Not waste until it’s wasted: what to do with 10 hard-to-recycle materials

Did you know you can recycle aluminium foil in your household recycling, as long as it’s in a ball the size of your fist? Or, that silver can be extracted from X-rays to then make jewellery?

On campus, our VU RISE initiative focuses on innovative research projects to help build resilient communities and a healthier future – such as the sustainable packaging solutions project, which aims to produce more with less, and create less waste.

Change can happen on a smaller scale too, and that might just be you. We can always improve our own recycling practices at home: what you might deem rubbish might have a whole new life in it, so don’t waste your waste!

Read through this useful guide of where to send everyday materials you might be tempted to throw out before hitting the foot pedal on your kitchen bin.

1. Old blankets and bedding

Blankets, sheets and towels can be repurposed to make cosy and warm beds for animals in need, so don’t bin them. Organisations such as the RSPCA, The Lost Dogs Home and most likely your local animal shelter (just make sure to enquire first before dropping off) are always in need of soft materials for animal bedding.

Do take note that due to health guidelines they often aren’t able to accept doonas or pillows (ie. any bedding filled with feathers), so make sure you chat to the person organising donations if you’ve got questions.

2. Coffee pods

While KeepCups use is on the rise, those home coffees can also add up to your personal waste footprint. There are options!

Nespresso run a recycling scheme for their pods through various collection points around the country – head here for more info.

Or, if your local council accepts compost in green waste bins, you can buy compostable coffee pods from brands such as Urban Brew, and then pop the empty capsules in your green bin (after removing the foil lid).

3. Aluminium foil

Don’t bin that foil coffee capsule lid! It’s recyclable – as long as you have a lot of them. Clean off any food from foil bits and keep them, combining them until you have a ball the size of your fist as a minimum. You can then recycle foil balls in your yellow household recycling bin.

4. E-waste

If you’ve been wanting to get rid of those old Nokia phones or empty printer toners, it’s as easy as doing a stationary run at your local Officeworks.

Their e-waste collection scheme ensures safe recycling of electronic waste, toner and ink products, and batteries – and you can throw your old pens and markers in there too. Check your local store to find out what materials they accept.

5. Bread tags

If you’ve finished that sandwich loaf, don’t bin the bread tag. Tags can be tricky to recycle in your household bin, as many councils won’t accept them due to their small size.

However, the Bread Tags For Wheelchairs project ensures the small plastic tags end up in a worthy place: recycled locally, with the proceeds going towards purchasing wheelchairs for disadvantaged people. Check out their list of collection points to get your tags to them. 

On campus, VU RISE also accepts bread tags as part of their collecting plastics program - head to building P in our Footscray Park campus.

6. Paint

Old pots of paint can’t be poured down the sink or thrown into the rubbish bin, but luckily there is a safe disposal option: Paintback.

Committed to researching new ways of repurposing unwanted paint materials, the organisation has collection points where you can drop off old cans (up to 100L per visit). They then recycle the paint by utilising it as an alternative energy source. See their list of collection sites.

7. Corks

Best environmentally-friendly practice with corks is to get crafty! Repurpose in your kitchen, art projects, or chop them up finely and use as garden mulch.

You can also check with Reverse Art Truck, a group that collects resources for artists, designers and teachers to see if they are currently accepting corks as a donation – but do note they don’t take walk-in drop offs.

8. Medication

Storing or disposing expired medication incorrectly can be a hazard for children or pets, as well as the environment. But did you know you can take unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy?

The Return Unwanted Medicines project runs nationwide. All you need to do is take the silver blister strips (without the cardboard packaging) to your pharmacist, where they will safely dispose of them.

9. Mattresses

If it’s time to upgrade that old mattress, rest assured your old one doesn’t have to end up as landfill. Head to Soft Landing, a social enterprise that recycles components of end-of-life mattresses and bases to make up roofing, carpet underlay or mulch. They also create jobs and training for those experiencing barriers to employment.

10. X-rays

That broken bone may lead to silver: you can recycle your old X-rays by putting them in designated collection bins, organised by Siltech PMR or Ecocycle.

The silver within them is then recovered, and used for purposes such as utensil plating, soldering, film manufacturing and jewellery. So, you might be wearing someone’s old scan!

Knew all this already?

You’re a recycling whiz – test yourself even further by taking our true or false Recycling Quiz!