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We follow recycled rubbish from the bin and back to you again as something new

Karina Grift, November 18, 2018 9:10PM Kids News

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We all have a job to do in the process of recycling waste. media_cameraWe all have a job to do in the process of recycling waste.


Reading level: green

Turning our recycling into something that can be used again takes a lot of effort between councils, recycling and waste management companies and the companies that turn the recycled goods into new products.

Let’s follow the journey.


While it varies depending on where you live, usually once the recycling is picked up by the council truck it is taken to a sorting depot*. This place is called an MRF, which is short for Materials Recovery Facility.

The MRF is the place where the recycling is sorted by its type, such as paper, glass, metal or plastic.

Shoal Bay Waste Disposal ,Cash for cans, workers Alex Jenkins 17 from Karama and Matt Brennan 24 from Darwin sorting bottles and cans. media_cameraWorkers Alex Jenkins from Karama and Matt Brennan from Darwin sorting bottles and cans at the Shoal Bay Waste Disposal centre.

The first step at many MRFs is for the recycling to be loaded onto a conveyor belt*.

People help with the process along the conveyor belt by removing any waste that shouldn’t be there. This is time-consuming* work.

Special sorting machines then separate the recycling into its groups.

VIDEO: Plastic bottles being sorted at the Penrith Recycling Centre

These machines include a trammel, which is like a giant sieve that separates small and large items.

Ballistic separators sort by size and weight and physical characteristics and are able to shake broken glass from paper and cardboard. Optical sorters use cameras or lasers to separate plastic containers. Magnets pick up steel cans and fans blow paper apart from heavier items.


Once the recycling has been sorted and grouped together it is sold to companies in Australia and overseas to be turned back into a usable product.

Until recently China bought a lot of our recycled waste. But new rules in China about the quality of the waste mean it no longer wants what we sell.

NEWS_SYD_RECYCLING media_cameraTony Khoury, WCRA director at a recycling plant in Rydalmere in Sydney. Australia is facing a recycling crisis following restrictions placed on waste material exports to China in July last year. Picture: James Croucher

Other countries do buy some of our waste, including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Republic of Korea and Taiwan but not enough to make up for what China once bought.

Australia now needs to find a use for the recycling that we previously sold to China or it may end up in landfill*.


Recycled waste can be turned back into a huge range of new products. Some are surprising!

Used paper is one product that is easily made into new, recycled paper. The paper is first cleaned and then turned into paper pulp*. Recycled paper is now such good quality that it is hard or impossible to tell it has been made from recycled paper. Did you know that recycled paper can also be used to make kitty litter?

Glass bottles and jars are 100 per cent recyclable, meaning every part can be remade into a new glass container — every time. It can also be broken down to make sand, which has many uses, including for road building.

QLD_CP_NEWS_RECYCLING_04NOV15 media_cameraKenick ConstructionsÕ Rachel Whymark received a load of ReGlass, a product created from recycled crushed glass at CouncilÕs MRF. This 30 tonne pile of glass is made from 176470 recycled bottles. The product is used as a substitute to sand at a Kenick Constructions residential development. Picture: Marc McCormack
media_cameraRecycled toner printer pellets that are being used as asphalt* in road building. Picture: Jamie Williams/City of Sydney

Used printer ink cartridges can also be used as asphalt* in road building.

Even tyres can be recycled and used for road building and also to make soft mats for playgrounds and gyms.

Aluminium is endlessly recyclable and very efficient. Recycling an aluminium can into a new can only uses 5 per cent of the energy and emits* 5 per cent of the greenhouse gases compared to making a can from new aluminium, according to the Australian Aluminium Council.

Plastic can be recycled into new plastic containers and it can also be used to make products such as polar fleece, carpet, floor mats, tiles, motor oil, pipes, plant pots and outdoor furniture.

Flinders Christian College recycled fitness equipment media_cameraFlinders Christian Community College have received fitness equipment made from recycled plastic as part of the Coles RED Group REDcycle Program. Pictured are junior school leaders Josh, Sam, Michaela, Amy, Matt, Toby, Grace and Paige. Picture: Chris Eastman


We love our tech gadgets but they’re causing another big problem: e-waste.

The good news is that even e-waste can be recycled. E-waste includes items such as TVs, laptops, desktop computers, tablets and computer accessories such as scanners and printers.

media_cameraE-waste is increasing as Australians use more computers and devices.

In Australia, an organisation called TechCollect accepts e-waste. TechCollect takes items apart and sorts them into categories such as glass, metals and plastic. Batteries, ink cartridges and computer circuit boards are also sorted for recycling.

E-waste recycler TechCollect shows in this illustation why recycling computers, TVs and phones is a positive thing to do. media_cameraE-waste recycler TechCollect shows in this illustation why recycling computers, TVs and phones is a positive thing to do.

Another organisation called Mobile Muster accepts old mobile phones for recycling. Almost all parts of a mobile phone can be broken down into raw materials, such as glass, aluminium gold, silver and copper, plastic and cardboard packaging. Even old batteries can be recycled and made into new batteries.

media_cameraNew research shows Australian parents are failing to hand over their old mobile phones to their kids because they don’t know how to clear their data. Picture: Supplied

Since Mobile Muster started in 1998, more than 10 million handsets and mobile phones have been recycled. Recycling one mobile phone has the same environmental benefit as planting one tree. You can check the positive environmental impact recycling phones has with the Mobile Muster calculator at


Part Three: Australian recycling — then and now

Part Five: Comparing Australian recycling to the rest of the world

Part Six: You can be a great recycler



depot: collection or holding place

conveyor belt: a continuous moving band of fabric, rubber, or metal used for transporting objects from one place to another

time-consuming: takes a lot of time

landfill: rubbish that goes to a rubbish tip, or landfill site

pulp: soft, wet, shapeless mass of material

asphalt: bitumen; sticky black road material

emits: produces



For classroom activities on this story and much more, go to to purchase the recycling workbook with 25 activities for the early bird price of just $5 (including GST).

Early bird offer ends at 5pm on December 14. Thereafter, the price increases to $20 inc GST.


Australian Aluminium Council, visit

Planet Ark, visit


Mobile Muster,

Sustainability Victoria, visit

Extra Reading in recycling