Ever wondered if there was a better way to deal with all that plastic food packaging – the plastic bags bread comes in, squeezy yoghurt pouches, cereal box liners and the like - than throwing it in the bin?
Australians use 1.3 million tonnes of plastic each year, with around half of that making its way to recycling facilities. That means that the other half is ending up in landfill - which is terrible for the environment, climate and marine life.
Most of us know that plastic bags can’t go in our regular recycling bins, because soft waste - that is, plastic bags, bread and vegetable bags, chip and snack packets - can’t be processed by most Australian recycling facilities.
Which means that many Australians choose to throw out their flexible plastic waste. But is there a better option? Turns out, there is.
New life for soft waste
A number of Australian organisations have collaborated over the past four years to fix the soft waste problem, and it all started with the REDcycle initiative.
The REDcycle program allows people across Australia to collect their soft waste and deposit it into bins outside or inside major supermarkets, to be processed and recycled - and ultimately, turned into furniture.
REDcycle founder Elizabeth Kasell created the initiative after noticing a gap in our recycling routines. “As a mum, I was looking around in my kitchen and I thought: why can my hard plastic be recycled at kerbside, and all my bread bags and plastic bags have to go in my landfill bin?”
The organisation behind REDcycle, The Red Group, works with Coles, Woolworths and a number of major brands, including Arnotts and Cadbury, to promote recycling.
Since the program’s inception in 2012, The Red Group have installed over 600 soft waste collection bins across the country, with many more on the way.
“We recover tonnes and tonnes of plastic each week, do some initial processing and decontamination, and then the material goes on to our partners at a company called Replas.”
As of this year, REDcycle have saved enough waste from its alternate landfill fate that if it were all lined up end to end, it would circle Australia almost three times.
The REDcycle program is aimed at bringing both consumers and industry into the loop. Some brands now display the REDcycle logo and recycling information on their packs.
From plastic bags to park benches
When the plastic waste falls into Replas’ hands, it is processed and turned into furniture, signage and decking.
“Our products appear in the public open spaces of our communities: parklands, sporting facilities, schools,” Replas’ Business Development Manager Peter Patterson tells SBS.
Replas products are popular in coastal areas because the material isn’t affected by water, and in parks because they aren’t affected by termites, and don’t split or crack.
“We’re taking the plastic donated by people, converting it into something else, and giving it back to the community,” says Patterson.
Catch the problem early
You may be reading this and coming to the realisation that it’s time to form some new habits when it comes to recycling. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! There are many different methods and resources out there to help you get informed.
According to a report from Clean Up Australia, we currently use around 4 billion plastic bags per year; around 10 million per day - that’s a whole lot of plastic. When it comes to bags, think about using your own non-plastic bags at the supermarket, and buy food in bulk.
Check out our handy guide to precycling for more tips on living with less waste: think coffee cups that aren’t just for single use, heading to farmers markets for fruit and veges, and avoiding packaging as much as possible.
If you want to start recycling your soft waste with REDcycle, use their locator to find your nearest bin, and make sure you’re across what you can and can’t put in your regular kerbside recycling bin.
Try Garbage Guru if you aren’t sure about a similar product, and do some research on what your local council allows. Read up on recycling do’s and dont’s, and consider encouraging your household or workplace to join in.
Want to recycle your toothbrush? Yes, it’s possible! Terracycle have partnered with a number of different companies and created programs to recycle many of the soft waste items around your home. Heard about how terrible your coffee pods are for the environment? Terracycle have a program to recycle them.
Almost 97 per cent of Australian households recycle, and REDcycle founder Elizabeth Kassel says it’s time to start dealing with our soft waste too. “We’ve come up with a better way to deal with soft plastics that's simple, engaging and effective.”
Lead image by Mo Riza via Flickr