Katherine Gaschk, who is studying for a research masters at Murdoch University, says the initial data from surveys delivered to 1750 residents across five councils suggests that up to half of respondents are incorrectly disposing of items like batteries, tins containing paint and weed killer.
These items are actually considered hazardous household waste and should not appear in either the green topped or yellow topped bins. The batteries can be taken to special recycling points while the paint and weed killer must go to special disposal sites like the City of Cockburn’s Henderson Waste Recovery Park.
Although Ms Gaschk’s survey found that 72% of the 299 respondents were separating most of their waste correctly, there are a number of specific items that are commonly being incorrectly separated including crockery, aerosol cans, building rubble and printer cartridges.
“Confusion may be arising because of the definitions of the green and yellow-topped bins,” said Ms Gaschk, who is aiming to explore the barriers and motivators to correct household waste separation in her self-funded, independent study.
“The green topped bin is usually referred to by residents as their ‘rubbish bin’ and therefore, items that are not considered to be recyclable are placed in this bin
“The yellow topped bin has long been regarded as the ‘recycling bin’ and residents have historically been taught that only specific items should go in like only certain numbered plastics, newspapers, glass and aluminium.
“But the requirements for that bin have changed over time according to how different councils have developed their recycling and waste processes. Residents still consider the information they first learned about recycling to be correct and subsequently do not always consider new information in their decision making.
“In fact more than three-quarters of the respondents do not know that the rules for separating household waste are different depending on where you live in the whole of the Perth metropolitan area.”
Ms Gaschk, who is a resident of the suburb of Murdoch, said she was also hoping the research would help her to develop different ways of addressing the confusion, which could potentially be utilised by councils across Australia.
“I think it’s very important to manage household waste sustainably and reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill, and therefore the emissions of methane – a potent greenhouse gas,” she said.
“Apart from many of my friends and family being confused about what should be put in the bins I discovered that I too was wrong. If someone like me who has studied environmental science and who considers herself as environmentally aware can get it wrong, then it’s clear others are going to struggle.”
Ms Gaschk’s survey was delivered to randomly selected properties in the Cities of Canning, Cockburn, Melville, Fremantle, and the Town of East Fremantle. The surveys were hand delivered and printed on recycled paper.