Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

Recycling challenge

In National Recycling Week volunteers from SEE-Change’s newest group, WasteLess, enjoyed the opportunity to talk recycling with passers-by in Garema Place and at the Downer Shops’ Spring Fair. For WasteLess members, the ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of waste we generate in Canberra.

Recycling is a great first step that many Canberrans are passionate about. But punters who took our recycling challenge realised it’s harder than it looks.

In the recycling challenge, we asked people to sort waste into three buckets; one representing the home recycling bin, another for specialised recycling depots, and a third for landfill.

Most people started off pretty confidently but plastic mesh onion bags (soft plastics recycling at supermarkets), aluminium foil (scrunch it in a big ball before putting it in home recycling) and a plastic coat-hanger (give it to an op shop) tripped people up. One of the reasons why recycling is so hard to explain is that it’s different in every local government area.

I felt pretty mean when a 10 year-old confidently identified the recycling symbol on a yogurt container, but then I had to explain that the number ‘6’ means it’s a plastic that can’t be recycled in Canberra. Even four friends with environmental science degrees didn’t get a perfect score on our challenge.

So it’s worth checking the ACT government’s recyclopaedia.

My top tip to make recycling easier? Buy package-free and reuse when you can. Yes, it’s definitely cheating, but it’s a win-win!

Heidi Congdon

Heidi is a SEE-Change Board member, a member of WasteLess and runs the Canberra Repair Cafe. You can find out more about Heidi


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With thanks to our


  • ACT Government Environment and Planning
  • The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT (AISACT)
  • Catholic Education Office (Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn)
  • Education and Training Directorate
  • ACT Government