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

Hume Recycle Centre Tours

Following on from the very popular visit in 2011, SEE-Change Inner-North went on another visit to the Hume Recycle Centre on 3 November 2012, followed by lunch in Dickson.

It was a great event, both educationally and socially.

Hume Recycle Centre Tour 2011

SEE-Change Inner-North went on a visit to the Hume Recycle Centre in 2011.

Rubbish two storeys high in a big shed – it’s all come from our yellow-lidded bins and it’s what we see through the window of the education classroom at the Hume Materials Recovery Facility. Not a view to envy, but Linda Kwong, the Education Officer, is passionate about it what’s happening here. She’s also proud of the fact that 10,000 school children visit the education centre each year. Not to mention groups like ours.

17 members of the Inner North SEE-Change group were gathered to see what actually happens to the contents of those yellow-lidded bins we trustingly place on our kerbs. Could we dispel the ‘it mostly ends up in landfill’ myths?

residentbinsHDPE Bales


Most impressive is the sophistication of the equipment Thiess Services use to recycle our bin waste to minimise the amount going to landfill. Valued at approximately $20 million, the complex system of machines and technology provides a strange contrast with the humble paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, crumpled alfoil, milk cartons and other items that they sort and separate. Though it is somehow comforting to know that people are still needed to provide the ultimate quality control.

Methane Station 2

Items that can be put into recycling bins fall into 6 categories:

  • cardboard (all, even with tape, remnant pizza etc),
  • paper (all, even with attached plastic windows, staples & clips, blu-tack, craft fragments, though tissues are excluded for hygienic reasons),
  • glass jars and bottles,
  • steel cans (including empty aerosols, paint & oil tins),
  • rigid plastics (all, even without triangular symbols) and
  • aluminium containers, foil (even with food remnants).

Video footage from the previous day’s operation shows each stage of sorting. Cardboard is removed first, then fans blow and lift paper which is checked by light refraction, magnetic forces remove steel, eddy currents force aluminium cans to the side, light refraction separates plastics, but glass must be sorted by hand as no machine can yet separate brown, green and clear glass. Staff work 2-2½ hour shifts at various stations including the glass sorting line.



  • 72,000 recycling bins go to the centre each week (figure based on weight of material received)
  • Paper and cardboard make up 59% of recycling bin contents
  • Paper is the most valuable component for the company
  • 1x600ml milk carton can produce 5 sheets of office paper
  • Paper can be recycled 5-11 times (ACT sewerage treatment even extracts toilet paper which is converted to mulch)
  • 25×2-litre PET bottles can be converted to 1 ‘eco-fleece’ jacket (but as these are made overseas, transport is an added environmental cost)
  • 250 HDPE plastic milk bottles can make 1 wheelie bin
  • Plastic milk bottles are also converted to building materials and ‘pseudo wood’ which can last for 2,000 years
  • 1/3 of all aluminium cans are not recycled, as often the venues that sell them have no recycling bins; it takes 500 years for one to break down in landfill

Contaminants found in bins include dead pets, used nappies, concrete rubble and bits of TVs or cars, which must require considerable effort to break down enough to fit it in the recycling bin.

Some things that cannot go into the yellow bins can still be recycled (or some of their components), such as mobile phones, batteries, metals (cars, whitegoods), fluorescent lights, expanded polystyrene etc). Some are collected by specific businesses (eg scrap metal merchants) and some can be taken to one of Canberra’s four drop-off centres (Mitchell, Phillip, Belconnen and Hume).


The ACT will be the first trial area for free e-waste recycling, with televisions to be recycled from May 2012. All e-waste manufacturers will be responsible for recycling 20% of their e-waste, increasing to 80-100% by 2025.


According to recorded figures, Canberrans are the nation’s best recyclers, but we shouldn’t be smug. The equivalent of 350,000 kerbside bins go into landfill each week, including bulk domestic waste. About half of this waste could be recycled or re-used.

The volume of Canberra’s landfill is increasing, despite our efforts to reduce, re-use and recycle. 260,000 tonnes of waste from domestic, commercial and industrial sources are currently going into landfill each year.


Some items are actually salvaged from the landfill site itself. For example, springs from mattresses are worth salvaging as the metal is worth $120/tonne. Methane extracted from the landfill mountain on Mugga Lane is fed into the grid and can power 4,000 houses per day. This resource will last for another 50 years. In the future, landfill sites are likely to be mined for the valuable materials buried within them.

Site management also entails some recycling. The landfill site is capped with clay salvaged from building sites and water from the leachate ponds is used to settle dust on the site.

Recycling is not only undertaken to make us feel good. For Thiess and Cleanaway, the two companies managing Canberra’s waste services, it’s a serious business. Recycling clearly pays!


  • Linda Kwong for giving up her Saturday morning to run our tour
  • The Materials Recovery Facility at Hume for providing the opportunity
  • Virginia McCleod for organising and driving the Merici College mini-bus
  • Merici College for providing the bus with fuel included
  • All those who participated.

Sally Stephens

(Photos provided by ACT NOWaste)

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