While some households bin recyclable items, others try to recycle what should be rubbish, ruining a neighbourhood's collection of material that could have been processed and reused. Contaminated, it ends up as landfill.
A Planet Ark report, released today, says 99 per cent of Australians believe recycling is important but 48 per cent say they do not know how to do it properly.
More than 70 per cent wrongly think drinking glasses can be recycled. About 20 per cent create havoc at recycling centres by tying their recyclables in plastic bags before leaving them by the kerb.
Planet Ark managing director Jon Dee said he was amazed at what people leave in recycling bins, including unwanted pets and dead sharks. "There is an attitude among certain Australians of 'I'm not sure if I can recycle this or not but they should (be able to) so I'll just put it in the recycling bin'," he said.
"Glass is the biggest problem. Because it melts at a higher temperature, just 15 grams of wine glass or ovenproof glass in your recycling bin can stop a whole tonne of glass being recycled."
Mr Dee said the report, which analysed recycling and municipal waste over the past decade, showed Australians increasingly wanted to help the environment by recycling; 94.7 per cent of households recycled at some level and 42 per cent of households say they compost.
Victoria was the best state at recycling, Mr Dee said.
"The State Government has put more emphasis on recycling than other states by a big margin, and the infrastructure put in place where they have had waste education officers who look after a number of different councils has worked well," he said.