While most of us know that you can’t put items like these in the yellow bin for weekly collection, there’s confusion about what should be done with them. And it’s not just paint, oils and batteries that have people scratching their heads.
The EPA Environment Protection Authority director of Resource Recovery, Kathy Giunta, says confusion over how to recycle our household problem waste and chemicals is a common issue.
“Households are great at recycling materials like paper, glass and aluminum however there is some confusion about recycling wastes that can’t go in regular recycling bins, like fluoro lights, paints and batteries, she says.
“Those problem wastes can actually be taken to free recycling services across EPA.
Safely removing potentially hazardous household items has a number of benefits – both short and long term.
“In the short term, you’re making your home safer for children, pets and yourself. These are not the types of materials you want hanging around the house or garage because they can impact people’s health.”
The EPA offers a number of options for disposing of problem waste and chemicals.
It funds Household Chemical CleanOut events which are free, drive-through services held at various times of the year, where residents can drop off a range of household chemicals to be disposed of correctly.
“Just about everyone in NSW has access to at least one Household Chemical CleanOut event a year. In many areas, there are more.” Giunta says
The NSW EPA also funds a growing network of permanent Community Recycling Centres where residents can drop off a number of problem waste items at a time that suits them rather than waiting for the annual CleanOut event.
“Through this network of 101 Community Recycling Centres, people have much more accessible options to get rid of their problem waste, Giunta says.
“In 2016-17 we serviced over 50,000 households and collected more than 3 million kilos of problem waste. This is a great effort from the community.”
Giunta says that over the last few years, there has been a 10 per cent increase in the amount of waste collected on average, year on year at CleanOut events.
“The most common item collected is paint. It makes up about 60 per cent of all the materials we collect. But we also accept items such as gas bottles, fire extinguishers, motor oils, ammonia-based cleaners, pesticides and herbicides, car and household batteries, smoke detectors, and fluoro globes and tubes” said Giunta.
Giunta says while these services help make your home safer and get rid of the unwanted clutter; they also make the kerbside collection safer.
“For example, if a gas cylinder is put in a recycle bin and that bin is picked up and crushed in a compacter, that cylinder can explode. That is a major safety issue for our waste management workers. It’s important not to put these items into your kerbside bin but bring them to one of our CleanOut events or Community Recycling Centres.”
There are also huge long-term benefits to the environment of recycling.
“For one, we are removing these materials from the waste stream and putting them back into the productive economy as most are recyclable,” Giunta says. “We are contributing to increased recycling rates and the reduction in use of new natural resources. If we can recycle mercury from a fluorescent tube we don’t have to extract more of that virgin material from the earth.”
But what happens to these products once they’re taken to a Household Chemical CleanOut event or the Community Recycling Centre?
There are a number of processes, depending on the type of waste. For example:
• Paint is mixed with other solvents and used in cement manufacturing while the metal containers are recycled;
• Gas cylinders have any remaining gas taken out while the steel in the bottle is recycled. However, many of the bottles are returned to the hire market – so they are reused rather than recycled;
• Lead, acid and plastic in batteries are recovered and recycled;
• Fluoro tubes, which contain mercury, are crushed to isolate the phosphor powder from the glass. This powder is processed to capture any mercury, which is then sold for a range of industrial uses while the leftover glass and metals is put back into the recycling system.