DESPITE soaring concerns about climate change right across our communities, the workplace road to recycling remains littered with good but often misguided intentions.
We are all familiar with this scenario.
You race over to the recycling bins with something you wish to recycle. However, as you approach the green, red and maybe even yellow bin your mind fills with trashy thoughts as you question whether the item in your hands is actually recyclable.
You want to do the right thing and keep our junk out of landfill, so without much further thought you tip your item into the yellow recycling bin.
You quietly hope that should you have chosen the wrong bin, someone at the other end of the recycling line will sort it out. No harm done, right?
Wrong. You are not a recycler but a dangerous workplace wish-cycler – and you are far from alone.
Some experts believe two out of three workers cause damage to our environment because of their rubbish ways.
Also known as aspirational recycling, wish-cycling is the process of disposing of rubbish in a recycling receptacle instead of in the regular bin – even though you are in doubt as to whether the item in question is actually recyclable or not.
And while wish-cycling happens all too regularly at home, its incidence in the workplace is thought to be much higher – and possibly at an all-time high.
Many of us are more prone to wish-cycling in the workplace, where it is much harder to identity trashy culprits, than at home.
In a home setting, we seem to exercise more restraint when it comes to throwing items in the recycling bins. Maybe it is the worry that misplaced items can be tracked back to culprits, through those much despised but essential council bin inspections, that drives our heightened care.
Wish-cycling in the workplace is of increasing concern because of the typically higher volume of non-recyclable waste than in our homes, including large quantities of packaging materials such as bubble and clingwrap along with Styrofoam products like disposable cups and food trays.
Whether wish-cycling takes place in the home or workplace, the well-meaning reflex of throwing literally anything into the recycling bin does more harm than good.
Items placed in recycling bins are sorted at special plants invariably by machines and not people. Those machines have been designed to separate out various items such as plastics, paper and other recyclables.
If an item is wrongly disposed of in a recycling bin, it may well end up causing the sorting machine to jam.
Worse yet, non-recyclable items that end up getting through with recyclables can contaminate an entire batch of recyclable items.
Even those items that we are convinced can be dumped in the recycling bin can be deceiving.
Take the pizza box, all that is left over from another late night in the office and a spot of al desko dining.
While cardboard is recyclable, the pizza box is most likely heavily stained with pizza grease. If dumped in a paper recycling bin, that grease might contaminate the entire batch of paper.
Even many of those single-use coffee cups, which often have a thin plastic coating to prevent leakage, have no place in our recycling bins.
The same applies to used napkins and paper plates, which are tossed into bins with recyclables.
Contaminated recycling materials are just one reason that other countries are now refusing to accept Australia’s waste.
The bottom line is that wish-cycling undermines the entire recycling process.
Not surprisingly, the steady rise in wish-cycling in the workplace has many bosses literally down in the dumps.
While bosses often unfairly get the blame for all the rubbish accumulated in our workplaces, with wish-cycling it is their failure to raise awareness about recycling that has sparked the rise of non-recyclables surfacing in all the wrong places.
And while bosses clearly have a role to play in creating workplaces that minimise the adverse impact on our environment, individual workers must also take responsibility for ensuring that our office rubbish makes it to the right place.
So next time you approach the recycling bins with an item you think may be recyclable, keep in mind that your lack of clarity could condemn literally tonnes of other properly recycled materials unnecessarily to landfill.
If in doubt, don’t do it. A think-before-you-throw attitude might well prevent contaminated recyclables ending up as landfill when the recycling process breaks down.
Landfill releases toxins into the soil and ground water and creates methane – a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.
At a time when climate change is of critical concern, the message is clear: it is time to throw out our wish-cycling ways to stop recycling going off the rails.
Instead, we must accept when it comes to some items, they simply cannot be recycled and are better off – as is the environment – if they are placed in the regular rubbish bin.
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