Soft plastics, textiles, e-waste and more can now be recycled in the Blue Mountains (Photo: Blue Mountains City Council)
Story by Linda Moon
Most of us have got into the groove around recycling. But what do we do with those tricky items that can’t go in the recycling bin? A new local recycling initiative has soft plastics, old undies and socks, broken tech, plant pots and more, sorted.
- A new trial recycling program for soft plastics and e-waste has joined the textile, blister pack and plant pot recycling service at two Blue Mountains locations.
- Waste contributes to air, soil and water pollution, global warming and negative impacts on wildlife, habitats and human health.
- Imagine the weight of 471 Sydney Opera Houses. That’s the total waste Australians generate every year. Plastic is one of the least recycled and most enduring materials on earth.
But, when it comes to plastics and textiles we’re not so good. The vast majority of these are still going into landfill (a mere 13 per cent of plastic is recycled!). In fact, plastic pollution is one of the most pressing issues of our time.
The problem with plastic
Founder of the Plastic Free Foundation and Plastic Free July, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, explains that the lightweight and durable qualities of plastic make it a huge problem for the environment.
It’s particularly bad for wildlife. Animals regularly get entangled in plastic and consume it. Plastic, which is primarily made from fossil fuels, also leaches chemicals into the environment which proliferate up the food chain, causing problems to human and animal health.
Children from the United States of America fight against plastic pollution in Berkeley, California. From the United Nations Exhibit: Plastic Is Forever. (Photo:Jacqueline Elbing-Omania).
If that wasn’t bad enough, plastic has a tendency to travel and has a very lengthy lifespan (most plastic will out-live you and I). It can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to break down, according to the United Nations exhibit Plastic Is Forever. Even then, it doesn’t decompose altogether, but breaks into smaller and smaller bits that pollute the environment.
And, while the Great Pacific Garbage Patch might seem far away, plastic pollution is also a problem in our Blue Mountains creeks, parks and bushland.
Plastic can last from 20 to 500 years if not forever. Do the world a favour and keep it out of the environment. (Photo: Blue Mountains City Council)
New recycling initiative has your waste sorted
In a win for the war on plastic and other harder to recycle materials, Blue Mountains City Council is trialing a new option for soft plastic and e-waste recycling. The trial, which started November 13, runs till June 2024. It follows the introduction (earlier this year) of textile, plant pot and blister pack recycling.
Household quantities of these can all be dropped off at the Katoomba Resource Recovery and Waste Management Facility. Keeping it easy, the facility serves as a one-stop drop for the recyclable materials and more. And if you’re a Blue Mountains resident, it’s free!
Lower mountains residents have the same options at the Blaxland Resource Recovery and Waste Management Facility.
According to Rebecca Scarpin, Waste and Resource Coordinator at Blue Mountains City Council, all the materials are recycled through contractors. “There’s a lot of checking and due diligence done to make sure it’s being recycled,” she says, addressing public concerns around the effectiveness of recycling.
So what can you drop off?
‘Soft’ plastics are anything that doesn’t bounce back into its original shape when it’s scrunched into a ball in your hand, Rebecca explains.
It includes bubble wrap, plastic film, cereal box liners, the packets and wrappers of products like confectionary, bread, chocolate, chips, frozen foods, pasta, noodles and pet food, re-sealable plastic bags, grocery bags, cling wrap, fruit netting bags, plastic sachets, snap-lock bags and document sleeves.
How are the soft plastics recycled? Blue Mountains City Council has partnered with RecycleSmart, who will collect the soft plastics and e-waste items from the Katoomba and Blaxland facilities. Soft plastics will then be transported to APR Plastics for processing into feedstock oil, which enables it to become plastic packaging again.
Hard plastics and plant pots
What about hard (rigid) plastic, then? It will continue to go into your yellow kerbside recycling bin, Rebecca says. Rigid plastics include plastic containers from your kitchen, bathroom and laundry.
Plant pots and labels are not considered a rigid plastic from the kitchen, laundry or bathroom and shouldn’t be placed in the kerbside bin. As part of improvements to recycling Rebecca and her team have been working on, the resource recovery and waste management facilities now have a dedicated drop off cage for the pots.
Plant pots like these now have a drop-off point at the Resource Recovery and Waste Management Facility. (Photo: Linda Moon.)
Another form of plastic you can’t put in your recycling bin is blister packs (for medicines and supplements). “These are part plastic, part foil, which makes them more difficult to recycle,” Rebecca says. There are now also specific bins for blister packs at the waste facility.
What about e-waste?
E-waste is unwanted or unusable electronic items: most things with a cord that plug into the power.
It includes entertainment equipment (like DVD players, digital cameras and musical instruments), computers and accessories, phones, electric power tools, extension cords and power boards, small household appliances, household and personal items such as lamps, vapes, clocks and electric toothbrushes. Toys that light up or make sounds are also considered e-waste. For the full list, click here.
E-waste is collected by RecycleSmart, then disassembled, sorted, and individual waste streams are recovered for recycling into new products.
Examples of e-waste. (Photo: Linda Moon)
That’s not all! There’s a new textile recovery bin.
You can also drop off clothing, hats, shoes and accessories like belts, plus Manchester, including towels, sheets, cushions, pillows and blankets, plus soft toys and outdoor soft furnishings.
As with the other recyclable materials, these must be in household quantities only.
The average Australian buys over 14 kilograms of new clothing a year. Most of this ends up in landfill according to a 2022 report.
A new life for your stuff. Dropped off textiles are recycled or upcycled or sent for repair or reprocessing as industrial cloths and products like flooring and rugs. (Photo: Blue Mountains City Council)
Dropping your stuff off at the Facility is easy
You can find the Katoomba Resource Recovery and Waste Management Facility at 49 Woodlands Road, Katoomba, just down from the hospital.
The Blaxland Resource Recovery and Waste Management Facility is located at 28-30 Attunga Road, Blaxland.
The sites are always manned by staff whose job it is to provide direction, support and advice, Rebecca says. Staff will direct you to the bins for blister pack, soft plastic, e-waste, PP5 plastic, textiles and other recycling options as needed.
The service is free for Blue Mountains residents, and is limited to household quantities of each type of recyclable only. For more info on what you can drop off at the resource recovery and waste facility, check out the Katoomba and Blaxland sites and the Blue Mountains City Council A-Z of Waste and Recyling.
The Katoomba facility is open:
- 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday
- 10am to 2pm Saturday
- Closed Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day
Blaxland is open:
- 8am to 4.45pm 7 days a week
- Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day
Katoomba Resource Recovery & Waste Management Facility. Manned by staff who can help you. (Photo: Blue Mountains City Council)
- Get organised: Set up containers for sorting and storing your e-waste, soft plastic and so on. Make a date in your diary to drop off your stuff.
- Spread the news: Tell your friends and family about the new recycling services. Share this story!
- Get the non-plastic alternative: start using more eco-friendly alternatives to plastic. You can find these at local health food stores, the Blue Mountains Food Co-op, online and more.
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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.