Why can't people use recycling bins properly?

We asked Transport for NSW if it's considered redesigning its bins at train stations.

Looking at these garbage and recycling bins side by side, it’s hard to see much difference between the items chucked inside them.

The two pictures below were taken at Redfern Station, but the issue of waste inside the wrong bin appeared to be a problem at every Sydney train station we visited last month.

Yahoo News Australia asked Transport for NSW a series of questions about how big the issue is, and how much of its waste is actually recycled. Most importantly, because so many consumers are doing the wrong thing, we wondered if it had considered changing its bin design.

Left - recycling and garbage bins at Redfern station. Right - a stand alone recycling bin.
Recycling bins at Sydney train stations are often filled with items that can't be recycled. Source: Yahoo

Transport for NSW declined to answer any of our questions directly, and the holder of its $12 million contract Veolia unfortunately couldn’t give us any specifics because it is bound by a commercial in-confidence agreement with the state.

But after speaking generally about the industry with Veola, it's clear that when recycling is contaminated with rubbish it costs the company more because the load has to be hand sorted.

Around 5 to 15 per cent of materials sent to its recovery facilities can't be recycled because of contamination. That's if the waste actually arrives — across Australia, about once a week a load will catch fire because flammable batteries have been incorrectly put into a bin.

And as for those recyclables put into the red garbage bin instead of the yellow one, they are automatically just sent to landfill.

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Government urged to be more transparent about recycling

Jeff Angel from conservation group Total Environment Centre lamented the NSW Government’s reluctance to answer specific questions about recycling at train stations. He's concerned this will add to the public’s cynicism about recycling.

“It’s all very mysterious and suspicious. I’d like to see much more transparency about what’s happening to that material. Too many people are already cynical about recycling efforts,” he said.

“It’s obvious that passengers rarely make any distinction between the recycling and rubbish bins. So, there’s a failure at that first point of contact. There is no evidence that you can confidently say maximum recycling is happening.”

What Transport for NSW had to say about customers not using its bins properly

What Transport for NSW would tell us is that Sydney Trains “is committed to long-term, proactive management of environmental opportunities”.

“We provide customers with general waste and recycling bins across the network to help with the appropriate removal of disposed items,” it said.

“We are always working with our waste management partners and industry experts to increase our recycling capabilities and reduce landfill by providing sustainable options.”

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