Updated Wed 15 Mar 2017, 9:04am
When you wheel your yellowlidded garbage bin onto the kerb, do you ever think about what happens to its contents?
In the ACT and surrounding areas in New South Wales, all kerbside recycling is collected by trucks and taken to the recycling station in the Canberra suburb of Hume.
Some 200 tonnes of material — from cardboard and paper to glass bottles and plastic containers — arrives at the plant each day.
"All this material, that's not waste, that's valuable resources that we can put back into the productive economy," Re.Group business development manager Garth Lamb told ABC Radio Canberra's Jolene Laverty.
The Hume facility has been upgraded with new equipment, making it one of the most sophisticated operations in Australia.
"Generally people wheel out their bins and they don't really think about what happens next," Mr Lamb said.
"Everything works so well that people forget how complicated everything behind the scenes is."
Once the truck arrives at the plant, the material is dumped onto the tipping floor where workers can see if there is any gross contamination that needs to be removed before it goes any further.
"We've then got a loader that picks up the material and tips it into a hopper which will then go up a big conveyor belt," Mr Lamb said.
Workers then check the items as they move along the conveyor to remove contaminants that could damage the plant or reduce the quality of the end product.
The items then go into a trommel, a large round cylinder with different shaped holes that acts like a sieve as it rotates.
"You're separating things by shape and by size," Mr Lamb said.
"Through that trommel, your big flat pieces like cardboard and paper will go straight through the trommel ... whereas through the holes all your container material will fall out."
Once separated, the various materials are processed in different ways.
There is the ballistic separator that shakes broken glass from paper and cardboard and separates it.
Then there is the optical sorter that uses cameras to separate plastic containers.
"It basically takes a highresolution image of the containers as it comes past it and it identifies those containers and makes sure they're ejected into the right bunker, so we're separating that down into six or seven different grades of plastic," Mr Lamb said.
"We're trying to make that material as pure as possible so the more we can separate things and not have a mixed product, the more valuable that is and the more places we can use it."
Once sorted and graded, the items are baled and sent to other facilities for further processing into things like cardboard boxes and new plastic products.
What you can put in your yellow bin
It is important all householders know what they can and cannot put in their yellow bins.
Rigid plastic containers, paper, cardboard, glass bottles and jars, steel cans, aluminium cans and aluminium foil are among items that can be recycled.
"All the material gets mixed up in the truck which is why it's really important that each individual householder is being vigilant on making sure they've got the right material in the bin," Mr Lamb said.
"Because if one person in that whole street puts the wrong material in their bin it can contaminate a whole truck load, and in the worst-case scenario we can't recycle that."
No plastic bags, garden hoses or rope
If recyclable items are left in plastic bags they cannot be recycled.
"Material is moving through this facility very quickly, we don't get to open those plastic bags," Mr Lamb said.
"They could be plastic bags full of dirty nappies, they could be a plastic bag full of aluminium cans.
"If you've left it in a plastic bag it's not going to get recycled, it's going to get rejected."
Garden hoses and ropes are also a big problem.
"Things that are long and stringy, like ropes and garden hoses, they're an absolute nightmare in a recycling facility, they get wrapped around the equipment," Mr Lamb said.
What you can do to help
To make recycling easier and ensure items do not end up in landfill, empty containers and bottles of any leftover food or liquid and remove lids before placing them in your bin.
"We'd also appreciate it if you could give things a rinse out; it certainly improves the quality of the materials that we can recover here," Mr Lamb said.
With new and emerging technologies, Mr Lamb said it was possible to divert more than 95 per cent of household waste from landfill and more could be done to increase Australia's recycling rate.
"There are very few materials that hold no higher purpose than filling up a hole in the ground.
"Pretty much everything in the waste stream can be recycled, so long as we have the right facilities in place and people are putting the right items in the right bins."