Sort it out—recycling

Sort it out—recycling
Environmental management at the Library
9 February 2015

Late last year I found myself at the Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre. As the newest members of the Library's internal Environmental Management Committee (EMC), my colleague Rachael and I jumped at the opportunity to visit the ACT's recycling centre to learn about what happens to our rubbish. I was already enthusiastic about recycling and sustainability, but witnessing the journey of our garbage was the catalyst for me to become more practical in my approach.

Loui Seselja (b. 1948) Revolve yard, recycling business, at Mugga Lane rubbish tip  1996-1997, nla.pic-an12942889-18 and Mugga Lane rubbish tip. Bulldozer compacting the rubbish, Canberra  1996-1997, nla.pic-an12942889-19

I did a tiny bit of research and found that almost half of the waste that goes to landfill originates from the commercial and industrial sector. With this in mind, it's even more important that we do what we can as an organisation. It's nice to be a part of the EMC at the Library which actively looks for ways to minimise our environmental imprint.

In regards to recycling, we are continuing to investigate new opportunities, and are aiming to decrease the proportion of waste to landfill and increase our recycled or reusable waste. Plans include the introduction of more recycling streams, staff training and the inclusion of under-desk recycling in all office spaces. We are also looking at the ways our contractors manage their waste, and we have arranged our loading dock to ensure easiest possible access to recycling bins.

The Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre's recycling plant is in operation 24 hours a day, with staff rotating in responsibilities every couple of hours. The rubbish is separated first by hand, then through flotation (separating plastic and paper), magnets, and an eddy current method, which pings off aluminium and other metals. A laser beam identifies each type of plastic as it passes on a conveyor belt, then a timed jet of air pushes it into the appropriate bin. Paper is baled, and separated recycled items are sent to market. Tomato sauce bottles become sign-posts, recyclable plastics become polar fleece jackets and carpet!

Often people place items into the recycling bin that cannot be recycled, so it's good to remind ourselves:

Recycling dos

  • All paper and cardboard—including cartons
  • All glass is separated into clear, green and brown
  • Don’t worry about leaving lids on bottles
  • Aerosols are fine when empty, and pop your foil in, ball it up!
  • Any plastic that you can scrunch and pops back into place is recyclable—rigid plastic.

Recycling don’ts

  • Don't put your recycling into plastic bags
  • You can't recycle ceramics or toughened glass due to the higher melting temperature, for example light globes, broken drinking glasses, or crockery
  • Do not put plastic items inside boxed items
  • Try not to smash bottles
  • Plastic coated paper is not recyclable. Make a note of this when you purchase paper
  • Place thin plastic into regular waste
  • No polystyrene yet in the ACT. Check with your local council or waste management facility
  • No cords, hoses, baby chairs, plastic sheeting.

More information on recycling in the ACT is available from Territory and Municipal Services, or check your local state or territory website for local recycling guidelines, as they vary from state to state.

Armed with a handful of Sort it Out: what you can put in the recycling bin stagnets (a reusable sticker crossed with a magnet—genius), I returned to work full of enthusiasm. It's important for us to learn the course of our actions, and in this instance we can see the ongoing value of prioritising recycling wherever possible.

The National Library of Australia acknowledges the importance of protecting the environment in a sustainable manner to help reduce any damage or impact its operations and activities might have. The Library is committed to ensuring this in a sustainable, financial and technically feasible approach through the development, implementation and maintenance of an Environmental Management System.

You can read our full Environmental Policy here.


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Great post, very informative! I think Australia should have a more specific recycle mechanism, which can help us use and reuse resources more efficiently. For example, not many people may know plastic bags are non-recyclable, it could cause more environment damages when we recycle them for mistake. The local government should push more on classifying of rubbish collection, because it is significant for saving resources, cut down cost and reduce environmental pollution.