The collapse of REDcycle is even more evidence that plastic recycling is a broken system

This week, the federal government joined an international agreement to recycle or reuse 100 percent of plastic waste by 2040, bringing an end to plastic pollution. But major obstacles stand in the way.

The most recent is the breakdown of Australia’s largest Soft plastics recycling programme, redcycle. The program has been suspended after it was revealed that soft plastics had been collected at Woolworths and Coles been stored For months in the warehouse and not recycled.

The sudden halt to the soft plastics recycling scheme left many consumers deeply disappointed, and the sense of betrayal is understandable. Recycling, with its familiar “chasing arrows” symbol, is photographed by plastic industry As an answer to the single-use plastic problem for years.

But recycling is not a panacea. Most single-use plastics have been produced worldwide since the 1970s is over in landfills and the natural environment. Plastic can also be found in the food we eatand in deep ocean floor.

The recent collapse of the soft plastic recycling scheme is further evidence that plastic recycling is a broken system. Australia cannot achieve its new target if the focus is on collection, recycling and disposal alone. Systemic change is urgently needed.

Recycling market

Australia joined Highly ambitious coalition to end plastic pollutiona group of more than 30 countries led by Norway and Rwanda, and also includes the United Kingdom, Canada and France.

It aims to deliver a global treaty banning plastic pollution by establishing global rules and commitments for the full life cycle of plastics. This includes setting standards to reduce plastic production, consumption and waste. It will also enable a circular economy, where plastic is reduced, reused or recycled.

Woolworths soft plastic recycling bin
REDcycle’s demise has left many consumers deeply disappointed.(ABC News: Simon Winter)

The idea behind recycling is simple. By reprocessing items into new products, we can conserve natural resources and reduce pollution.

Unfortunately, the recycling process is much more complex and entwined in the economic system. Recycling is a commodity market. Who buys what is usually determined by the quality of the plastic.

There is a number in the middle of the chase arrow symbol. If it’s one or two, it’s highly valuable and likely to be sold on the commodities market and recycled. Numbers three through seven indicate mixed plastics, such as soft elastomers, which are considered to be of low value.

Unfortunately, it is often more expensive to recycle most plastics than to simply dispose of them. until 2018, Low value plastics have been exported to China. Dependence on the global waste trade for decades has prevented many countries, including Australia, from developing a sophisticated domestic recycling infrastructure.

What are the biggest problems?

One of the biggest problems with plastic recycling is the huge variety of plastics that end up in the waste stream – flakes, foam, bags, many types of flexible plastics, and various additives that further change the properties of the plastic.

Most plastics can only be recycled in a pure, consistent form, and only a limited number of times. Moreover, municipal plastic waste streams are difficult to sort out.

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