Australia’s Soft Plastic Recycling Debacle

We’ve all been told to cut back on waste to help prevent environmental crisis on Earth. Reducing waste helps reduce the need to spend time and energy digging up fresh materials, and helps reduce the amount of trash we have to go out and bury in the ground in landfills. Recycling is a big part of this drive, allowing us to divert waste by reprocessing it into fresh new materials.

Sadly, though, recycling isn’t always as magical as it seems. As Australia has just found out, it’s harder than it sounds, and often smoke and mirrors prevent the public from understanding what’s really going on. Here’s how soft plastic recycling went wrong Down Under.

Yeah, Those Are Totally Recyclable!

REDcycle was established to recycle soft plastics, with the vast majority collected from deposit bins at supermarkets. Credit: REDcycle

In Australia, an operation called REDcycle had long operated a network set up for the recycling of soft plastics. These are defined as plastic packaging items that one can readily crumple up in the hand – things like bread bags, cereal box liners, postal satchels, and even woven polypropylene carry bags. REDcycle placed collection bins at supermarkets around the country to allow people to drop off soft plastics collected in their household. After collection, the soft plastics were processed by REDcycle and handed off to partner organizations. These companies remanufactured the plastics into items like furniture, bollards, and signage. Others used the recycled plastic as a feedstock to produce asphalt additives for road construction.

The operation appeared to be successfully running for quite some time, since being established in 2011. REDcycle’s own website speaks of recycling thousands of tonnes of waste plastic that would traditionally have ended up in landfill. However, the story wasn’t to remain so rosy. The program saw a 350% rise in collection volumes since 2019, with over five million pieces of soft plastic deposited in REDcycle bins each day. This put additional pressure on the program to find a way to deal with the influx of material. It was too successful.

The situation came to a head in November this year, when REDcycle had to “temporarily pause” collection of soft plastics entirely. REDcycle put the issue down to “unforeseen challenges,” in part related to the pandemic. The organisation’s reprocessing partners had stopped accepting plastics. In one case this was due to a facility destroyed by fire, in another due to reduced demand for recycled plastic products. REDcycle has stated its intention to resume collection of soft plastics as soon as possible.

Further investigations revealed the problem had far deeper roots. Investigations revealed the company was sitting on 3,000 tons of soft plastics that were being stored across a network of at least six warehouses. Not only were the materials not being recycled, but they presented a fire risk while in storage. Notably, the local Environment Protection Authority reported to journalists that it had to engage in its own investigations to find all the warehouses being used. According to the government agency, REDcycle only notified the EPA of some of the locations. Contractors for REDcycle indicated to journalists that the stockpiling of material had been ongoing since 2018. Figures suggest REDcycle was bringing in on the order of 7,000 tonnes of soft plastics a year. However, the company’s reprocessing partners were only able to process approximately 3,200 tonnes a year, with the shortfall apparently stuffed into warehouses across the country.

The company had promised that the plastics were being recycled and put to good use, and when the business case simply didn’t stack up, it quietly diverted the waste stream rather than facing up to the problem. The news that the company had simply been warehousing the plastic led to widespread anger from the broader public. Those who had gone to great effort to collect and deposit their soft plastics had learned that it was all for nothing.

All Supply, No Demand

The fact remains that soft plastics are a challenge to recycle. Kerbside trash collectors often ban them from recycling bins, because they clog up conveyer belts used to sort materials. REDcycle solved the collection side of the equation, but the real problem was then reprocessing the material. Food often contaminates the materials, making reprocessing harder and reducing the materials value. Plus, in Australia, at least, there simply hasn’t been enough industrial demand for the waste plastic to keep up with what’s being collected.

Recycling has had long-standing problems in Australia. For the punter on the street, the idea is that the right trash put in the right bin will eventually be turned into something fresh and new. While Australia does a great job at collecting recycling, the reality is that there’s seldom little to do with the material once it’s been picked up. The broader recycling industry faced huge issues in 2017, when China decided it no longer wanted to accept contaminated plastic waste from Australia. That left recycling programs struggling to find outlets for what they were collecting. Until then, the attitude had been to box it up and ship it overseas where it was someone else’s problem.

The hope is that new advanced techniques will enable soft plastics to be more readily recycled. These techniques aim to take waste plastic and turn it back into its chemical precursors that are more useful to industry. Through chemical, thermal, and other processes, it may be possible to economically convert old food wrappers, face masks, and other materials into pure chemicals ready to be used to make new products, or to simply convert waste into usable industrial fuels. However, many of these plastic purification and depolymerization techniques are still at the research stage, or in testing in pilot plants. They may become more viable commercial-scale methods in future.

For now, Australia finds itself trying to pick up the pieces of what it thought was a viable recycling scheme. Outside of a few small pilot programs, people are being told to simply throw their soft plastics in the garbage, as no viable recycling pipeline exists. The collapse of the REDcycle program has done harm to the face of recycling in the country. It will cause many to question why they should bother to recycle when previous efforts have proven false or futile. For the good of the environment, though, the hope is that future developments will one day recycle this huge waste stream, rather then simply burying it from view.

Featured Image: “Plastic bottles for recycling” by Radulf del Maresme

79 thoughts on “Australia’s Soft Plastic Recycling Debacle

  1. “3,000 tons of soft plastics that were being stored across a network of at least six warehouses. “

    Hunh? How is this a big deal? 3000 tons will fit in a school gymnasium. It’s roughly one hour of Australia’s total recycled waste stream (which, granted, is mostly not plastics).

    Just do like Denmark & Norway. Call it power plant fuel.

    1. We really need to start considering the use of plastic waste as fuel – in a well designed power-generation system – as an environmental net-positive. It isn’t the perfect solution, but the crap is piling up and causing no end of problems, and we don’t have a better viable option.

      There’s no chance the manufacturing industry will reduce their output without overwhelming pressure.

      1. Overwhelming pressure is coming, but yeah then it’ll be a bit late. Does burning it puke microplastics into the air with the exhaust? Surely there would be a way to filter that. But plastic “recycling” is by and large a complete joke. Basically it’s a method of using a lot more energy to put it in the ocean anyway.

          1. I mean the other 80% of the planet may go through mass extinction as local flora and fauna face temperatures they didn’t evolve for and heatwaves where the wet bulb temperature goes above human body temperature kills everyone without air-conditioning, but hey Antarctica will be a bit nicer

          2. Adapt or Die, Brantyr. Adapt or Die.

            Darwin in action. Homo Sapiens will kill everything that can’t adapt. Cockroaches will put us in their natural history museums one day…

          3. > but hey Antarctica will be a bit nicer

            Try Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia, which are vast areas full of natural resources and basically empty due to the harsh climates and being landlocked by sea ice.

          4. Of course the problem is too much carbon. Every living thing breathes out carbon so it’s never going away. What we have to do is stop all the other carbon we generate in the atmosphere.

        1. Burning plastic as fuel reduces the amount of oil we need to pull out of the ground for fuel, so it doesn’t, in and of itself, necessarily increase atmospheric C02.

          Even if it were additive in effect, only about 4% of petroleum is used for plastic production .. so it wouldn’t move the needle very far.

          IIRC, scrap PET is especially cheap. Last I checked, I think it worked out to be like 1/6th the cost of untaxed diesel on a $/joule basis. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was significantly cheaper than scrap tires on a $/joule basis .. and tire derived fuel is one of the cheapest industrial fuels there is.

    2. I’d also take issue with the heading “All supply, no demand”. The input and output numbers given above are of the same order of magnitude (2.2x). 3200 tons of soft plastic a year got recycled. How is this “no demand”? If it were 320 tons, there’d truly be a big problem.

      Seems like a couple things can be done here. Get more consumers to use less soft plastic to get the input number down from 7000. Is 5000 possible? Second, find more outlets for the recycled plastic. There must be virgin plastic being used somewhere that could be replaced by recycled. Maybe a bit more processing can yield different types or classes of plastic or precursor chemicals? Third, at the end of each quarter or something, any plastic that wasn’t able to be recycled will have to go to a landfill as before. But you’d have cut that amount down by a large percentage.

    3. Start by replacing plastic by paper where possible.

      Of the rest, like said, 3000 tons is not that much.

      And most of what cannot be recycled can be burned in adequate conditions , to generate energy. Or decomposed chemically.

      1. Same issues. Paper packaging for food etc. uses waxed and/or foil coated paper, which can’t be recycled with other paper materials.

        Paper recycling is done by shredding the paper and dissolving it in water to make pulp, which is impossible to do when the paper won’t dissolve. The only thing you can do with it is burning it.

        1. That´s the “where possible” part. A screwdriver doesn´t need to be packed in plastic to be sold.

          And most of the problem with plastic waste is with people, opposing to solutions or refusing to change their habits due to some illogical or uninformed beliefs.

          1. You are definitely right. Screwdrivers used to be sold in bins or with a small plastic tab used for hanging and a barcode. I think most of the single use plastics is caused by marketing departments that want to razzle-dazzle you into buying their product instead of the one next to it.

          2. Dude you clearly have not seen how common blister pack packaging is, something that far to many tools are sold in, all vacuum formed around the cheap and nasty tool with pretty printed card to grab attention and pretend to be premium quality as it hangs from a wall…

            Far too many things, tools included that have no need to be do get wrapped in plastic. And annoyingly often you don’t have the chance to vote with your wallet for sane packaging – you needed whatever you went to the store for and they only stock the ones in the stupid packaging…

          3. >Dude you clearly have not seen how common blister pack packaging is

            Yet, when I go to my local hardware store, the screwdrivers are just hanging on the wall on a metal hook.

          4. >Yet, when I go to my local hardware store, the screwdrivers are just hanging on the wall on a metal hook.

            Lucky you… Having somebody in the tool procurement chain for your local that has a modicum of sense. There is indeed a store round here that is the same, BUT most of them are not entirely free from such stupidity.

            Heck even your mail order tools and even toys can often come in blister packs or other single use plastic covers, inside branded boxes that are then inside bigger boxes filled with plastic ‘protective’ packaging (or if its a small enough object a large padded envelope).

            Some places are getting better and at least the ‘protective’ packaging inside the box is cardboard/paper products that are genuinely recycled in most places and will bio-degrade easily… I’d also say in the last few years the number of pointlessly unnecessary single use packaging plastics around objects that really don’t need anything has reduced. But it is very very far from gone…

          5. >a modicum of sense

            Of course, if you buy your tools from a supermarket, or you buy Name Brand (TM) screwdrivers at many times the price, that need to convince you over how wonderful they are by a blister pack with a slip of cardboard and pretty graphics – well, who’s at fault there?

          6. The so called “Blister Packs” are often insisted on by retailers to reduce theft. (Yep, that’s the reason) And the packaging in question is expensive. Screwdriver makers don’t want to pay for that crap plus the design and tool fees, and the 4-color two sided paper insert, maybe with some holographic foil stamping, some spot varnish and the die fee for cutting it out in a weird shape and don’t forget the security tag and the RF sealing equipment to close it up. It’s madness.

            And the ER doctors spend the better part of Christmas day putting sutures in people who accidentally try to flay themselves opening their new package of screwdrivers.

          7. > well, who’s at fault there?

            Not the purchaser, as they can only buy their tools from places that exist, and those places only stock what they stock – and IN MANY CASES THEY DO NOT STOCK ANYTHING at all in sensible packaging! You don’t travel 200 odd miles to the one surviving hardware store large enough to have all the tools you need that still manages to source and sell only the good stuff in every sense of the word…

    4. With admittedly no further research on my part, it feels like warehousing it until demand can be arranged is the most honorable solution. In the US it would have been quietly landfilled, as in our own recent scandals.

    5. More a top down problem than a consumer problem. Business can make the biggest difference here, imo, however I don’t think they have the initive to do so as long the (insert money here) is #1 priority. This is the issue. As example, if I need to buy a screwdriver and go to the screwdriver store to discover all screwdrivers are either unpackaged or packaged in cardboard, no big deal as I can’t do anything about it, or care to, as All screwdrivers are packaged this way. Same for any product really, where it is feasible. Just going to keep reading these articles, having these discussions unless something on the fundamental level is changed about how we as consumers receive our products on a massive scale. Bad news, good luck with that as your average consumer might just forget about that fancy smanchy packaging a second after opening the package, but the aspects of business that deal with creating packaging, an entire I dusty unto itself, won’t like it one bit. 2022 is almost gone and money is still king, environment or no environment. A great topic, good article.

  2. But we thought that every plastic recycled went right back into “virgin” and “food” grade products! We are donating and giving back to the Earth! Mixing PVC plasticizers or greasy junk or filler material or flame retardants is quickly and easily sorted out, right? Splitting the myriad of different types of plastics apart, even when the same product has several different types in one is trivial and cheap and quick, right? Just look at the “recycling number that is just a number” right on the packaging then sort, sort sort!

    No biohazards in recycled plastics, right? No aluminum or other non plastics ever get mixed in, right? Plastics themselves never mix together or melt together, right? Turning them into clean finished pellets of just one type with no junk thrown in is surely easy and cost effective, right? Removing ones that are pigmented and not clear is easy, right? Other countries always want to buy these basically gemstones from “us”, right? Never have enough to sell, right? Guess this isn’t quite the case here in Australia?

    Australia probably is not the only country having this debate though. Are there really not better ways to actually reuse nonvirgin plastics? Aluminum and steel are easy. Plastics, well, less so.

    1. Plastics are too useful to do away with, but it would be rather trivial to make recycling vastly easier – mandate a colour code so even small fragments of any single use plastic are trivial to sort AND limit the single use plastics to only one of a tiny handful of options – HDPE and PET for instance are good enough for almost every single use item that will be plastic, add in one high temp, food safe one for the lazy folks instant oven meal I suppose…

      And when it comes to things like consumer electronics and toys mandate its all a nylon if rubbery, ABS if opaque and Acrylic or pollycarb when translucent or something – the minor inconvenience for designers of not having the most optimal material can be worked around and perhaps a few pointless toys disappear and suddenly recycling is much easier.

      Note all these plastics are just top of my head suggestions, I may well have missed options that are better, the point is just take away the chaotic mix of plastics and simplify sorting so getting high purity recycled material is cheaper and easier. Not to mention likely to be profitable from the demand side as well – if all your single use plastics can now be easily sorted, is already the correct colour and so recycled simply its bound to be cheaper than cracking more crude (and likely to get cheaper still if the petrochemical empires start to crumble in the ‘green’ movement and less oil is extracted)

      1. Abs is not a single plastic, but a copolymerisation, and exists in is many different combinations. Further nylon is also used in hard plastics, and is a really good material. And what about glass filling, is it fibres, or shot, or whatever.

        I generally agree for the single use items. They should all be simple and fully recyclable. I also think that perhaps we should use things like cellophane and other non-synthetic plastics more.

        But for items that are long-duty, we really need to talk about manditory minimum design lifetimes in the consumer law. Washing machines should last 20-30 years not 7, fridges similarly. Furnature should be designed to last multiple moves and 100 years or longer. Clothes should be designed to last years not months and should not shed microplastic.

        We need systemic regulation and change that will come with reduced consumption, but not reduced quality of life.

        1. It doesn’t have to be a single polymer chain to be easily recycled though, and commonly any mishmash of polymers that looks remotely like plastic (so solid) rather than oil is called plastic… ABS fits the bill of relatively easy recycling while having good material properties so it was the option I picked largely at random out of my head that fits the bill of general purpose material properties and recycling potential.

          I do agree there is more complexity for the long lived stuff worth considering, but ultimately it doesn’t much matter what the rules on the long lived stuff works out being much, yet. As it is the sea of short lived plastics that is by orders of magnitude a bigger problem. Anything with a use life over 40 mins could be made of impossible to deal with practically with current tech and make no real difference, can always burn that 0.00002g per 1000Kg of other plastic waste. (No I don’t actually know if that is the current breakdown, or if anybody has ever tried to work it out based on such stupidly short use times as 40 mins of actual use, but its probably depressingly close to the correct ballpark despite being intended as an exaggeration)

        2. >Furnature should be designed to last multiple moves

          I’d rather have the choice on that part. These days the cheap furniture is actually honeycomb cardboard with a vinyl front, or low density fiber board with a thin veneer on top. You can buy decent looking furniture for under $50 a piece instead of $500 for real wood heirloom pieces, but the tradeoff is that it crumbles apart at some point. Still, it’s just $50 to replace. You don’t need to worry, you don’t need to keep protecting your furniture against little kids with markers and toys with sharp corners etc…

          Moving house is also much easier when you can throw most of your old furniture into the wood chipper and just have new ones delivered.

          1. My wife would like to have the sleeper sofa, that she’s had for years, re-upholstered.
            But those who do upholstery (locally) don’t want to do it. They say it is cheaper to buy a new one.

          2. > They say it is cheaper to buy a new one.

            So they don’t want the money?

            It’s most likely they don’t want to deal with customers who want to fix cheap furniture, because they end up haggling and arguing over the price. MDF furniture isn’t made to be repaired, it just crumbles apart, so they will end up rebuilding large parts of the sofa and you won’t pay for that.

  3. Well, collecting it and “buffering it” is only part of the game. If the demand from the next stage is not sufficient to empty the buffer, who is to blame? Just why they were going to great lengths to conceal the buffering is another question, but not the interesting one.

    1. Hear here. Burning old processed oil is less new oil that you’ll need to dredge up. Plus it gets rid of long term leeching from whatever you did with the plastic.

      Or burning coal in AU. Probably even nastier for the locals to the plant than whatever comes out of a scrubbed plastics burning stack.

  4. “there’s seldom little to do with the material”

    Tangled wording. That implies “there’s often much to do” as-written. Should be “there’s little to do” or maybe “there’s often little to do” or “there’s seldom much to do”.

  5. This could all be solved without new technologies if companies merely had to pay for the real world cost to recycle their products/byproducts. The result would be designing products to be recycled and a massive shift toward bio-plastics and aluminum containers.

    1. This is the real problem. Nobody wants to shoulder the cost because it’s economic suicide. You just can suck profit out that has already been taken up front. Once you have the overhead of sorting, processing and remanufacturing, it’s cheaper to just buy new products.

      Recycling has to be broken out of the capitalist stream because you will never be profitable. Make the companies pay up front for their plastic recycling and the needed innovation of lower cost recyclable packaging will inevitably follow.

    2. Or go back to 70s technology. remember when we bought milk in glass bottles that were washed and reused. products came in paper bags instead of plastic. All that we need to do is make plastic production illegal, with a few small exemptions for niche cases such as medical use.
      I would support a policy of plastic neutrality. i.e. a similar situation to carbon neutral fuel which sequesters co2 from the environment and releases it again.
      with plastic neutrality, the only way to legally obtain plastic for industry would be to mine it from refuse, most likely caught in nets from the sea. as the cost of plastic goes up, then the fishermen get paid more for their product.

        1. Lots of materials you can make em from, either naturally plastic like, simply materially sufficient – which could easily include many minimally processed plant products, or outright pure bio plastics which could also meet bob’s neutrality requirement.

          For myself if such a ban were to occur I think I would try my hand at semi precious gem grinding – could even then potentially still have RBG/Backlit keys if that is your cuppa tea. And while I wouldn’t give up a decent buckling spring old IBM keyboard in general there are some genuinely good uses for backlight keys.

        2. The case of my current keyboard is 3d printed from PLA. it’s possible to obtain such filament from recycled sources such as precious plastics, or from slicing a soda bottle into strips with a knife blade. There are 3d printed switches and keycaps that I could use, if i had to.
          If plastic became horrendously expensive then I would carve the case out of wood with a hammer and chisel.
          If I wanted a keyboard to last for decades then i would have it cast from brass with the lost wax method.
          I have built a through hole keyboard entirely from pcb.

  6. About two decades ago I read of an inventor who had a process that turn any carbon based compound into high grade oil. He was a chemist interested in the sorts of chemistry that turns prehistoric animals/plants into oil and coal.

    His process takes any carbon based compound including tires, refrigerator panels, and plastic bags. The output of the process is high grade oil, natural gas, pure water, pure carbon, and metals left over from the process. The water was so pure the EPA told him he could just flush it down the drain, and the natural gas could be used to offset the energy costs of the process.

    His business model required free feedstock, so he wanted to set up near a turkey processing plant to use all the leftover turkey guts – and this fell through when the turkey processing plant decided they could freeze-dry the guts and sell it as fertilizer and pet feed.

    Ah, here it is:

    https://www.discovermagazine.com/technology/anything-into-oil-03

    Patents on this process (if any) should be expiring right about now. Sounds like an opportunity for an enterprising chemistry hacker to make a fortune and help the world in a serious way.

    1. someone near me built a small experimental “pilot” plant for a process similar to this many years ago and it did indeed produce fuel that the sponsor ran in a lawn mower but as in the above article it was soon shut down by govt after several “unplanned emissions” (I believe there were a couple fires?) But I always thought it had great potential if it could be run long enough and in a safe manner to get it working safely and efficiently enough…

  7. This is a classic example of emotions winning over facts. The uproar is due to people thinking they were saving the planet by recycling. The fact is, even if it had all been recycled, they weren’t, the solid waste for the entire world, for 1 year, spread over *just* Rhode Island would come to a height of 1.323 meters. Rhode Island is 0.003% of the *land* on earth.

    This means that, if you collected all the garbage on earth for 100 years, you’d have enough to build a micronation in the ocean….so long as you could find international waters with a depth around 100 meters. Alternatively, make some pretty awesome skiing slopes in a pretty tiny fraction of say South Dakota. But in no way are landfills even close to the fever dreams of Wall-E, and at the end of the day they *do* sequester carbon.

    sources:
    https://www.aqua-calc.com/calculate/volume-to-weight/substance/garbage-coma-and-blank-household-blank-rubbish
    https://datatopics.worldbank.org/what-a-waste/trends_in_solid_waste_management.html (note here that I included organic waste in my volume calculations, IRL this will decompose and not contribute to volume as much)

  8. THERMAL DEPOLYMERIZATION!
    Its ~80% recyclable. Part of the missing percentage is in the form of CH4 used to run the next batch.

    Biodiesel lobbies fought the far superior technology, but if people grow brains we can make use of it. Hell, the original patents are certainly expired by now (late 1990’s IIRC)

  9. Ah another misleading story about the mythical land of Stralia, well mate as a bloke who lives there I can tell you that most recycling is handled at the local council level and they take everything. There was a pause on glass for a while so it was going into landfill but that resumed a while back. That business venture was an attempt to get materials for free by redirecting it from the council run system which put the profits back into the local community.

  10. Step 1: Prevent their overuse. Reduce the allowed amount of plastic used a given container. Allow so many grams of plastic to be used for a given volume container. Stop companies from using container bulk as anti-theft device.

    Step 2: Assist their reuse. Don’t permit companies to do things that make them harder to recycle. No one needs sparkles in their toothpaste. No, your product is not so valuable that the label cannot be removed.

    Step 3: All containers must be allowed to be returned to the seller, or factory where they came from. That is the only way that companies will change their methods. Why should cities and towns pay for the profits of companies?

    Step 4: Put a meaningful deposit on every container. So, they go back where they came from.

    Step 5: Don’t tax restaurants that use plates.

    Step 6: In the future, ask people to own a dinner plate, a cup, and utensils, OR, create a system of returnable stainless dinnerware in place of disposable garbage.

  11. I wonder if Australia’s Island status has anything to do with it.
    I heard that the UK has an overstock of to-recycle glass (glass jars for vegetables and wine bottles) as they hardly produce whatever goes in the glass, and do consume. Transporting the glass back to originating countries would be so expensive, that it would be cheaper and better for the environment to grind up the glass and give it back to the sea and make new glass close to the production location.

    But that’s what I read somewhere, years ago. Don’t know if that was actual sound environmental math and whether it still holds today.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised to find its not true anymore – partly as much less is shipped in bottles made from glass now it seems, the tin can and the plastic bottle have it seems to me gained market share to me and many things get bottled in the UK now (so presumably come over in giant barrel/tankers when not also produced here), and partly as the local production of stuff that goes in glass bottles is increasing as well it seems. Though that is based on what I personally have seen no data to back it up – so equally I wouldn’t be shocked to find it is still true for glass – it certainly is or has been very recently for many other common and easy to recycle materials.

      I don’t however think its much to do with being an island – Aus in particularly had it easy when the developing world on their doorstep was happy to take plastic and get paid to ‘recycle’ it. Once that died, partly as it became apparent to the consumer no/little recycling was actually taking place and partly as China said ‘no more’ all the ‘recycling’ of collected plastics in the developed world seemingly took a hit… Though not because much changed, just because it was not possible to pretend the fiver you paid was for anything other than to dump plastic trash in somebody else’s garden…

  12. Maybe there’s a way to make some atmospheric carbon bond to the plastic waste, which could then be sequestered in disused mines, as a way to both dispose of the plastic and sequester some carbon.

  13. Kinda tired of the anti-recycling propaganda. The problem both in aus and here in the u.s. (and many other places) is that conservative politicians are unwilling to put regulation on manufacturing for fear that their herd of cats (investors) will take their factory and go somewhere else. Simply put at some point citizen s of each country are going to be have to responsible for building and maintaining their own manufacturing base somewhat in line with their consumption / recycling needs.

    The reason china stopping acceptance of these materials was such a problem worldwide is because they were being the worlds buffer for irresponsible political decision making. Got companies wanting to offshore so you cant make process your own stuff? Send it to China! That wasnt a solution it was always a problem waiting to happen.

    Require companies to manufacture using recycled materials and or find end use categories for the materials they produce / import. Use government to make it a business problem, instead of lettting business make their problems a public nuisance.

    1. Nothing to do with conservative politicians. All politicians have not wanted to rock the boat and actually ask where is the recycling actually happening. Much easier just to compliment a program and not ask questions.

      That ‘recycling’ that was going to China? It’s not heading mostly to Malaysia.

      The problem with recycling is that even now it’s of limited effectiveness. Pass all the laws you’d like but we can’t actually use much. Any effective plan is going to require much more effort and more importantly much more sacrifice, and no politician wants to tell people that.

      1. The laws over recycling tend to make the problem worse, since they prevent people from dealing with the problem effectively. Recycle instead of burn means the materials are simply shuffled elsewhere and thrown away there, often being turned into low-value products that get disposed after little to no use.

  14. The recycling industry is a farce. Worst than a farce as it been responsible for even more material going to landfill. Over 90% of rubbish is now labelled ‘to be recycled’ before being shipped of to landfill.

    It’s been the perfect con though as no one in the chain wants to ask questions. Not the people, not the stores, not the politicians and not even the media. Everyone just wants that feel good feeling as they put a plastic bottle in a coloured bin and tell themselves they’ve done their bit for the planet

  15. The angle missing from the article is the fact the two major supermarkets in Australia brought REDcycle to life as their PR solution to the public pressure around ‘why is everything wrapped in non-recyclable plastic?’

    It was literally greenwashing, which is now laid bare in the fact that while they touted how great everything was going and the strong market for recycled plastics in reality all they did was stockpile it.

  16. “Sadly, though, recycling isn’t always as magical as it seems.”
    Recycling is never, and has never been as “magical as it seems”, with very few exceptions.
    (Steel, aluminum, lead)

    Every recycling program is run as a for-profit business.
    Yet, it is almost always cheaper to gather raw materials, because recycling requires a lot of extra work to separate and clean materials into something usable.
    Therefore, recycled materials cost more to use than virgin ones.

    If you were making a ‘business’ decision about materials sourcing, and you had to choose between a cheaper more consistent product, and a more expensive less consistent one, the choice is obvious.

    This is why we CANNOT continue to make decisions based purely on “Does this generate more profit?”

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