Why Victorian households will have four rubbish bins

Four wheelie bins lined up on street

Sue Hewitt

Posted March 03, 2020

Victorian households will soon have four rubbish bins. Here’s what we know so far about the government’s new four-bin collection initiative.

Lids on or lids off? It’s just one of the vexing questions in Victoria’s great recycling debate as householders struggle to get to grips with the confusing and often conflicting rules for what goes in which bin.

If you’re one of thousands of Victorians confused about whether to leave lids on or off jars before they go in the bin, or whether to rinse out the milk bottles or what to do with the tray the sausages came in, unfortunately there’s no single straightforward answer that applies to all, as individual councils have different rules. (Plus: Everything you need to know about Victoria's single-use plastic bags ban.)

But all this is set to change with the state government’s new standardised four-bin recycling system and the introduction of a consistent list of what is accepted in each bin.

The changes come as Victoria, along with the rest of the nation, continues to reel from China’s decision to close its doors to most of Australia’s recyclable material in 2018. Governments at all levels are grappling with a glut of Australian recyclable materials and the Victorian government’s answer is its $129 million Recycling Victoria package.

Under this system all Victorian councils will have a consistent four-bin system with the aim of reducing household waste going to landfill by 80 per cent by 2030.

In a decade’s time, all Victorian households will have the four-bin, colour-coded kerbside recycling program, and within a few years a container-deposit scheme for drink cans and plastic bottles will be in place.

In simple terms, it means instead of the current two or three bins, Victorians will have to sort their waste into four different bins: combined food waste and garden organics; glass; plastics, paper, cardboard and metals; and residual household waste.

Some councils have already introduced a third bin for food and garden waste, which is then turned into compost, rather than being directed to landfill.

The new system will include a fourth bin for glass, which is a key contaminant in current commingled recycling bins because jars and bottles shatter leaving shards of glass in other recyclables like paper. Once separated, jars and bottles can be transformed into multiple products including new roads and footpaths.

To end the “lids on or off” question the state government, in consultation with councils and the recycling industry, will develop a consistent list of accepted items for each bin which will be applied statewide.

Currently, people who want to do the right thing make mistakes by putting the wrong items into recycling bins or putting recyclable objects into the right bin, but bagged up in non-recyclable soft plastic bags.

But by 2030 no matter where you live in Victoria, there will be a consistent set of guidelines governing what goes in what bin, helping householders to avoid mistakes.

The four-bin system will start rolling out next year but some councils, like Hobsons Bay, have already added a fourth bin. The change has been met with a backlash from locals, angry that their garbage collection has been cut from weekly to fortnightly.

The four-bin scheme will be rolled out gradually and in partnership with councils, which will decide if drop-off points or transfer stations are a better alternative to kerbside collection in some areas.

What we know so far about Victoria's four-bin scheme:

What’s in

Red lid: General rubbish, soft plastics, general waste, clothing (unfit for reuse).

Light-green lid: Garden clippings, food waste.

Purple lid: Glass bottle and jars.

Yellow lid: Commingled recycling including paper, cardboard, metal, hard plastics.

What’s not

Banned in commingled bins: Recycling placed inside plastic bags, soft plastics, clothing and textiles, food waste and polystyrene.

What’s undecided

A standardised list of items for each bin to be used by all councils is still to be developed.

What’s coming

A container-deposit system for drink bottles and cans will be introduced by 2023.

What’s the timeframe

The new four-bin system starts to roll out in 2021 and will be in place across Victoria by the end of 2030.

What about collection times

Councils will decide on collection times, but the state government expects them to maintain the regularity of services, including general rubbish collection on a weekly basis, according to a government factsheet.