Unpacking the confusion around soft plastics recycling

Posted on 19 July 2017

Walk down a supermarket aisle or peer into the pantry, and it’s pretty clear a plastic-free world is a distant dream. Especially with the plethora of hard-to-avoid soft plastics and packaging. So is there a planet-friendly solution?

Following on from ABC’s War on Waste and Plastic Free July, we’ve sought expert advice from Liz Kasell, Founder and Director of REDcycle, who set up a dedicated recycling business five years ago to help address this very question. 

What exactly do we mean by soft plastics?

Soft or flexible plastics are the kind that can be scrunched in a ball. Think bread bags, plastic bags, plus packets for crackers, chips, pasta, nuts, lollies, biscuits.

Why can’t I just throw them in the yellow recycling bin?

They get caught in the recycling machinery and screw up the whole process to recover hard recyclable plastics like bottles and containers.

But can they be recycled anyway?

A big YES! At your local supermarket.

Since 2012, the REDcycle Program has created a revolution in soft plastics recycling, allowing householders to recycle them at drop-off points at supermarkets (over 800 across Australia). “Over the last 5 years we’ve collected over 300 million pieces of soft plastics for recycling. And that’s from Coles alone”, Liz explains.

It’s super easy, and way better than simply putting it in the red garbage bin, destined for landfill.

 Cool! What can I recycle?

  • Plastic shopping bags
  • Cling wrap (generally clean)
  • Bread, rice, pasta, lolly and cereal bags/liners
  • Biscuit packs (but not the trays)
  • Chocolate bar wrappers
  • Frozen food bags
  • Newspaper and bubble wrap
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Fruit and veg bags and netting
  • Toilet paper and paper towel packaging
  • Old reusable bags

See www.redcycle.net.au/what-to-redcycle/ for what can and cannot be REDcycled.

Liz: “Our focus is on unavoidable food and grocery packaging, but we accept all sorts. Bread bags seems to be our number one item collected by far.”  

A good way to remember to recycle these plastics is to put them straight into your reusable shopping bag or a bag in the pantry/kitchen, for dropping off on your next shopping trip.

But how do I know if my local recycling drop-off point is legit?

Look for REDcycle signage, and for the words “Soft plastic bags and soft plastic packaging”. If your supermarket is listed online then you know they are doing the right thing.  

What happens to these plastics after I drop off at a REDcycle collection bin?

They are sent to an Australian manufacturer and program partner in Melbourne, Replas, which converts them into recycled plastic products, such as outdoor furniture, decking and signage, for schools, Councils and communities.

“It’s a great example of a functioning closed loop system – the demand and support for the recycled products offers a market for these unwanted plastics, that would otherwise wind up in landfill.” 

Where can I find a collection bin locally?

Easy! Find them at:

  • Woolworths: Bondi Junction, Eastgardens, Maroubra, Rose Bay North, Randwick, Hillsdale
  • Coles: Bondi Junction: Bondi Junction, Maroubra, Pagewood, Randwick, Rose Bay North, Hillsdale

Thanks for doing your bit! Let’s together make recycling soft plastics second nature.

More info:

 As published in The Beast magazine August 2017

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