National Recycling Week inspires positive change amidst plastic concerns 

Single-use plastic

16 November 2023 

National Recycling Week, established by Planet Ark in 1996, promotes sustainable living and empowers Australians to make eco-conscious choices. This annual event, held during the second week of November, focuses on educating individuals and encouraging the purchase of products made with recycled content to close the recycling loop. 

Growing plastic pollution threat 

Plastic pollution is a global crisis and is projected to triple by 2040, impacting fisheries, ocean-based tourism, and human health.

Australia, the second-highest generator of single-use plastic waste per capita, faces challenges in meeting 2025 recovery targets. Clean Up Australia’s 2022 Rubbish Report highlights that plastic pollution, constituting 85% of marine waste, remains a critical issue. 

Supermarket brands under scrutiny 

Recent concerns about the sincerity of major supermarket brands’ sustainability commitments have raised questions. The Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Boomerang Alliance released a report in November 2023, shedding light on the collapse of the REDcycle soft plastics program and low plastic recycling rates.  

The industry’s accountability for environmental impacts caused by packaging is under scrutiny, with Woolworths, Coles, and other brands facing criticism for a lack of transparency in plastic reduction practices. 

Excessive single-use plastic packaging in Australian supermarkets has long frustrated consumers, who often lack choices over packaging. Despite established roadmaps, this area’s slow and fragmented improvements have been a cause for concern.  

Online shopping options, while allowing customers to select low plastic at checkout, often result in excessive plastic use. 

Queensland bans more single-use plastics 

To combat plastic waste, the Queensland Government implemented a ban on some single-use plastic items on 1 September 2021. This included:

  • straws
  • stirrers
  • plates
  • bowls
  • cutlery
  • expanded polystyrene takeaway food containers and cups.  

From 1 September 2023, additional bans are in place, including items such as cotton buds with plastic stems, expanded polystyrene loose packaging, plastic microbeads, and the outdoor release of lighter-than-air balloons, alongside new requirements for heavyweight plastic shopping bags. For additional information, click here. 

Wildlife Queensland celebrates this initiative and continues to campaign for a single-use plastic free Queensland to help reduce the 300 million tonnes of plastic waste created annually worldwide.  

Soft plastics dominate packaging, prompting a shift towards biodegradable alternatives 

Soft plastics have become a primary environmental concern in Australia, representing 42% of plastic packaging in 2021-22. The collapse of REDcycle in November 2022 has exacerbated the issue. Cost-effectiveness drives the increased use of soft plastics, which are cheaper to produce from virgin fossil fuels.  

Unfortunately, recycling soft plastics is challenging due to contamination issues and incompatible complex polymer structures. This inevitably leads to increased landfill disposal and environmental pollution. 

Australia is making strides in combatting plastic use by developing biodegradable and compostable products, including bioplastics. These products, made from materials like starch, cellulose, wood, sugar, and biomass, offer a more sustainable approach than conventional plastics. However, challenges in end-of-life management, including slow degradation and methane emissions in landfills, must be addressed. 

To be compostable, packaging displays one of two logos: 

Recycling logos

  • The seedling logo identifies packaging materials as biodegradable and only compostable under certain industrial conditions.
  • Packaging carrying the two arrows on a compost bin identifies the item suitable for home composting. 

The general rule is that if a plastic item is compostable, it should NOT go in a yellow or soft plastics recycling bin. 

Take action now to combat plastic use 

Queenslanders can do plenty of things to reduce the use of single-use plastics and plastic waste. Some simple tips from this Queensland Government factsheet include: 

  • purchasing reusable products over disposable ones 
  • choosing products with less plastic packaging 
  • choosing products made from recycled materials 
  • recycling as many plastic products as you can through your kerbside recycling bin or outdoor recycling bins.

In addition, we encourage you to:

  • download Wildlife Queensland’s plastic fact sheets and guides 
  • return drink containers at a Containers for Change refund point and help Wildlife Queensland’s work protecting threatened wildlife. From 1 November, this now includes wine and spirit bottles.  

National Recycling Week is a reminder that positive change is possible when individuals, businesses, and governments come together to address environmental challenges. By adopting sustainable practices, we can all pave the way for a cleaner, greener future. 

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