The Breakdown – plastics

This month we asked industry leaders and decision-makers: “What can be done to solve Australia’s plastic waste crisis?”

Tony Khoury, Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW

the breakdown

The problems with plastic waste have been caused by the Federal Government rushing through bans on the export of unprocessed recyclables. Australia imports the vast majority of the manufactured goods that we consume, and it is not possible to use 100% of the plastic waste that we generate across the country in our very limited, local manufacturing sector. One solution would be for state governments such as the NSW Government who collect ~$775 million pa in the waste levy, to subsidise the costs associated with recycling, to make plastic waste a more economical export commodity on the world stage.

Dr Georgina Davis, CEO Waste Recycling Industry Association QLD

last word circular economy

We can eliminate avoidable plastics throughout the supply chain by incentivising sustainable design and penalising (through product taxes) non-adapters; and use taxes to shift demand towards using recycled plastic. Tax revenue then invested on solutions to plastic wastes. Policy interventions must be consistently applied to limit burdens of operating across different state-based regulatory, tax and levy systems. As Australia represents a small market and population, we must consider environmental and other benefits from aiding elimination of plastic pollution in developing countries; noting 3+ billion people are without access to waste management, more are without access to recycling infrastructure.

Dimitris Dimoliatis, Principal Environmental Consultant, MRA Consulting

the breakdown

I do not believe that Australia is facing a plastic waste crisis. Plastic is inert. When landfilled, it remains inert. It does not generate GHG emissions and therefore does not contribute to the major crisis of our times, climate change. In well-run landfills it does not escape nor leach to the environment (plastic litter, especially in the world’s oceans, is indeed a crisis). It doesn’t even consume all that much oil (about four per cent of total production). That is not to say that we should not strive to manage plastics better. We should. And by focusing on the 7500tpa collected by REDcycle, we pay less attention to the real problem, the 2.5 million tonnes of plastic Australia generates each year. We have to reduce consumption, invest in R&D for alternative materials and novel recycling methods, design plastics to be more recyclable, improve recycling infrastructure and address the looming market failure created the plastic export bans. Ultimately, solving Australia’s plastic waste crisis will require collaboration and commitment from individuals, businesses, and governments.

Suzanne Toumbourou, CEO, Australian Council of Recycling

the breakdown

The entire supply chain needs to be engaged to address plastic pollution and waste in Australia (and the world!) and deliver a circular economy. The first priority is designing out waste, designing for reusability and of course recyclability. The second priority is to ensure proper regulatory frameworks that actually support resource recovery and recycling outcomes at end of use, rather than impede them with measures that do not get the balance right between environmental protection and circular economy industry development. The third priority is to ensure end markets for recycled material – without end markets, the recycling system cannot work.

John McKew, National Executive Officer, Australian Organics Recycling Association

the breakdown

Plastic is ubiquitous in all of our lives and eliminating it from everyday use seems unlikely. Reducing our everyday consumption of plastic would, however, seem like a good place to start. So how do we do that? There could be a number of effective strategies but let’s start with something simple and easy to do. Do we actually need a new fresh produce plastic bag for every piece of fruit and vegetable we buy at the supermarket each visit? What about keeping these plastic bags after their use, put them back in your shopping bag to use again and again?