The expectations around recycling in Australia seem to have changed dramatically in the past few years, with many of us beginning to realise that it isn’t as simple as chucking all papers, glass, and plastics into a single bin. If you’re looking to get a better handle on how to sort your recycling, the national soft plastics recovery initiative REDcycle is a great place to start – so that’s exactly what we’re unpacking today.
Most of the plastic found in Australian household waste is either a hard plastic or a soft plastic. To understand the difference, think of a packet of biscuits: the rigid tray that holds the biscuits is a hard plastic, while the easily torn, crushable packaging that wraps around it is a soft plastic. Packaging is one of the most common sources of household soft plastic, from chip packets to the protective wrap around clothes. Traditional kerbside recycling is designed to process hard plastics, but soft plastics actually jam up the automatic sorting machines, causing delays for the whole recycling process and resulting in masses of plastic ending up in landfill instead. It is partly for this reason that just 9.4 percent of plastics were recycled in Australia in 2017-18.
This is where REDcycle comes in. REDcycle is an Australia-wide program that specifically manages the collection of soft plastics, incorporating some of Australia’s biggest brands and businesses into an effective recycling pathway. Since REDcycle is not a government program, they use collections bins at grocery store chains Coles and Woolworths so that customers can bring their soft plastic waste to a more central location for collection. REDcycle picks up this plastic and delivers them to three manufacturing partners – Replas, Close the Loop, and Plastics Forests – who turn them into new, durable products. Replas, for example, create over 200 types of outdoor furniture, including bench seats, bollards, and even hand sanitiser stations. On REDcycle’s ten-year anniversary last September, they announced that they have diverted over 3 billion pieces of soft plastic from landfill so far and are currently recovering almost 3 million pieces a day.
The REDcycle program is … a true product stewardship model where everyone involved in the life cycle of a product’s packaging – manufacturers, retailers and consumers – chooses to share responsibility for its best end-of-life outcome.
REDcycle is a great initiative, and it’s becoming easier than ever to know what waste products you can throw away using the system. Before throwing away any packaging, your first step should be to check it for symbols. Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand are in the process of adopting a new system known as the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) that uses a standard set of symbols to indicate how to throw something away. A trash can symbol means your item should go in your general waste bin, a coloured-in recycling triangle means it can go in your standard recycling bin, and a hollow recycling triangle means there’s extra instructions written under the symbol. One of the most common of these extra instructions is ‘Store Drop Off’ (also known as ‘Return to Store’), which in Australia indicates that the product goes in a REDcycle bin. REDcycle is also working with brands to help them highlight when their product uses soft plastics, often putting a REDcycle logo on the packaging to identify which products they collect.
If your item doesn’t have an ARL label or REDcycle logo, you can also do a ‘scrunch test’ – if your plastic item can be scrunched up into a ball relatively easily, then it’s a soft plastic that you can probably take to the REDcycle bin. There are a few exceptions though, so if you’re still not sure, a comprehensive list of products that can and can’t go in REDcycle bins can be found on the REDcycle website here.
If you want to start using REDcycle, we’ve got a few more handy tips for you:
Even though recycling categories can seem intimidating, programs like REDcycle are making it much easier to understand and participate in a better waste system. So, don’t forget to check the label, drop your soft plastics off in store, and know that you’re doing what you can to get plastics out of landfill.
To learn more about better recycling solutions, check out our article exploring the growing popularity of refillable packaging.
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