The rubbish items Australians are most confused by

Australians are getting confused when it comes to sorting their household rubbish.

Australians are getting confused when it comes to sorting their household rubbish. Photo: Getty

Australians are struggling to work out what rubbish should go in what bin, with a common household item posing the greatest risk to the order of our waste system.

A survey, commissioned by Veolia, of more than 1100 Australians across the five mainland states found that on average 40 per cent of people struggle to figure out in what bin they need to put their household rubbish.

Of all the states, Victoria is the most knowledgable, while Queensland is the worst for getting things wrong.

Regardless, when it comes to common items like hand tools, biodegradable plastic bags and compostable coffee cups, people across the country are stumped on what to do with them.

Veolia ANZ CEO Dr Richard Kirkman said there were some clear success stories across the board, and that people knew what to do with plastic bottle and paper.

“There is a big difference between what is recyclable and what can be recycled – especially at industrial scale. Not everything that is recyclable is recycled,” Dr Kirkman said.

How your state compares

The survey asked participants which bin 20 different rubbish types should go in.

Victorians got it right 60 per cent of the time, while Queenslanders were ranked last, with only 56 per cent getting the right answer.

Most Australians knew exactly what to do with plastic drink bottles, with 92 per cent of Australians correctly identifying what bin they would use.

Most also knew what to do with paper, old clothing, garden waste, mobile phones, clear plastic containers and light bulbs.

However, most people seem to struggle with environmentally-friendly alternatives.

 pictured is a Disposable paper cup.

Compostable and biodegradable items are causing a lot of confusion. Photo: Getty

On average, 58 per cent of people could not identify where biodegradable plastic bags should go, and 63 per cent got the question wrong for bamboo and wood cutlery.

Only 22 per cent of Australians knew which bin compostable coffee cups should go in, with 72 per cent getting the question wrong.

Although labelled as “compostable” or “biodegradable”, Kirkman said such items actually belong in the general waste bin, not the recycling.

“Despite the name, compostable coffee cups generally can only break down under very specific controlled conditions, which means they cannot be recycled at scale,” Kirkman said.

“The same is true with biodegradable bags. Bamboo and wood cutlery require specialised services to be recycled and even then whether or not they can be recycled depends on how they are made.”

Battery rubbish and dead pets

Vapes and batteries were deemed the “greatest concern for the entire waste industry”.

About 40 per cent of people did not know how to dispose of vapes or e-cigarettes, with another 39 per cent thinking they belonged in kerbside bins.

If there was a specific roadside pick-up or supermarket drop-off service for vapes or e-cigarettes, the vast majority would use it.

Batteries as a whole were better disposed of, but 35 per cent believed they should go in kerbside bins, which is why Kirkman said there needs to be better education around where to properly dispose of them.

A collection of discarded electronic cigarette vapes stored in a dark blue plastic tub

Vapes and batteries are posing a huge risk to the waste system. Photo: Getty

Disturbingly, people also didn’t know what to do with dead animals, which is a huge environmental issue.

Across Australia, only 20 per cent know how to dispose of a dead animal, while 42 per cent admitted they didn’t know.

“Some people might have thought we were being darkly humorous when we added dead animals as waste items, but it’s not as uncommon as you think,” Kirkman said.

“We’ve had a dead cow cut in half, a donkey’s head and dead pets turn up in green bins. These all pose contamination risks.”

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