A deep dive into wheelie bin lid colours

One might think the colours of wheelie bin lids would be a simple matter – but it isn’t – something that I discovered when I paid a visit to a mate in the City of Wyndham.

Brimbank rubbish truck at work on the streets of Sunshine

Taking out the rubbish in Wyndham

Red for rubbish and yellow for recycling?

Nope!

In the Wyndham their rubbish bins have yellow lids, so their recycling bins need to have blue lids.

But in 2018 they caved in, and decided that red lid rubbish bins like the rest of Australia might be a good idea.

But it’s taking a while to roll out.

On July 1, 2018 all new garbage bins will have red lids. This change means we are consistent with Australian standards, while also supporting us to achieve our goal of 90% waste diversion from landfill by 2040.

You might notice that garbage bins in your neighbourhood have yellow lids. These bins are older and in the coming years will be replaced with a red lid bin. We’re aiming to begin changing all remaining yellow lid bins by 2020.

So what are the standards anyway?

Australian Standard AS4123.7-2006 details the standard bin colours.


KS Environmental diagram

But across the Melbourne suburbs, not everyone follows them:

  • Overall: 9 councils are fully compliant with bin lid colour
  • 12 councils are compliant with recycling and organics bin lid colours
  • 1 council has compliant garbage and recycling bin lids
  • 9 councils have systems that do not comply

Resulting in a mess of colours.

The Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group broke down the state of Melbourne bin colours in their 2017 ‘Bin Standardisation Guide‘.

Sorry Wyndham City, but the bin colours in Knox are even more cooked – yellow for rubbish, blue for recycling, and red for green waste!

So why does colour matter?

Turns out colour is a powerful tool to make recycling easier.

Standard bin colours and sizes help to promote the correct use of garbage, recycling and organics kerbside bin collection services and support consistent education and messaging around the use of kerbside bins.

The standard promotes the adoption of common colour coding of garbage, recycling and organics kerbside bin collection services across the country, and is intended to make correct recycling ‘automatic’ and ‘unthinking’ behaviour.

There is considerable variation in the bin lid colours and sizes that are used by councils across metropolitan Melbourne. Bringing councils into compliance provides a necessary foundation to develop and run metropolitan Melbourne-wide (or statewide) education campaigns to help residents maximise their recycling efforts.

Moves towards standardisation

In 2012 a trial was carried out to standardise the bin lid colours in City of Yarra.

City of Yarra in 2011 conducted a general waste audit of 60 commercial properties. Results indicated a resource loss (recyclable items in general waste) of 28 per cent and a contamination rate (non-recyclables in recycle bins) of 11 per cent – both higher than household rates.

The Bin Lid Standardisation Pilot Project was developed in response and it aimed to reduce waste and contamination rates, increase recycling, educate traders about waste separation, and provide new red-lidded waste bins to accompany yellow-lidded recycling bins.

The new bins included high visibility signage identifying the property to which it belonged, reducing the possibility of waste being mistakenly placed in them – or users taking the wrong bin back to properties after waste and recycling collection.

With positive results.

After the project’s completion in January 2014 – and taking into account 90 new businesses opening in the pilot period – the result was an almost two per cent fall in the overall waste stream and an almost three and a half per cent rise in recovered recyclables.

In 2017 the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group detailed options for councils to move move towards the Australian Standard:

  • Whole bin standardisation – where existing bins are replaced with preferred standard bin colours and sizes.
  • Bin lid replacement – where non-compliant lids are replaced with AS 4123.7 compliant coloured lids.
  • Bin lid stickering – where neutral coloured bins and bin lids are given AS 4123.7 compliant coloured bin stickers (not a proven approach).
  • Voluntary bin standardisation – where the community is encouraged to volunteer to have a smaller garbage bin for a lower annual fee than a larger bin.
  • Gradual bin replacement on a by area or by attrition basis – this option involves scheduling replacements of bin stock according to the age and lifespan of bins. This option can be coupled with other initiatives to encourage households to adopt smaller standard garbage bins.

Detailing the costs – which would be funded by a reduction in waste going to landfill.

Depending on supply arrangements, costs for bin replacement are likely to be in the order of less than $35- $60 per bin replaced. This is equivalent to an amortised cost of in the order of $3.60-$6.10 per bin per year. To cover these costs, the reduction in landfilled waste would need to be in the order 30-45kg per household per year or about a 10-15% reduction in most areas of Melbourne.

The cost of replacing bin lids is significantly lower than whole bin replacement, and realistically may cost in the order of $15-$30 per lid replaced. Assuming this translates to an amortised annual cost of $2-$4 per bin per year, the replacement would need to only achieve a reduction in landfilled waste of 15-25kg per household per year.

And finally some action

In 2019 the Parliament of Victoria completed an Inquiry into Recycling and Waste Management, with submissions noting the confusing state of waste management.

We believe that at the moment there is a somewhat uncoordinated approach which has resulted in fragmented or confused messaging, which has undermined correct disposal habits at the community level. Branding, messaging and bin colouring standards across council regions all differ at the moment, and this has an impact on community understanding of the recycling process.

Leading to difficulty in education the public.

As a region and a regional waste group, we try and run education across multiple councils, but every council has some variation—a different bin lid or something else, or they might be doing a glass trial—so it is really hard to have one size fits all. A different processor might take a different material or not accept glass so they have an extra bin

Noting the benefits of standardisation.

The Committee believes standardisation of bin lid colours is a straightforward way to help reduce confusion about municipal recycling. Standardised bin lid colours across Victoria will facilitate a statewide education campaign to let residents know which bin to deposit their recycling, landfill and organic waste.

But also the cost.

The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office noted in its report Recovering and Reprocessing Resources from Waste that Sustainability Victoria had determined that it could cost $14 million to standardise bin colours across all Victorian councils. The report went on to say that standardisation of bin lid colours: ‘is one measure that may provide a foundation for responsible agencies to develop and run more efficient and effective statewide education campaigns with consistent messages to help residents maximise their recycling efforts.’

Leading to recommendation 18.

That the Victorian Government provide funding to ensure all local councils are compliant with the Standards Australia policy on bin lid colours within 12 months.

Which was adopted by the Victorian Government.

The Victorian Government is investing in $129 million of initiatives to support the reform of kerbside recycling, including the roll out of four colour-coded bins to homes across the state to better sort waste, recyclables and organics. The coordinated roll out of the new bins will start in 2021 and happen gradually – informed by the needs of local communities and existing council contracts. This includes the introduction of a separate glass bin by 2027 and FOGO (Food Organics and Garden Organics) by 2030.

The Victorian Government will work with councils to roll out standardised bin lids: red for residual waste, yellow for commingled recycling, purple for glass recycling and light green for organic recycling. These colours represent the most appropriate set of bin lid colours for Victoria. The purple lid has been selected for the glass bin as this bin will receive glass of mixed colours and Standards Australia does not provide a standard bin lid colour for such a service.

So from Melbourne’s garbage truck fans, farewell to stupid bin colours!

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2 Responses to “A deep dive into wheelie bin lid colours”

  1. Ross Thomson says:

    The City of Boroondara introduced a FOGO serve in 2020. As part of this change the previous green waste bin which had a non-standard orange lid was replaced with a compliant lime green lid. This seemed like a logical way for Boroondara’s bin colour for organic waste to become compliant, coinciding with a change in the waste that is being collected.

    Boroondara still has a non-compliant dark green bin lid from its general waste bin, but this could always be changed over at some point in the future given that there is no longer any confusion with an orange lidded green waste bin.

    The reason why the general waste bin has a dark green lid in Boroondara is because it is still the same lid as when wheelie bins were first introduced in the 1980s. My recollection is that Boroondara was one of the first Councils to introduce a green waste collection bin and they adopted an orange lid to differentiate it from the general waste bin as I don’t recall that there was a standard at the time. I think it is a good thing that the State Government is funding the standardisation of bin colours as otherwise it is the early adopting Councils that are penalised.

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