Australia is a bounty of natural wonders. From rustic red monoliths, to sparkling waterfalls and impeccable stretches of beach, this land is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. The environment provides us with an extraordinary quality of life. Statistics tell us that Australian people consider the environment to be a top national concern. Yet, there is a serious disconnect when it comes to waste.
Australia creates more waste than other developed countries and recycles less. As populations grow and people continue to consume more, the crisis becomes increasingly urgent. Until recently, Australia’s haphazard solution was to ship waste overseas and forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind. Since China’s ban on 24 categories of solid waste in 2018, Australia has had to seriously reconsider its approach to recycling, particularly when it comes to soft plastics.
The regulation and management of waste is an issue that involves governments, households, and industries. The infrastructure of existing systems needs to be overhauled. Organizations like CurbCycle recognize that Australia needs to fundamentally rethink how we approach recycling in order to save our natural environment and change the course of history.
It is time to face the truth about Australia’s waste crisis so that we can do something about it.
Australia is in a waste crisis
In 2016–17, Australians generated 67 million tonnes of waste. Of that, we only recycled 37 million tonnes. Alarmingly, WWF predicts that up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic will find its way into our waterways and oceans. Eventually, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Plastic waste is a particular problem. Plastic is a highly durable material that is largely non-biodegradable. In fact, every piece of plastic sent to landfill since the 1950’s still exists today and will likely exist for another 500 years. Sadly, in the modern world, most plastics are designed to be used only once, then thrown away. Soft plastics are one of the biggest problems when it comes to recycling.
In Australia, currently more than 94% of soft plastics go to landfill as it cannot be easily separated when it is mixed with other recyclables in your recycling bin. While there have been highly publicised campaign aimed at banning plastics bags, soft plastics remain a major issue. Schemes aimed at recycling soft plastics in store have, to date, been largely unsuccessful. In fact, they only account for 2–3% of soft plastic recovery from households.
So where are we going wrong?
There are a couple of fundamental problems when it comes to recycling. Those problems have become even more apparent since China decided it would no longer take Australia’s rubbish. Almost 90 % of packaging in Australia is recyclable, but only 49% is recycled, including material that is exported to other countries. In 2020 the Morrison government committed AU$190 million in funding for new recycling infrastructure, which is certainly an important step but the issue goes beyond infrastructure.
According to The 2018 National Waste Policy, the five main areas Australia must address in order to build a circular economy are:
- Avoid waste: For consumers, this means buying less and reuse and repair where possible. For industry it means considering design so waste is minimised.
- Improve resource recovery: We must have better systems and processes in place for recycling and improve the quality of recycled material we produce.
- Increase use of recycled material: The industry needs to create demands and markets to reuse and remanufacture recycled products.
- Better manage material flows: A top priority must be human health, the environment and the economy.
- Education: Improve information to support innovation, guide investment and enable informed consumer decisions.
CurbCyle recognises that initiatives need to be fun and rewarding. Too long Australians have been confused about recycling. We throw an item in the bin and it magically ‘disappears’. The reality is not pretty. Transparency is key to the community feeling in control of better recycling outcomes.
In order to solve the critical recycling issue — particularly soft plastics — we must all understand how production and consumption patterns impact the environment.
CurbCycle actively joins the dots to address recycling issues in Australia. The program revitalises the existing recycling infrastructure in a novel way that connects households, Councils, Government, recycling facilities, manufacturers and retailers. Engaging initiatives like the Curby program, currently running in the Central Coast Council, redefine how we approach soft plastics in an accessible, educational and rewarding way.
CurbCycle’s Curby Program has provided Central Coast Council residents with a fun, transparent and rewarding way to divert soft plastics from landfill. This has helped to create a new value chain initiative led by Nestlé and IQ Renew
This charts a course for efficient product stewardship schemes, supported by industry bodies such as Australian Food and Grocery Council, to deliver service innovations through the communities existing assets managed by local Councils in the Australian Local Government Association
This prototype KitKat wrapper that was developed by Nestlé, and delivered through global industry collaboration, represents Australia’s opportunity to close the loop on recycling soft plastics and improving post-consumer material management to build a circular economy.
A vision for the future
Rate of plastic pollution will double by 2030 if we do not take action. Life as we know it will change dramatically if Australians continue to bury their heads in the sand.
The good news is that change is possible. We all just need to recognise the problem and create a shared vision for the future. The issue of soft plastics can be addressed through innovation, creativity, and commitment. CurbCycle has a transparent end-to- end solution that has gained support from many of Australia’s Councils, retailers, and households through the Curby process.
Why soft plastics? Because a better future for all is possible.