A home used from recycled timber.

National Recycling Week kicks off today, and Planet Ark is calling on builders and renovators to mark the occasion by choosing recycled materials including timber.

Planet Ark head of campaigns Brad Gray said that while recycled timber was still not widely available on a major project scale for delivering entire buildings, there were “plenty of options” at the homeowner, home builder and renovator scale.

There were great examples of major projects using recycled timber well, he said, such as Library at the Dock in Melbourne, which is clad in recycled timber.

There are many creative reuses for timber, he said.

“Recycled wood is also good for the connection back to history [in a building], so it is often used for display areas,” Mr Gray said.

“One of the reasons to use recycled timber is it has historic character – and you often just have to polish it up.”

In carbon footprint terms, the benefit is that reusing timber means continuing to store carbon that dates back to the time of the original trees being harvested. In a building like Westminster Hall in London – that’s all the way back at 1299 AD.

Preparing timber for reuse is also not an enormously energy-intensive or technology-intensive process, he said.

It’s a job creator – and in the case of individuals, there is more personal satisfaction and less of a footprint created by restoring a piece of furniture found at an op-shop than wielding the Allen key on something new from IKEA.

There are other benefits too, he said, including research that shows people who work in or visit commercial office environments that feature an extensive use of timber perceive them as warmer, calmer and more supportive. The research was released in a report Wood – Housing, Health and Humanity earlier this year.

“People who work in offices where there is wood used have lower heart rates and lower stress levels,” Mr Gray said. Studies have also shown benefits for students in classrooms where wood is used, and benefits for people in aged care facilities.

To coincide with Recycling Week, the organisation has also just released its latest report, All Sorted, about recycling in Australia. The report draws on a range of international and national studies and a survey of 115 councils across Australia.

The good news is that Australia’s rate of household waste recycling at 51 per cent is higher than the 42 per cent mean recycling rate of all 28 countries in the European Union.

However, EU countries generally send less of the non-recyclable remainder to landfill due to the use of incineration. The EU also has stronger product stewardship rules around some categories of products, such as batteries.

Six fun facts about recycling

  1. Recycling often uses less energy than producing new materials. Planet Ark said that recycling one tonne of plastic saves enough energy to power 31 homes for a whole month. Recycling one tonne of used aluminium into one tonne of new aluminium in Australia uses only five per cent of the energy of making virgin aluminium.
  2. Aluminium is infinitely recyclable – 75 per cent of all the aluminium ever produced is still in use today, the report said. The resource savings are massive: one tonne of new aluminium requires four tonnes of chemicals, eight tonnes of bauxite plus coking coal in a massively energy-intensive process
  3. Recycling can make you a happier human! The report cited international research involving nearly 24,000 people across 27 countries that showed people who recycle generally feel higher levels of life satisfaction. The researchers believe this is due to the positive emotions associated with “doing the right thing”.
  4. Recycling creates jobs – the report said recycling and composting creates more jobs than incineration or landfill, with 9.2 jobs in recycling for every 2.8 jobs in landfill. These jobs are largely recession-proof, as researchers have found recycling rates do not change with economic fluctuations. The industry is currently worth around $11 billion a year to the Australian economy.
  5. 99 per cent of people are confused about the recyclability of at least one type of packaging product, according to Planet Ark. The generic “recycling” symbol is not helpful (or always accurate), so the organisation has developed a new Australian Recycling label in conjunction with GreenChip. Developed with funding from the Australian Packaging Covenant, and launched last week in Sydney, the label shows whether an individual item of packaging can be recycled in a kerbside bin, or if you need to check locally to see if the local council accepts it.
  6. The most common contaminants of kerbside recycle bins – which can mean the entire load needs to go to landfill – are glass drinkware, plastic bags, soft plastics like bread bags, food remains, polystyrene and disposable nappies. All of these products may have the standard recycle symbol on their packaging, but that doesn’t mean existing council recycling systems can handle them. Some, like plastic bags, can even create a safety risk for workers by snarling up sorting equipment.