The topic on everyone’s mind this National Recycling Week is the news of REDCycle’s botched plastic recycling program – but before we point the finger at these recycling giants, there may be more to the story. Let’s dive into the reasons for this breakdown, plus the other factors at play contributing to plastic waste.
You may be wondering what REDcycle actually is, so first let’s do a little background rundown on these guys. REDcycle is the soft plastic collection program created by Melbourne-based recycling organisation, RED group, founded on the goal to improve the processing of soft plastics in the post-consumer stages. They partnered with big players like Coles and Woolies to get consumers to drop their plastics off for their recycling initiative, rather than letting these plastics pile up in landfill.
What went wrong
Due to the recent controversy around their program, along with processing issues, REDcycle have announced their temporary pausing of their plastic collection program. They say it comes down to the massive growth of soft plastic recycling, citing a 350% rise in consumer-returned plastics since 2019, combined with a destructive fire that affected their processing lines and the challenges and pressures stacked up as a result of the pandemic. People are advised to now put their soft plastics into the regular rubbish bins unless their particular area has any other programs in place for collection.
The issue with plastic production and consumption
But before we blame REDcycle for their program’s breakdown, let’s take a look at their intial goals – and the big picture. Since their launch almost 10 years ago, the initiative was an intended solution to the masses of plastics polluting our environment and wasting away in landfill, and they say they’ve prevented over 5 billion pieces of soft plastic from being sent to landfill. While their processes have started to unravel, they had an admirable goal. Now for the big picture – commercial companies are using more plastic than ever, and we’re consuming it. Plastic pollution is a massive issue affecting our oceans, forests, wildlife and even our own bodies. Ever noticed how everything is wrapped in plastic? From fruits and veggies to your pack of individually plastic-wrapped snacks, to say it’s overkill would be an understatement. And all for that plastic to be torn off and thrown in the rubbish in a matter of seconds! The consequences here include the 8 trillion tonnes of plastic polluting our oceans each year, accounting for a whopping 80% of debris in the water. One of the other devastating consequences is the 100, 000 deaths of marine life every year after animals choke on plastic or even get tangled up in the stuff, resulting in a painful death.
But it’s not just the animals – humans are also in danger of consuming plastic. We know, it’s not exactly the most appetising ingredient, but we’re eating more of this toxic stuff than ever before. With research finding we consume 250 grams of plastic every year and, in our lifetime, we’re likely to consume over 20 kilos of plastic, it’s no small amount – and it’s hurting us. When plastic seeps into our food and water sources either from pollution or plastic packaging, our hormones are easily affected, resulting in inflammation and a higher risk for disease. Studies have shown long-term exposure is can significantly impair the endocrine system and cause issues with our reproductive system.
While REDcycle had a noble cause of keeping soft plastics out of landfill and the surrounding environments, many of us aren’t exactly going out and buying the recycled creations that come of our old plastics. As REDcycle says, “nothing is truly recycled until it re-enters the market as a recycled-content product and someone buys it.”
So, if we’re not buying their recycled plastics, is it really beneficial? Even though we might feel good about dropping off our plastics to be repurposed, a lot of the recycled products our old plastic bags and wrappings become things we would never consider buying. Think about it – when was the last time you purchased a plastic-post fence or a couple of traffic bollards to spruce up the backyard? A lot of these products aren’t exactly on our hit list, and combined with the breakdown of REDcycle’s processing functions, it begs the question – what can we actually do to reduce plastic pollution in a world obsessed with plastic? Commercial companies and sellers stand to benefit from initiatives like REDcycle’s as it emboldens them to continue mass-producing plastic packaging for single-use purposes and gives them no incentive to change – they can keep reeling in the dollars while encouraging consumers to do the work to recycle their plastics. But what we get is not sustainable action – it further entrenches us into this widespread, global issue of commercialised plastic use. Luckily, there are a few things that are in our power to change – and it all centres around a reduction of plastic production and usage.
So, what can we do?
- Join a co-op: Signing up to a co-op provides more benefits that just cutting down on plastic – it saves your wallet and improves the quality of your food, whilst also ensuring all your produce isn’t double-wrapped in plastic.
- Shop at a farmers’ market: Getting your produce straight from the source is another way to cut the plastic out – you won’t find double-wrapped fruits and veggies at your local market, plus you’ll get fresher produce while you’re at it.
- Plastic-free grocers: Some grocers, including bulk-buy stores, sell their produce plastic and packaging-free – from nuts to tea and coffee. Aussie stores like The Source are known for their sustainable shopping format, so keep an eye out for these types of stores in your local area.
- Start composting old scraps: While most plastics should not be composted, there are a number of biodegradable, compostable plastics – but remember, not all biodegradable plastics are compostable! If in doubt, read the back of your package for a confirmation on its suitability for compost.
- Buy less plastic: This one’s a given – if you’re choosing between cucumbers wrapped in plastic and unwrapped cucumbers, go for the latter. If your biscuits come individually-wrapped in their pack, go for another brand.
Check out our article on living sustainably HERE for a deeper diver into getting started with these plastic-reducing methods.
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