Recycling in Australia dates back to 1815, following the construction of the country’s first paper mill.
Since then, despite efforts to reduce waste, the environmental consequences of consumerism are only increasing.
Approximately 3.5 billion tonnes of plastic are consumed each year in Australia, of which only about 11 per cent are successfully recycled.
Plastic has an extremely long lifespan, meaning it takes many years to break down in landfill, contributing to harmful carbon emissions.
Reducing consumption, reusing, or repurposing items, recycling responsibly, and donating unwanted goods are great ways for individuals to reduce waste.
Unfortunately, misinformation and inconsistency in waste management guidelines can cause confusion or overwhelm, meaning sustainability can often end up in the ‘too hard’ basket.
Here are five things you may not realise you can recycle, repurpose, or donate in Australia to declutter your home, reduce your waste, and redistribute unwanted goods to a good cause.
1. Medical equipment
Australians are fortunate to have a universal healthcare system that, access issues and wait lists aside, provides most citizens with medical care and equipment when needed.
This can include mobility aids like wheelchairs or walkers, hospital beds and lifting hoists.
Earlier this year I lost a loved one to a long battle with various illnesses, leaving behind a house full of medical equipment, including a prosthetic leg.
Tempting as it was to put these items, and the grief they evoked, straight into the waste bin, I did a little digging to find out how these items may be rehomed in a way that helps the environment and others in need.
Rotary clubs, hospitals, and community health centres are usually happy to receive donations of mobility aids, and while reusing prosthetic limbs is not practiced in Australia, I was able to contact a local ambassador for Legs4Africa who accepted the limb in my home state for cleaning and repurposing for people overseas with limited access to prosthetics.
About 25 per cent of the global water supply is used to grow food that will ultimately be wasted, with food waste causing five per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The best and most obvious solution is to purchase less food, and endeavour to eat existing perishables as a priority before buying more food or eating out.
Meal planning and getting creative in the kitchen with zero waste recipes can help, but sometimes inevitable changes of plans or large social events leave you with a surplus of food.
Organisations like Foodbank can receive quality food donations from businesses and individuals to deliver to Australians in need, while saving it from ending up in landfill.
3. Household technology
It has become a regular process for people to upgrade their phones, televisions, and computers thanks to planned obsolescence, a manufacturing strategy that ensures a shorter lifespan and the need to purchase new devices.
Mobile phones can be recycled through Australia’s MobileMuster program, while devices like iPods, laptops, and televisions can often be recycled through appliance retailers, so when shopping for an upgrade, always ask if they can help to responsibly dispose of your old one.
Older, larger televisions in particular often contain lead and other potentially harmful materials, which should be kept out of landfill to avoid air and water supply contamination.
If your device is still in good working order, check with your local library or community centre, which often run programs that can benefit from pre-loved electronic goods.
4. Old sneakers
Whenever I clean out my wardrobe to donate any unused clothing or shoes, I always assume no op shop would want my dirty old sneakers.
However, athletic shoes are often made from rubber and other hardy materials that can be reused.
Larger sneaker brands like Nike now accept donations of any brand of old sneakers at selected stores which are repurposed or recycled to make new shoes, keeping them out of landfill and reducing the demand for shoes made from brand new materials.
Also check your local Rebel Sport, as many of them now offer an in-store recycling bin for old and pre-loved sneakers.
5. Feminine products
Women are at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness and poverty, and for many of these women essential hygiene and dignity products like bras, tampons and pads are unaffordable and inaccessible.
If you have unneeded bras or unused period products that you don’t need due to no longer menstruating or switching to a waste-free option like a moon cup, shelters for women and children are often happy to accept such donations.
Do your research
Getting rid of unwanted clutter can be daunting, but with a little extra effort and research, one person’s trash can almost always be another’s treasure.
Finding ethical, sustainable ways of recycling, repurposing, and donating goods not only benefits the environment and those facing disadvantage, it will likely inspire further reflection about your consumption habits, and inspire sustainability in other areas of your life, be that investing in sustainable fashion, quitting single-use plastic, or planning an environmentally-friendly holiday.
The rate at which humans are creating, consuming, and discarding new products and materials is cause for alarm, however we should never underestimate the power of many people making small changes to change the future for the better.