Q and A with Anonymous Operation Manager from a Recycling Centre. She has worked in the recycling industry for 14 years and has been Operations Manager for 4 years.


Who are your customers

98% commercial, some stuff comes regional from their residential areas (most residitential have their own MRF). They take material that's already been sorting. They do get some remote/regional waste. 

How does this come about? With Exmouth in mind)

It's up to the Shire to manage this cost. Best is to install a small baler, transport companies chage by pallet space or stocked bales. 

What resources do you accept?

MOSTLY: Cardboard, newspaper, white office paper, some mags,/pamphlets, couple diff grade plastics: clear ldpe (cling wrap, coloured gets downgraded, plastic bags (can of worms), big industrial palstic wraps wrapped around pallets, industrial), PET (bottles with lids, lids contaminate, PLEASE REMOVE LIDS, not cause to be rejected), HDPE (milk and juice bottles, small volumes),  PP bulka bags (polypropolyne, transporting grains), plastics growing. 



How much contamination comes in?


What material comes in most contaminated?

Food waste in plastics, but mostly get the WRONG TYPES OF PLASTICS. hard to decide if it's the right type of plastic on ALL sides, customers are sure, recyclers aren't always sure. Yikes.

Sources of LDPE come from industrial pallet wrapping, supermarkets with big bales of plastic contaminated with coloured material or plastic trays or wrong types of plastic film. 

It's ALL contaminated. WITHOUT FAIL. Evey load comes contaminated.


RESPONSIBILITY must be on the supermarkets to be stricter on employees, more education. Educate businesses easier than educating individuals. 

Residential recycling contamination is THROUGH THE ROOF. She CRIES. 

Not as bad in commercial, but still unacceptable. Gets medical contamination like viles of blood, YUCK. 

What percentage has to get sent to landfill because of contamination?

less than 5%

Is recycling an accurate term? 


Is better to think of it as down-cycling? 

Yep. People don't want to face the fact. We all feel good about the word recycling, but even it is greenwashing. Use the words down-cycling. 

Is it easier to work with residential or commercial waste?

Commercial! Despite there being a lot of contamination, residential waste is hopelessly contaminated. Even environmental people don't care enough to sort properly. People here one thing about recycling and think it applies to their specific region. It's all so different. They have to LDPElook into it to get it right. 

How do people find out what is recyclable? 

Google it. Search for your town and recycling centre.

Why are there not more comprehensive advertising or information campaigns to help people work with you or their local facilities. 

We are private, we work with our clients. There are too many middlemen and not enough funding for each small area of the country to get their own communications campaign, plus people in this industry are not savvy with comms


General Recycling Questions

What's happening with the plastics? What happens to the plastics you accept from your clients??

No one wants it . No one will buy it. Even for free. Sitting, stockpiling. Here, she won't send to landfill. 250 TONS of LDPE, 9-10 shipping containers full with nowhere to go. 

LDPE recycled into? Washed, sort, melted into pellets, sold to manufacturers

Last year China stopped accepting most of our recyclables, do you know why? 

Couple theories, environmental and economic. China is desperate for the materials because they manufacture SO MUCH plastic and paper. They stopped accepting foreign materials to drive up their own market internally, increase recycling in China and the value of the materials in China, so now they have to spend more INTERNALLY for these materials. This is to help clean up environmental problems and boost their economy. 

Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia all closing their doors because of too much contamination in the plastic, and they don't have the resources to sort or separate or a place for the unrecyclable plastic plastics. 

Also, it takes a lot of water to recycle plastics like LDPE and illegal dumping of contaminated water. Malaysia recently shut down operations until they can clean up the practice.


What resources are you sending to China? 

Cardboard still gets sold and shipped to China, 60 packs a week to four destinations. Every shipment charge inspected by an independent Auditor CEC (China), take random bales of cardboard for audit. Also, supervise the loading of containers. Have had shipments rejected bc of FOOD WASTE. One shipping Container was rejected for ONE LEMON SLICE!!!! It is all about contamination! Customers get banned for sending contamination. 0.5% contamination acceptance rate, 0% tolerance for prohibited contamination like FOOD waste or medical waste or chemicals. 

So frustrating. Never recycle pizza boxes! New regulations SO strict, don't allow any Food residue. Food contaminated materials might be accepted in Indonesia, but China would not accept. And you don't know where your recycling centre is trying to sell your waste. Error on the side of no contaimination. Compost your pizza boxes. 


What is it being turned into? liner boxes (such as below) that have a plastic lining on the outside with the print branding and also the corrugation BETWEEN 2 layers of virgin cardboard.


Who are the other global plastic buyers? 

So tough. We pray. Curently looking at markets in europe for LDPE (but then you have to factor in the carbon footprint to ship these over there) 

Now that China is no longer accepting our recyclables are more resources going to landfill?
Totally. Landfill levy is CHEAP for WA, so it is easier to put into ground. Capture the methane for energy and the tips do have ground lining NOW, previously they did not. 

What are the BEST materials for recycling?

Depends on the area! We have to learn this is different everywhere. We cannot make generalizations. If we do, it has to be in the oposite direction, asume it is not recyclable, and DON'T BUY IT!

Cardboard & paper are best because they are natural matierals that wILL break down. By themselves they are compostable. They won't cause impacts like plastics.Cardboard/paper can recycle 5-7 times before the structure breaks down.

Aluminium is pretty good in terms of Carbon footprint because you can recycle infinite back into cans or building products. Tin cans are lined with plastics, so can interfere, as they have to burn that off before they melt the tin down and the emissions are a bit hectic. 


Does this question vary according to district/area/recycling facility? 




If we have to use packaging, what is the best material to go for? 


Cardboard is best. Metal is pretty good.

Glass is not great in WA, used to have a glass recycling centre, but closed years ago. If the glass is good, put on a train and sent to SA. but mostly cheaper to buy the glass jars/bottles overseas. SO glass is not driving change to have more facilities here in Aus. Most glass gets smashed in the bin, most ends up with glass chards and then contaminated with cigarette butts and grass clippings, and separating is costly, cheaper to put into landfill. Some are using for road base or in garden beds. but sand is plentiful so use that for roads, don't need to process

Plastics? LONG PAUSE

The markets aren't there, avoid plastics until we have recycling. THERE IS NO END for plastics to go right now. 


Thoughts on mixed resources like tetra paks (soy milk, almond milk or coconut water containers with round plastic lids) :

Tetra paks are never recycled! 

"Anything can be recycled. But is there a market for it?? Does the place you live have the facility to process it?? The chasing arrows logo was the worst thing to be invented." It is horrendously misleading. Yes, all materials could be recycled. The likelihood that they actually will is depressingly small. 


Speaking of mixed resources, talk to me about COFFEE CUPS

She SCOFFS rolls her eyes "Takeaway coffee cups CANNOT be recycled." Coffee cups are always contaminated with milk and coffee. The contaminated cups therfore contaminate the rest of the load! It all ends up as waste. Takeaway cups are lined with plastic, this is also considered contamination, small but contamination nonetheless. 

Bio Cups are to be composted, NOT recycled; but no one does this. There is so much confusion.

AVOID BIO PLASTICS, it contaminates recycling and it contaminates industrial compost. Some districts will accept, if you are willing to do the research and find your compost that WILL ACCEPT bioplastics, you are the very small minority responsible enough to use bioplastics & drive them to the compost yourself. It's the only way it will make it there. 

Will there be domestic recycling?

No. no investors will go for it. It is profitable, but it's cheaper to do it overseas. 

There are some domestic programs, like REdcycle, but even Redcycle doesn't have enough of a market for the end product to keep going. We don't know where they are selling it, no one is buying right now, so it's more likely they are just stockpiling it. Which isn't sustainable financially. 

We cannot rely on recycling. We need to close the loop. reduce the use of plastics. We cannot rely on recycling.

What's the solution?

Companies AND INDIVIDUALS need to take responsibility for it. There need to be CONSEQUENCES for doing the wrong thing. Fines. Currently, there are NO FINES around waste or recycling. NONE. Some councils will inspect random bins to give report cards. 

We pay landfill collection and recycling in council rates. Residential collects money and then pay the operators to collect but they have to sort all the contamination. Undercharge for the service and the recycling centers lose $ as they have to over sort.

It used to be $25/ton to process, but now it is SO CONTAMINATED you couldn't do it for $100/ton

"We shouldn't be able to put whatever we want in the bin and walk away and that's it."

People don't know how serious this is.  Our waste is too contaminated to be accepted by foreign countries! We have nowhere to put it here. 

Her recycling plant can charge their commercial customers for disposal and sorting if contaminated. But it's not guaranteed and doesn't help in the grand scheme, we need stronger legislation from the government, and a body to ENFORCE ITTTTT!!!!!!!

What changed? Why so contaminated now?. 

EVERYTHING is packaged ow. We eat differently. We shop more. It's al mixed resources packaging. 

Why not a recycling standards enforcement agency?

Because the industry has been left alone for so long, it's private and for profit, so should be self-regulated. There was profit in recycling before China quit taking our plastics. Recycling was doing great for a while, crashed three times in her 14 years. Here is another big crash. Most profit for them is in cardboard because they work with such large volumes. 

Thoughts on Incinerating waste: 

Don't like it. There are facilities that can do it with a low environmental impact, however, but burning these finite materials that SHOULD BE valued eliminates them from being used again. These finite resources extracted from the earth are poof GONE forever. This is a desperate lean up attempt. An easy out that is VERY costly. They should be spending on setting up recycling domestically not incinerating domestically. It is not a solution! greenwashing. yes, we want to deal with the piling waste, but if this becomes the answer, then we don't drive the change to truly solve the problem from the source. We keep using shitty plastics and packaging thinking we can just burn it, plowing through our finite materials without solving the real issue. We need a solution that closes the loop, instead of ends with JUST BURN IT. We need to start at the beginning and change the product from the start to impact the full lifecycle of these things ending up as waste, thus effectively, intentionally, thoughtfully, strategically and sustainably closing the loop


How Do We Help Recycling?

If you could send a message out to manufacturers about packaging, what would you say? 

Simplify Everything. It's too complicated with mixed materials. Use ONE material. 

Like, why is the coca cola lid a different material than the coca cola bottle?!?! Even glass jars with metal lid, smash it all and run a magnet over to collect the steel. 

If you could send a message out to the government about stricter contamination or recycling regulations or bans on materials etc. what would you say?

Manufacturers must be held responsible for what they are creating. IT STARTS THERE. there is only so many individuals can do and impact individuals can have, it starts there with manufacturers and what they put out there for sale. Extended Producer Responsibility, like countries like Germany, enforce. The best place to start. 


If you could send a message out to consumers of materials, what would you say?
STOP buying stuff. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE BUYING. Thin about the waste you will create before you create it. Take responsibility for it. It is not someone else's problem. It is your waste. other people are sorting through YOUR waste!!!! 

If you could send a message out to citizens participating in the recycling system, what would you say?
We can make the most change through BUSINESS or COMMERICAL recycling, so get it right in your office! NO contamination and EXPOSING people who do it wrong! Ask for regulation!!! Ask for enforcement!!!

If you're not sure about what's recyclable don't just guess, ASK! do your research!!!!!! 



Take these questions to your local council

& recycling center.

Go live with answers!

Kathryn NelsonComment