24-25 Jul 2024

Finding sustainable solutions for plastic

Jun 18, 2019 Recycling

According to the National Waste Report 2018, about 2.5 Mt or 103 kg per capita of plastic waste was generated in 2016-17

We use tons of plastic, it’s in everything from packaging to toys, to the dashboard in your car. Massive amounts of plastic end up in the ocean. It contains toxins, and absorbs more toxins. It is now common knowledge that plastics and polythene take longer than most other waste types to biodegrade in soil if they are able to degrade at all.  Unknown numbers of animals die this way each year, and the toxins are beginning to make their way into our food stream.

According to the National Waste Report 2018, about 2.5 Mt or 103 kg per capita of plastic waste was generated in 2016-17. Just 12% was recycled with 87% sent to landfill and 1% sent to an energy from waste facility.  The plastics recycling rate remained relatively stable.
With recycling rates at just 12%, plastics may be ‘low hanging fruit’ for improving overall resource recovery rates.

Like metals, plastics recycling has been affected recently by low commodity values and a relatively strong Australian dollar. Despite the China restrictions, strong global markets remain for plastic waste that is well sorted by type and free of contamination.

The War on Plastic

In 2018, we saw a global push toward the removal of single use plastics.  The war on plastic escalated as Government, consumers and brands were encouraged to cut down on plastic waste.   A key moment that stood out was the ‘War on Waste’ TV programme which explored our reliance on single-use plastic items such as bottles and straws that damage our waterways and marine life.

There is no doubt that Government is heavily focusing on the issue, with plastic bag bans taking place accross the nation.   There is a definite shift happening as customers demand the shift. In light of this growing crisis, policies against plastics and polythene are being drafted and evolving, with most dictating bans from production and importation

Whilst this has created challenges for some, the focus has actually created an opportunity for brands that can tap into demand for plastic alternatives.  It is this idea of creating a brand from a commodity such as a straw or coffee cup that is fuelling growth in the sector.

Reusable coffee cup company KeepCup launched in Melbourne in 2009 effectively starting a reusable cup revolution.  KeepCup says it’s making a genuine attempt to help solve the plastic problem.

We need to focus on solutions

However, there’s still some way to go.  There’s quite a bit of confusion around what you can recycle, what you can’t, and where it all ends up. As a society we need to focus on the solutions that can be made.  Then we need to make people aware of the impact of single use plastics.

In Australia it’s more about individual behavioural change.  When War on Waste aired in Australia people started seeing the need to take on personal responsibility to make change which is great.

So what can we do as an industry? Here are some ideas:
  1. Australia’s plastics recycling rates could be improved with greater on-shore investment in plastics sorting and cleaning equipment to enable either on-shore or off-shore recycling.
  2. Use recycled plastic as a resource (ie. new bin systems made from recycled plastic)
  3. Where the value of plastics is too low for recycling, either in Australia or off-shore, processing into refuse-derived fuels offers an alternative.
  4. Find alternatives to plastic bags and food packaging –  biodegradable bags have been gaining popularity
  5. Provide more education to consumers
  6. Ask for more support from the Government for those companies recycling.

If you want to keep track of developments and solutions on plastics pollution,  National Geographic have started a running list of action on plastic pollution  tracking the developments and solutions as they happen. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/>


If you have a business solution to the plastic pollution crisis, we’d love to hear from you as a follow up for this article. Or you may even like to exhibit your solutions at AWRE 2019. If so, please contact us at [email protected] or enquire here. 



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