Snakes, donkey heads, a dead cow: the odd things found in recycling – and how they should be disposed of

While Australia may be a pet-loving nation, a majority seem perplexed at what to do when a beloved animal dies.

Survey results commissioned by the waste management company Veolia show 80% of Australians do not know how to dispose of dead pets, with 38% putting them in the bin and 42% not knowing what to do at all.

Only one in five answered correctly that dead animals are supposed to be disposed at special collection points provided by local councils.

And while it may seem a strange problem, the Veolia chief executive, Dr Richard Kirkman, said it was common problem.

“When I speak to my operatives on the line, they tell me they get snakes, donkey heads, a dead cow cut in half, dead pets and all sorts of weird animals coming through the recycling,” he said.

“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. These all pose contamination risks.

“And we just think, ‘wow, how did someone think that was the right place to put that?’ It’s a matter of education and making sure people know that just because it’s an organic thing, doesn’t mean it always goes in the organic bin.”

The YouGov survey quizzed 1,172 Australians across the five mainland states and was conducted in April.

It showed similar confusion when it came to the disposal of vapes or e-cigarettes, compostable coffee cups, old clothing, bamboo or wooden cutlery and lightbulbs.

Kirkman said vapes and e-cigarettes were the “greatest concern” for the waste industry, as the batteries pose fire risks.

The survey showed 78% of Australians do not know how to dispose of vapes or e-cigarettes, with over a third just disposing of them in general waste bins.

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“That tells us the issue of vapes and batteries ending up in our bins and roadsides is not going to go away without significant public education around their proper disposal,” he said.

As with lightbulbs, old tools and old batteries, vapes and e-cigarettes need to be dropped at special collection points.

The survey also found 77% did not know how to dispose of compostable coffee cups, which just like single-use coffee cups, can be thrown in the general waste bin.

Jeff Angel, the executive director at Total Environment Centre, said the results showed that relying on education would not solve the problem.

“I’m not blaming the consumer, why would you expect the consumer to know all the ins and outs of product collection and recycling when nothing exists in front of them,” he said.

“And while we’ve seen some confusing messages on packaging that means we need easier-to-understand communication, we also need to provide convenient collection facilities, whether that is curbside or at supermarkets and other stores,” he said.


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