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Otter’s ultimate guide to recycling and reusing

Photo credit: Ruud van Koningsbrugge (Flickr)

Photo credit: Ruud van Koningsbrugge (Flickr)

Imagine having a mason jar’s worth of waste per week. In fact, forget about a week, how about a year? It may sound impossible, but once you’ve developed a system, it becomes second nature and household waste can become a thing of the past. Megan Raj shares some ideas to get you thinking outside the box (or bin).

Stuffing a year’s worth of waste into a mason jar is becoming more commonly practised, the movement led by trailblazers such as author Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home and Lauren Singer from Trash is for Tossers.

It’s not as extreme as it seems – it’s really a matter of knowing how and where something can be recycled and thinking outside the box for alternatives to the bin. You soon begin to realise that what is thrown could actually be recycled. The first step is to refuse and reduce, but failing that, look at ways to prevent rubbish and items from going to landfill. Here are some ideas to get you thinking.


Fact: Textile waste in landfill contributes to the formation of leachate as it decomposes, which can contaminate groundwater. Decomposing organic fibres such as wool produce large amounts of ammonia and methane. To cut down on textile waste, consider repurposing your fabrics.

Sheets and clothing which can’t be redeemed due to stains can be cut down into rags for household cleaning, car washing, or used in place of paper towels for spills. Alternatively blankets, sheets and towels can be donated to local animal shelters where they are desperately needed. Get creative! If kids clothing has a stubborn stain which isn’t too big, then try altering the piece to something trendy and personalise it by adding large buttons or sewing on a fabric shape over the stain.

If you’re crafty, you can turn t-shirts into plait rugs. Odd socks can be turned into drink cosies or cool paper weights. There’s an endless supply of craft ideas online.

When it comes to textiles don’t forget carpets and curtains. Freecycle and Gumtree are great places to list unwanted household textiles, since old carpets can be reused in garages or home gyms. As an added bonus, you can request that the recipient come and pick up the item themselves, saving you from having to lift a finger!


You may be used to putting glass jars and bottles into your yellow recycling bin, but there are some types of glass that shouldn’t be put in the kerbside recycling bin, such as:

  • Light globes
  • Mirrors
  • Window glass
  • Crockery
  • Drinking glasses
  • Pyrex

These types of glass can be recycled at specific glass recovery centres across Australia. It’s just a matter of doing a quick internet search to find one close to you.


Fact: Australians generate more than 140,000 tonnes of electronic waste each year and most of it ends up in landfill. As well as putting more pressure on limited landfill capacity, e-waste can be hazardous, as it contains toxic materials.

Charity stores accept electronic devices as long as they are in good working condition. However, faulty or broken electronics must be disposed of thoughtfully. Planet Ark has programs for recycling televisions and computers, while MobileMuster recycles mobile phones, batteries and chargers. Aldi stores generally have a drop-off point for batteries. Also, check when your local council is having their e-waste drop-off days. They’ll take all your household appliances, electronic games, garden power tools and office equipment like faxes and computers, and dispose of them properly.

Paper and cardboard

Fact: Australians send 1.9 million tonnes of paper to landfill each year and most of it can be recycled.

Although most paper and cardboard can be recycled via your yellow bin, how about using them to their maximum capacity, before sending them off to be recycled?

  • Save those toilet rolls to make homemade Christmas crackers
  • Reuse the blank sides of A4 printed paper by cutting them to size and attaching them together as a notepad. Or invest in a Paper Saver Notebook that does it for you
  • Strong cardboards can make great bookmarks
  • Save and reuse envelopes by putting fresh labels on them

A note for the pizza lover: Sadly, pizza boxes can’t be recycled, as the oil and food scraps can’t be separated from the paper fibres during the pulping process.

Toiletries and cosmetics

We probably all have some old hand creams or beauty products in our bathroom cabinet that we no longer want to use. But before adding plastics to the recycling bin, consider how to repurpose unused products or empty containers.

  • A shampoo that didn’t suit your hair can be used for hand washing clothes
  • Perfumes which have gone old make great car air fresheners or bathroom sprays; the bottles can be filled with water and essential oils later as a spritzer
  • Lipstick cases make good storage for tiny items such as sewing needles and hair clips
  • Make-up brushes, once washed, can be used for detailing keyboards and car crevices

Plastics! Know your numbers

Fact: It can take up to 500 years for plastic bottles to break down in landfill.

In order to recycle plastics properly, it’s important to check the number on the plastics identification code stamped on all plastics. This shows the type of resin used and whether it can be recycled or not.

Numbers 1-3 can generally be recycled by your local kerbside recycling program and this may be extended to those marked 4-7, but check with your local council. Remember to rinse bottles and containers and remove lids as well.

For your soft plastic waste, Planet Ark has a convenient REDcycle program, where you drop off your scrunchable plastics (think bread or pasta packets, biscuit trays, lolly bags) at designated bins. Use this handy locator to find your nearest one.  Plastic bags can be given to supermarkets with recycling programs in place. To replace cling wrap, investigate products like water-resistant beeswax-treated cloths, or cloth napkins to wrap sandwiches in lunch boxes. Invest in tupperware containers to store food. Avoid fruits and vegetables packed in polystyrene trays as they also leach chemicals into food.

As you can see, there’s plenty we can do to prevent waste going to the landfill, so make a game of it, analyse your bin and see what items can be recycled. The key is to minimise the amount going into your red bin. Your back will thank you, come garbage collection day!

Photo credit: Ruud van Koningsbrugge cc

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