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7 surprising things you might not know about your recycling

Published: 8 November 2017

Where does it go and what’s done with it? What’s the weirdest thing found in a recycling bin? Here are some interesting facts.

1. Recycling one plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60-watt lightbulb for about three hours.

Producing new plastic from recycled material uses only two-thirds of the energy needed to make it from raw materials.

2. Some of the weird stuff found in Aucklanders’ recycling includes an entire car engine, a toilet, and many dirty nappies.

Recycling bin inspectors have found some weird and disgusting things in the line of duty! Bin inspector Dawn White says once she found a whole bag of Party Poppers in a recycling bin.

It’s really important that you don’t mix up what should be in your rubbish and recycling bins. If rubbish makes it into the recycling stream it can create havoc, causing costly damage and endangering… well, these people:

3. Everything you put in your recycling bin gets sorted by a real person!

Machines haven’t taken over the world just yet! But that means every unrinsed can that’s grown a colony of mould, every dirty nappy and every bag of Party Poppers has to be physically removed by human hands.

Remember to be kind to the people doing this job, and put rubbish and recycling in their right place. Check under your bin lid to learn what can and can’t be recycled.

4. There’s a really good reason you can’t recycle some glass items.

We’re told not to put things like Pyrex cookware, lightbulbs, glassware and mirrors in the recycling bin – but you might not know why! These things are more fragile or heat-resistant, so they can’t be mixed with packaging glass.

5. Steel gets plucked out of the mix with a big magnet.

You know how we throw all our recycling into one big bin? Well, it’s got to get sorted somehow. Steel items are picked out with a giant magnet. Aluminium gets extracted with a special electrical current, and the rest gets sorted in machines called trammels, which look like the barrel of a cement mixer with holes in it. 

6. Not all plastic is created equal.

Plastic bags, and in fact any plastic soft enough to be scrunched in your hand, can’t be recycled by Auckland Council. Some of this can be taken to your local supermarket – from there it’s sent off to a specialist facility – but other things need to go straight in the bin. The best option with single-use plastics is to think before you buy and just say no if it’s possible.

7. There’s a limit to the number of times certain materials can be recycled.

The fibres in paper shorten each time they’re processed, and over time plastic can start absorbing small amounts of what it’s had in it, so eventually – after six or seven times – these materials are rendered useless.

Recycling is just one answer to our dependency on materials like plastic, but we can all do more. Consider reducing the number of disposable items you buy in the first place, and reusing the ones you already have. Everyone’s got a part to play in keeping our place beautiful.

Visit Make the Most of Waste for more information on recycling.

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