Council recycling should be a simple process of collecting household recyclable materials and turning them back into new items. This is what most people think happens today.
Unfortunately, the effort and time you spend “recycling” in your home is destroyed the moment you place your recycling into a co-mingled recycling bin. Co-mingled recycling makes separating the materials nearly impossible. So around 80% of the plastic and glass in your recycling bin becomes waste and ends up in landfill.
The good news is that we can hugely reduce this problem with two simple steps: washing our recyclables and keeping them separate. Doing this would transform our broken recycling system.
When you’ve used clothes or dishes, you wash them and store them in separate locations so they’re easy to reuse when needed. You don’t store socks, shirts, knives and glasses together in a co-mingled drawer.
If we wash and keep our recyclable materials separate we can increase our closed-loop recycling rate. We just have to stop storing glass, plastics and metals together. And don’t worry – you won’t have to actually wash and store each item separately. A ReCircle machine will do this for you.
What is Closed-loop Recycling?
A closed-loop recycling system takes your old plastic bottle and uses it to make a new plastic bottle or a product of similar quality. If kept clean and separate, the material contained in a PET plastic bottle can be reused again as many as 12.5 times. In the case of glass, 100% pure glass can be recycled again and again indefinitely.
Most people think that closed-loop recycling takes place each time we “do the right thing” and put our recyclables in the recycling bin. But, in reality, although we might “do the right thing”, the system does the wrong thing – 94% of the time.
Isn’t bottle-to-bottle recycling already happening today?
Unfortunately, no. Our current co-mingled system makes it expensive and often impossible to separate materials into 100% pure recyclables fit for closed-loop recycling.
So around 80% of the plastic in your bin is sent to landfill and 14% is downcycled into lesser quality products like carpet backing. Less than 6% is closed-loop recycled. If plastic was washed and kept separate, this figure could rise to 100%.
Today, most councils dump our recycling at a cost of up to US$122 per tonne and pass that on to you, the ratepayer.
We also need to consider the opportunity cost. By downcycling, your council is writing off 95% of the value of your recycled glass and 80% of the value of your recycled PET plastic.
Downcycled glass is worth only $8-12 per tonne as road-base. Closed-loop recycled glass saves material energy and emissions and is worth 20 times more to manufacturers – $170-240 per tonne.
Downcycled PET is worth only $150-200 per tonne. Closed-loop recycled PET is worth 5 times more at $700-1000 per tonne.
What about bottle deposit schemes?
Bottle deposit schemes like Return and Earn or Tomra are a good way to collect certain plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans. They do have a higher closed-loop recycling rate.
However, they only account for a fraction of all household recycling. And they are inconvenient and limited as you need to travel to the machine with your recycling and they do not accept all container types or sizes.
The main problem is that these machines collect and mix the plastic, aluminum and coloured glass. It’s the same co-mingled problem as your recycling bin – the materials need to be separated before they can be recycled.
At some of the top performing deposit schemes around 30% of the glass is sent to landfill, 20% is downcycled into road base or similar low grade products and only 50% is closed-loop recycled.
This is frustrating as the glass bottle was individually scanned and could have been kept separate by type from the start. Instead the glass is co-mingled and devalued. Closed-loop recycling rates at bottle deposit machines should be close to 100%.
What are the alternatives?
The ReCircle is one solution that is being developed to automate the two missing steps – washing and sorting. It will perform a similar role in your home as the washing machine and dishwasher.
The ReCircle is a domestic recycling appliance that uses sensors to prevent any two recyclable materials from mixing at any stage. It cleans and separately stores your recyclable items so that 100% will be closed-loop recycled.
The prototype will accept seven recyclable materials; two types of plastic, three colours of glass and two types of metal. It will remove all caps, lids, neck and tamper rings before the items are scanned, washed and any labels removed. The items will be ground, flaked or crushed and the pure recycled raw materials will be stored separately.
Collection of the pure materials will be arranged via the ReCircle app 8-10 times a year and will be delivered to manufacturers so that 100% of the recycling in the appliance is closed-loop recycled.
Next time you fold your washing or unpack the dishwasher, please be aware of the appliance missing in your home – the ReCircle that would prevent the majority of your recycling being turned into waste and going to landfill.
Our aim is to see the simple process of recycling becoming a reality. By producing pure materials, ReCircle ensures that 100% of the recyclable items in the appliance are too valuable to send to landfill. Instead, they’ll be used to make new products and realise their true value.