Australian stockpiled soft plastics downcycled

Following the collapse of the REDcycle soft plastic collection scheme in supermarkets last year, Australia has begun exporting small amounts of the stockpiled waste that had accumulated over years for which it did not have domestic processing capacity. With over 10,000 tonnes of plastics in total to account for, about 5,000 tonnes have been moved to safe storage in New South Wales, though about 4% of the total has degradedso much that it could not be recycled. However, the avenues explored to process this waste can largely only be considered downcycling. Small samples of the plastic waste have been sent to Germany and Texas to “trial advanced chemical recycling,” after being exempted from Australia’s plastic waste export ban. These technologies, despite rosy promises and heavy investment by the petrochemical industry, continue to pose dangers to workers and the communities in which the plants are located, to fall far short of production targets year after year, and to largely downcycle the waste into fuel and not recycled plastic. Another 120 tonnes of the material has been processed domestically, though incorporated into building materials and concrete additives, techniques that are also lauded by petrochemical industry groups despite little researchon the benefits of these uses, uncertainties of long-term performance, and leaching of microplastics and toxins over time. The supermarkets participating in the scheme, Coles and Woolworths, have until May 2024 to find a long-term solution for all the stockpiled waste.

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