Household problem waste: How to turn it into a resource

Posted on 16 March 2021

Waverley Council’s Sustainable Waste Team shares solutions to the growing problem of ‘problem waste’ choking our cupboards, garages, attics, kerbside bins and eventually, landfill. Read on for tips on how you can help reduce and recycle it, and ways this waste is made into other useful products once it leaves your home or office.

What is household problem waste?

Household problem waste is generally items that are not recyclable through our kerbside rubbish and recycling bins. They are ‘problem’ due to hazards they create for the people who collect and process the items, or simply because their design doesn’t allow us to sort and process them through standard recycling facilities.

Some typical problem wastes include electronic waste, light globes, batteries, soft plastics and polystyrene.  Others include old clothing and textiles that can be repurposed rather than chucked into landfill.

These materials are commonly found in households and may be toxic if left in the environment, so it’s super important that they are separated from our usual rubbish and disposed of responsibly.  Let’s find out how.

Figure 1 Assortment of household items accepted at our Problem Waste Drop Off events

How to recycle it in Waverley?

Waverley Council is making it easier to recycle problem wastes through our problem waste recycling stations and events. Through these free collection points, Waverley residents can divert a whole range of material from landfill including electronic waste, lighting waste, household batteries, polystyrene, medical (X-rays, MRI, C&T) scans, soft plastics and good quality textiles.

Additionally, the NSW EPA’s Chemical CleanOut events and Community Recycling Centres (CRCs) are designed for the safe disposal of paints, pesticides, fire extinguishers and other toxic household items. Click here to learn more.

The problem waste recycling journey – where does this stuff wind up?

What happens to problem waste after collection? Once these items are collected, they are safely transported to a specialist recycling facility for further sorting and processing into its components. Often the materials recovered can be used to manufacture new goods, which help to close the loop and create a more circular economy.

Figure 2 A typical conveyor belt with a mix of materials that are being sorted into various components

Here’s a snapshot of how some common problem wastes are recycled.

Electronic waste and small appliances

Electronic waste (e-waste) refers to everything from old televisions and computers to microwaves and mobile phones. The recycling of TVs, computers, printers and accessories is funded by the National Computer and Television Recycling Scheme and these items are readily processed into new materials. Some cords and some small appliances can also be recycled.

E-waste collected at our problem waste stations and events are sent to a local processor where they are sorted and broken down into various parts and materials including glass, metals, plastics, batteries, cables and circuit boards. These components are used to make new products.

The plastic in many electronics and devices can be shredded and recycled into other, often lower-value products, such as packaging, shipping pallets, play equipment and pens.

Tip: For larger purchases, check the manufacturer’s information on product servicing and repairs and choose to invest in those with local repair options and good after-purchase support.

Clothing and textiles

Good quality textiles including clothing, sheets and accessories are collected at our problem waste events and taken to a recycling and sorting facility. They are prioritised for local resale at charities and reused; the rest is turned into rags or sent offshore, which is the same general process for lower quality or damaged textiles. This model helps ensure as much unwanted clothing as possible is kept locally.

Tip: New clothing production is energy and resource intensive and the fast fashion industry means we are generating more clothing waste than ever before. So why not make second-hand clothing your first choice? There are many options to rent or shop second-hand locally. To make your clothes last, buy classic pieces you’ll be able to wear often, and look out for mending workshops or videos tutorials.

Batteries

Through Council’s problem waste services, over 700 kilograms of household batteries have been recycled in 12 months. Materials such as lead, cadmium, mercury, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc found in batteries are highly valued materials that that can be recycled an infinite number of times and are dangerous if disposed of incorrectly.

Batteries placed in the waste bin have been the cause of six fires in Waverley Council collection trucks over the past year, putting our collection crews and fleet at risk of harm.

Tip: Consider swapping to rechargeable batteries, which can be recharged up to 1000 times. This helps reduce the environmental impact and the number of trips to the store when a torch or electric toy battery runs flat.

Medical imaging scans (X-rays, CT and MRI)

Medical imaging scans are ground and chemically processed to separate the scans into plastic and silver. The silver from the scans and extracted, melted, and resold to manufacturers, while the remaining PET plastic is ready for recycling.

Tip: Where appropriate, consider asking your doctor for a digital copy instead of film.

How to reduce and avoid household problem waste?

In the long term, investing in well-designed products that last for a long time helps keep problem wastes out of landfill and reduces our impact to on our environment. Help extend the life of existing items by storing them well, maintaining and repairing, instead of buying new.

Avoiding, reusing, repairing and sharing items are all important activities that are part of a more sustainable lifestyle and keeps materials ‘circular’ before considering recycling or landfilling at their end of life. There are many great businesses, charities and community groups who help our community live a circular economy lifestyle and reduce waste going to landfill. Charity shops such as Vinnies and the Red Cross help keep clothes and household items in use for longer, The Bower reuse and repair co-op can collect, repair and resell goods, and many businesses accept reusable containers and cups for takeaway food, helping to avoid unnecessary single use containers from going to landfill.

Once your items have run their course, find out how to responsibly recycle or dispose of your items on our website or check the RecycleSmart app.

Thanks for making recycling reuse and responsible problem waste disposal second nature!

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.