Your guide to recycling plastic this National Recycling Week

Recycling plastic can sometimes be a tricky business. Understanding the different types of plastic you encounter at home or work will go a long way to supporting your sustainability journey.

Recycling plastic can sometimes be a tricky business. Understanding the different types of plastic you encounter at home or work will go a long way to supporting your sustainability journey.

There’s different types of plastics, and because of their different chemistry, some types are easier to recycle than others. There's no national standard for dealing with plastic — processing guidelines vary from council to council, so it is always good practice to check.

As for those triangle symbols you see on packaging, it is a common myth that all plastic with that symbol can be placed in a recycling bin. That triangle symbol is actually the plastic resin code and not an indication of a product’s recyclability. The labels on packaging helps people to recycle correctly.

With that in mind, here is a summary of those numbers, what each stands for, and how you can dispose of these items in the right way.

1) PET (polyethylene terephthalate)

Can it go in your yellow recycling bin? YES.

PET products are typically the easiest to recycle and are made up of items like beverage bottles, including single-use water bottles.

2) HDPE (high density polyethylene)

Can it go in your yellow recycling bin? YES.

HDPE products include items like cloudy milk bottles and spray and wipe bottles. The important thing to remember is to ensure that contamination is kept to a minimum when these are placed in a recycle bin. If a load being taken to a Veolia recycling facility has too much contamination, none of it can be recycled. This is why it's important to recycle correctly.

3) PVC (polyvinyl chloride)

Can it go in your recycle bin? NO.

PVC is one of the top four polymers consumed in Australia by weight. However, according to the CSIRO it has one of the lowest reported recovery rates of any polymer.

This is because PVC is tricky. Our facilities specialise in sorting and collection of recyclable materials, which are then converted back into useable products. However, PVC cannot go in a standard recycle bin.

Items with PVC in them include plumbing pipes, pants, doors and windows – even some cordial bottles – and they can contaminate recycling streams.

To avoid landfill, the best option is to take the product to a specialised processing facility for recycling.

4) LDPE (Low density polyethylene)

Can it go in your yellow recycling bin? LET US HELP.

LDPE – also known as soft plastics – comprises items such as plastic shopping bags, disposable coffee cup linings, bin bags.

Whether you can put soft plastics in the yellow bin depends on where you live, and this only applies if you have signed up to a soft plastics recycling program, or if there is a home collection program that takes soft plastics waste and other harder to recycle items to recycling centres.

Veolia has a network of sorting and recycling centres that we use to ensure your soft plastics waste is properly managed.

For example, with shrink wrap, we make sure the film is shredded to make it more manageable, then reground and washed. Water is then used to break down paper labels, loosen dirt and remove other forms of contamination. The clean, ground film is then melted and extruded to filter out any remaining impurities. The resulting pellets can then be used in the manufacturing of new plastic products.

5) PP (Polypropylene)

Can it go in your yellow recycling bin? IT DEPENDS.

Polypropylene is used for items like ice cream and yoghurt containers, plastic chairs, and bottle lids.

PP is highly recyclable, but as a community member, whether you can put things like bottle lids in your recycling bin depends, again, on your council.

For customers, Veolia partners with like-minded organisations to facilitate models that support the correct disposal of such items in an sustainable manner that recovers wasted resources.

6) PS (Polystyrene)

Can it go in your yellow recycling bin? NO.

There are two types of polystyrene – solid and foamed – and they are commonly used in packaging processes. Solid polystyrene can include items such as yoghurt tubs, while foamed polystyrene refers to what is used to wrap delicate furniture or objects in packaging and containers, especially when requiring transport.

While it can’t go in a yellow recycling bin, Veolia can recycle polystyrene. Our sorting and recycling centres ensure your polystyrene is recycled to create plastic products such as electronics and toys.

For one of our clients, Sydney Markets, the introduction of a polystyrene extruder at one site  helped them recycle 50 tonnes of the material a year, which is equivalent to 500 truck loads.

7) Other

Can it go in your yellow recycling bin? NO.

No. 7 is a catch-all for other types of plastics like polycarbonates, polyamolines and polyurethanes.

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to how we recycle our plastics, and you would be forgiven for finding it confusing sometimes.

Despite what some people may think, plastic isn’t the enemy. It’s a valuable material that has provided a plethora of solutions and a multitude of uses for a whole host of everyday activities.

We are subscribed to Federal, State and industry environmental reporting such as The Australian Packaging Covenant (APCO), a commitment by industry and government for the sustainable design, use and recovery of packaging.

Their roadmap, which Veolia supports, is a considered and clearly articulated path to achieving the 4 Australia New Zealand Pacific Islands Plastic Pact (ANZPAC) targets, which include Eliminating unnecessary and problematic plastic packaging, 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, an increase in plastic packaging collected and effectively recycled by 25% for each geography within the ANZPAC region, and an average of 25% recycled content in plastic packaging across the region.

Read here for more information on how to recycle state-by-state.