, as time went by, became more complex as to accommodate what it contains and keep it in its best possible condition. We see plastic packaging with different components more and more each day.

This, of course, led to confusion. One might think that this is recyclable, only to find out that it contains another non-recyclable material. This then leads to contaminating a recyclable batch with a foreign item. Symbols were then etched onto the item’s packaging (made even easier with the Australasian Recycling Label) to determine its recyclability – a good solution but sadly did not remove recycling processes getting contaminated from happening.


How to prevent contaminated recycling from happening

Being informed, first and foremost, is a powerful way to counter recycling contamination. Start off by checking and preparing your recyclables carefully. Look for any non-recyclable items and either put them in a separate container or just chuck them down the general waste bin. Note that non-recyclable items are usually better off thrown in the general waste bin, save a few.

Put them away and clean them properly.

Some might need thorough cleansing while some do not if you want to prevent contaminated recycling from happening. For example, if you have a batch of cans and plastic containers, place them in the recycling bin. Do not put them in anything (e.g., boxes and bags) and just put them straight into the bin. But before doing so, make sure to clean them. You do not have to necessarily have to rinse them with soap. Just make sure that they do not have any residue left. Check out our washing before recycling blog guide to learn more.

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What about food packaging?

Food can also ruin a batch of recyclables and just send them to landfill. They usually come in packages made of paper and plastic. As a result, some mistakenly try to recycle these food packaging.

Avoid recycling these as they have food residue and other contaminants impossible to take out. These include paper coffee and soda cups, paper plates, frozen food packaging, takeaway boxes (e.g., Chinese takeout boxes) and fast food containers.

As for pizza boxes, you usually cannot recycle the greasy part. Compost the greasy part of the pizza box, instead, if allowed. Otherwise, you should put it in the general waste bin. You can just cut the pizza boxes for both recycling and composting. Take note that some places in Australia such as Onkaparinga, Adelaide can allow you to recycle your pizza boxes, with or without grease and without much effort.


Conclusion on what happens when recycling is contaminated

We can pretty much avoid all of this from happening if we inform ourselves. Check first what you chuck down the recycling bin. Then, separate the non-recyclable from the recyclable. If need be, clean the recyclables first. It is that easy!


Contact Waster today

Are you a business in need of waste and recycling bin services?

If so, please call 1300 WASTER (1300 927 837), or email us at enquiries@waster.com.au if you have any further questions and find the best deals in terms of pricing and services.

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