Ocean conservationists have described the suspension of the REDcycle soft plastics collection program as terrible news for marine animals that are being killed by plastic pollution.
On Tuesday evening, the Melbourne-based REDcycle company suspended soft plastics collection nationwide, after revelations that soft plastics collected through bins at Coles and Woolworths have been piling up in warehouses for months without being recycled.
The recycling program has been experiencing issues since at least June, after a fire at the processing facility of REDcycle’s largest recycling partner Close the Loop, which converts soft plastics into asphalt additives for road base.
Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) plastics spokesperson Shane Cucow described the news as a shocking blow for turtles and whales.
“Soft plastics are one of the most lethal plastics for ocean wildlife, wrapping around other items in their stomachs and causing life threatening blockages,” he said.
“Chip packets, plastic wrappings and other soft plastics are the most common types of plastics found in ocean clean up surveys.
“People have been trying to do the right thing by returning their soft plastics for recycling, but even before REDCycle’s suspension we were only managing to recycle 4% of soft plastics in Australia.
Mr Cucow said the only real solution is for governments to mandate plastic reduction targets for big companies.
“Due to problems with degradation, soft plastics are only able to be recycled into low-quality products such as road base, park benches and playground equipment.
“But our oceans are drowning in plastic, and there’s only so many park benches we can build.
“Global reports have shown that, despite claims that they are changing their ways, large companies such as Coca-Cola and Nestle are producing more plastic packaging, not less.
“It’s time to hold the big food and beverage companies accountable for the vast amount of plastic pollution they are producing, filling up our landfill and our environment with unrecyclable soft plastics.”
According to the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), Australia recycled 16% of plastic packaging in the 2019-20 FY, down from 18% in 2018-19. Only 4% of soft plastics were recycled.
APCO projects that, with current recycling investment, Australia will only be able to recycle 36% of plastic packaging by 2025, despite national targets for 70% recovery of plastic packaging.
Data from APCO Collective Impact Report available here.
Australia’s 2025 National Packaging Targets set voluntary targets for packaging recovery and design:
- 100% of packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable
- 70% of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or composted
- 50% average recycled content is included in packaging
- Phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging
A recent report by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation showed that while the use of recycled plastics has increased slightly, large companies have increased their overall plastic packaging, not decreased. The report shows companies will fail to meet commitments to achieve 100% of all packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 – achieving only 65% currently.
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