Ever Wondered What Happens to Your Waste?

Filed under How-To Centre

It’s easy to forget about what happens to your waste once it is picked up in the green and yellow bins on your street curb in Canberra.

Well, climateXchange decided to find out by taking part in a recently advertised tour of the Mugga Lane Resource Management Facility. It was an eye-opener.

This is where the waste to landfill goes…


According to our tour guide, the Mugga tip is expected to be full in the next five years and the ACT Government is acquiring a new parcel of land behind the current site.

The old landfill, which is now covered with soil and looks like a grassy knoll, has pipes going into it that extract methane gas. This gas powers 4000 Canberra homes now and will continue to do so well into the future.

There has also been active program of recycling over the past 15 years, including through:

  • Oil recycling business on the Mugga Lane site
  • Recycling garden waste business that turns this waste into mulch and compost
  • Tiny’s Green Shed, that sells recyclables
  • Transfer Station, where recyclables can be dropped off. The staff there rummage through and pick up what can be reused or recycled. Some items can be dropped off for free at the Transfer Station, for example cooking oil, syringes, and asbestos!! (apparently, asbestos is double-wrapped and buried).

But what happens to all the stuff you place in your yellow recycling bin every fortnight? Well, apparently the Mugga Lane facility processes an average of 30 tonnes a day of recyclables. Did you know that there are cameras on board the trucks that pick up your recyclables so that the drivers have some idea of what’s been loaded?

Once the trucks arrive at the Mugga Lane facility, all the recyclables are piled onto a conveyor belt where they are smoothed out and items like toasters, clothes hangers etc are removed. Then cardboard boxes are taken out and paper goes into a special bin. The tour guide beseeched residents to put shredded paper in a cardboard box and seal it so that it doesn’t go all over the place either when it’s picked up by the truck from your yellow bin or when it goes onto the conveyor belt.


Metals go down a separate conveyor belt and magnets are used to tip out the aluminium so that it can be packed separately into bales (27,000 aluminium cans can be squashed into one bale). The tour guide said residents should scrunch up aluminium foil into a ball and put it in the yellow recycling bin even if it has some food residue on it (but NOT whole pieces of food).

Another conveyor belt handles glass, and the glass containers are sorted manually according to colour. The tour guide said residents should not put drinking glasses, window glass or crockery in yellow recycling bins because such glass doesn’t melt in the same way as glass bottles.

A laser distinguishes between different types of hard plastic containers, but this is also checked manually. Apparently, you can keep the lids on bottles and containers and it’s best not to squash rigid plastic containers. You can put spray deodorant cans, toothpaste tubes and other similar containers in the yellow bin (but not with their contents inside).

The tour guide stressed that empty chip packs and other soft plastics should not go in the yellow recycling bin. Clothing should not go in there either.

Did you know that Canberra takes recycling from Yass, Bungendore and other regional centres?

To find out more about how your waste is managed, go to the next Open Day at Mugga Lane Resource Management Facility (9:30 am) on 13 November 2010.

The Facility is happy to organise tours for groups of ten or more people.  Their next open day will be on 13 November 2010, and so if you have time, head on over for a look!

Or if you don’t have time to go to the Facility itself, there is more information on the website of the ACT Department of Territory and Municipal Services, including at:

What Happens to my Household Waste and Recycling?

What Can I Put In My Bins?

What Do I Do With This?


Above: Springs being removed from mattresses so that the metal can be recycled


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