They were supposed to be on their way out. what happened?

Collapse AustraliaThe largest soft plastic recycling scheme last week amid Detecting secret storage It exposed serious inefficiencies in recycling supply chains and weakened customer confidence in such schemes.

But it also highlights a broader issue: Australia’s persistent appetite for single-use plastic, which appears to have only grown in recent years despite a wave of new laws clamping down on its use.

In fact, the demand now appears to be so great that established recycling initiatives can no longer keep up.

REDCycle has temporarily halted its soft plastic recycling scheme after it was unable to meet demand. The plan says the volumes of soft plastics it has seen increased 350 percent in three years. (today)

The Australian government has called on supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths to come up with an alternative plan to recycle soft plastic.

But environmental scientist and conservationist Dr. Paul Harvey says a much bigger shift is needed, with recycling becoming the “last line of thought” in treating plastic waste.

A resource-intensive process, soft plastic recycling is also complicated by impurities introduced along the way – such as food scraps left inside plastic bags.

“The primary thought process should be: How can I avoid this in the first place?” Harvey told

It comes after New South Wales became the latest Australian jurisdiction to ban single-use shopping bags on June 1, four years after supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths gradually phased out their use across the country.

Single-use plastics have been banned in NSW from 1 November.
Single-use plastics have been banned in NSW from 1 November. (9 news)

However, total plastic consumption in Australia remains shockingly high.

This is several kilograms ahead of the next offender – the United States – and almost four times the global average.

Recent initiatives by governments and retailers such as banning single-use bags have yet to see any tangible impact on these numbers.

According to the National Plastics Scheme released just last year by the Australian government, Australians get 70 billion items of “removable” soft plastic such as plastic bags and food wrappers annually.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic waste seeps into the oceans every year, killing thousands of seabirds and marine life. (clean the ocean)

This equates to approximately 2,700 soft plastic pieces per person.

Despite the growing popularity of recycling schemes such as those operated by REDcycle, in 2020, only 12 per cent of Australia’s total plastic waste was recycled.

The bulk is sent to landfill, where it can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, leaching toxic substances into the soil and water.

An additional 130,000 tons enter our waterways each year – the equivalent of the weight of about 130 cargo ships.

The effects on marine life are devastating.

The North Korean-flagged cargo ship Chungcheon Gang after it was caught in Panama carrying weapons in 2014 (AAP)
Australia filters the weight equivalent of 130 cargo ships of plastic into our waterways each year.

So just where did we go wrong?

Harvey blames loopholes in current legislation, lack of enforcement of new rules and, in recent years, concerns about pollution linked to COVID-19 For Australia’s slow progress in reducing its plastic waste.

The first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 put many reuse and recycling initiatives on hold amid lockdowns and growing concerns about surface pollution.

Cafes stopped accepting reusable coffee cups, Woolworths ended a “boxes to bench” service that avoided the need for shopping bags on home deliveries and many fresh, bulk produce disappeared from supermarket shelves, replaced by plastic-wrapped alternatives.

Many retailers continue to distribute free plastic bags to shoppers, replacing single-use plastic bags with similar but thicker alternatives to comply with government legislation. (9 news)

While new research shows that COVID-19 infection by surface contact is still extremely rare, it is a trend that has been slow to shift.

So has the government’s ban on single-use plastic bags and other single-use plastics actually achieved their desired goal?

Harvey says the benefits of banning plastic bags remain “in question,” as long as heavyweight plastic alternatives remain permitted.

However, these bags are very similar to their lightweight counterparts and are distributed free of charge at many retailers and delis.

“It’s kind of a bit of a green wash — the idea of ​​changing from lightweight to heavyweight plastic bags,” Harvey said.

He points out that heavy bags are actually much worse for the environment.

“It’s heavier, it’s thicker, so there’s more material,” he said.

“They are still made from materials derived from fossil fuels to make polymer.

“The thicker the product, the longer it will stay.”

Woolworths and Coles, once among the largest producers of single-use plastic bags, have taken 3 billion and 1.6 billion plastic bags out of circulation annually since they were introduced in 2018.

But these numbers do not take into account the new plastic waste introduced in the form of heavyweight plastic bags for sale for 15 cents.

Woolworths says it puts 9,000 tons of these bags into circulation annually — offsetting a significant proportion of the 15,000 to 18,000 tons of single-use plastic bags it weighs.

“Our reusable plastic bags have been introduced to help customers adapt to removing single-use plastic bags from our stores,” a Woolworths spokesperson said.

Woolworths will phase out heavyweight 15-cent plastic shopping bags by June 2023. Follow Favorite

Coles has so far declined to announce any similar plans, instead focusing on the pilot removal of single-use bags of fresh produce currently underway in ACT stores, which it says will save 11 tons of plastic going to landfill each year.

However, despite the moves by major retailers, state governments are still reluctant to support them with stricter legislative action.

But Australia’s two largest states, New South Wales and Victoria, currently have no plans to do the same.

The NSW Environmental Protection Agency told that while it was “gratifying” that Woolworths chose to phase out heavyweight bags, it would only review any such move in 2024 “to determine whether appropriate at the time.”

An EPA spokesperson said: “The EPA will monitor the success of this measure before determining whether a mandatory phase-out is needed in the future.”

Harvey believes that this reticence is due to concerns about declining retail sales, as well as resistance from oil and gas companies that supply the raw materials used in plastics.

REDcycle has temporarily stopped taking soft plastics that are dropped into bins in Coles and Woolworths, saying customers have become so keen on recycling that they need to empty them 15 times a day instead of just the regular one.
Coles is experimenting with removing bags of single-use products from their ACT stores (nine)
In 2019, a ministerial report submitted to the Treasury included several reports from companies and industry groups Concerns about weakening sales If consumers are unable to carry large amounts of shopping.

However, Harvey remains optimistic about new plastics legislation targeting items such as microbeads and polystyrene containers.

“With the majority of single-use plastics now banned, there are currently no other single-use plastics on the market that can replace them,” he points out.

“So fast food outlets will have to switch to cardboard or bamboo products.”

Bigger gliders

The Australian marsupial is listed as endangered

With the future of soft plastic recycling in Australia now uncertain, the true extent of our consumption of single-use plastic will be clearer than ever.

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