WTF is Happening with Melbourne Recycling?

Owner of Dope Florals looking confused, sitting between two recycling bins.

Not unlike most Melbournians, I’ve been very confused about the state of recycling in Melbourne as of late. So I decided to read up and summarize what the f*ck is going on for anyone who is as curious as me! This will be a short, easy summary of the situation and by no means will it be hard-hitting investigative journalism. I am not a journalist, I am a florist.

So, first of all, in case you didn’t know, Melbourne recycling is fucked. One of the largest recycling facilities servicing Melbourne has stopped accepting waste as of 25/7/19. According to multiple news sites, this facility, SKM, was servicing over 30 councils (the SKM website only lists 18, but whatever, semantics). This closure happened a day after the SKM-owned company Glass Recovery Services was shut by the EPA due to contaminated glass in the facility, which was a fire hazard.

Below is a screenshot I took from the SKM website of the councils they serve:

List of Councils SKM serve

This isn’t some weird bullshit excuse for the government to shut down the glass recycling facility as part of some elaborate evil conspiracy to stop recycling. Fire hazards at the SKM and affiliates facilities are a legitimate concern since a raging fire at the Coolaroo facility lead to the evacuation of more than 100 homes in 2017. The EPA resolved that the fire was due to stockpiles of excess waste in the facility, as well as a failure to have proper fire prevention policies and equipment. It then caught fire again in 2018. Since these fires, the EPA has inspected SKM on multiple occasions and slapped them with fines for breaches of waste management laws on multiple occasions. 

I’m not sure what measures were taken in response to the fires and EPA orders, but I’m sure SKM’s mounting debt exceeding $5 million didn’t make things easier on them. All-in-all, the situation was a speed racer toward SKM collapse and it seems Victoria councils serviced by SKM didn’t plan for the inevitable. This brings us to our current situation.

Currently, the 400k tonnes of annual waste previously collected by SKM is going straight to landfill. That’s right, 400,000 tonnes annually. That’s how much we divert to just one recycling facility. Imagine if you combined all the recycling facilities in the Melbourne region – how many annual tonnes of waste would that be?? And now that’s all just going to landfill. Seems like we need to invest in more circular and zero-waste practices…anyway, I digress. The Environment Minister D’Ambrosio says that up to 40% of SKM’s waste materials are being distributed to other providers. We, the public aren’t privy to who these providers are for some reason? But trust her, they’re going to alternative providers.

TLDR: So basically, if you live in any of the councils that were serviced by SKM, your home recycling bin is a facade to make you feel better about yourself. Everything is just going to landfill and everything is pointless. But keep up with those good recycling habits! That’s what the City of Melbourne site recommends you do.


So What Now?

Now is the time to start thinking about your consuming habits. Find alternatives for your recycling and take steps to leading a life of less waste. Believe me, I’m not telling you to be one of those blogger psychopaths that can contain all of their waste in one jam jar and tell everyone else how easy and awesome it is. It is neither of those things, it is a lot of fucking work and impractical for like 90% of the population (that’s not a real statistic, remember, I’m not a journalist).

What I do urge you to do is think of ways to reduce your consumption of goods that produce waste – buy more produce (obviously not the ones ridiculously wrapped in plastic), consider a home composter, or link up with a composter in your community using apps like Share Waste so you don’t have to deal with that whole mess of a process. Another good thing to do is think more about re-use. I’ve made a commitment to myself to only shop for clothes at op shops. It’s a really fucking easy thing to do. Yeah, sure I get starry-eyed when I see cute clothes at a regular shop, but it means too much to me to not buy into that and I pull myself out of that ingrained consumerism real quick. And when you need to find some specific type of clothing, you can use second hand apps like the one my friend is always raving about called Depop. You can search for exactly what you’re looking for and not contribute to the ridiculous amount of waste that is the fashion industry.

Something that I’m very excited about that’s gaining traction is called Collaborative Consumption. The idea is to create sharing communities where a membership or rental fee allows you use of materials you don’t need to own, so you have access to things when you need them, and only then. For example: there’s an organization called Brunswick Tool Library where you can rent tools for whatever you may need them for, whenever you need them. Other cities around the world are also creating clothing libraries, where you can sign up for a monthly membership to gain access to a large amount of clothes that you wear and swap out whenever you want in order to reduce the over consumption of new clothes items. Please for the love of our Goddess Mother Earth, someone in Melbourne start this so I can be a member! 

As for your containers that you’re bound to be left with even after all the aforementioned considerations, you can re-use those as containers for other things. I use old pasta sauce glass jars to refill with conditioner from The Soap Shop at the South Melbourne Market. I hate conditioner bars. The Soap Shop also has bulk cleaning liquids you can use your old jars for as well. You can also get produce like nuts and granola from bulk sections of stores to fill your jars. We also use our jars as drinking glasses at our apartment. Don’t be afraid to become your grandmother and use your old butter containers as tupperware. No shame in less waste!

Now, after all of these considerations, you’re bound to still have some recycling to deal with.Through the City of Melbourne site, I’ve found a website called recyclingnearyou.com.au. You enter your postal code on the home page and it tells you heaps of info about recycling in your area – what things are recyclable in your area, what alternative services are available in your area, etc. You can also take your recycling to Bingo recycling facilities in Campbellfield, Clayton South, Dandenong, and West Melbourne. Not only do they recycle the waste, they also create “eco products” such as aggregate, sand, and mulch. As for your soft plastics, you can take those babies to Coles or Woolworths for recycling via the company Red Cycle. They team up with Replas, Downer, and Close the Loop to produce products from the waste, including municipal road infrastructure! This is really something you should be doing regardless because soft plastic has never been accepted by general recycling facilities.

As always, it’s a good practice to look into a business’ ethos to feel better about your purchases and create the least amount of impact on the Earth as possible. Businesses like Dope Florals, who create a zero-waste product, are a safe bet, as everything can be composted and put back into the environment in a beneficial way. No, I’m not sorry for that shameless plug (buy Dope Florals!).

Whew. So that concise summary turned into a little more than I expected, but hopefully you feel a little more informed, a little less lost, and a little better equipped to waste less.

TLDR: Consider buying zero waste products, reusing packaging like jam jars and butter containers, look into alternative recycling facilities, and buy Dope Florals.


Sources

https://www.9news.com.au/national/recycling-victoria-environmental-crises-waste-landfill-news-victoria/8fa0df5c-e58d-4fcf-a888-420e8b3fafa3
https://www.broadsheet.com.au/melbourne/city-file/article/victorias-recyclable-waste-headed-landfill-following-plant-closures
https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/residents/waste-recycling/Pages/what-goes-in-your-bins.aspx
https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/about/
https://brunswicktoollibrary.org/php/index.php
https://www.bingoindustries.com.au/recycling-centres/recycling-centres-melbourne-and-surrounds
https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/councils-scramble-as-troubled-recycling-giant-suddenly-halts-20190725-p52awh.html
http://www.skmrecycling.com/
https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/skm-recyclings-coolaroo-plant-catches-fire-again/news-story/65b6555aea980a39c84b874b009e882d