For an update on the RedCycle program and how to recycle soft plastic, head over to our new blog: The Soft Plastic Recycling Enigma: Part II
Let’s be honest: recycling is not easy.
It doesn’t really matter how good you want to be with it and how much you read on the matter, it will always come a time when you’ll look at a piece of trash as if it was something coming from another planet and ask yourself: “And now, in which bin should I put this?”
Even with the best intentions, it's easy to accidentally send something that can be recycled to landfill, or to contaminate your recycling bins with something that cannot be processed.
An example of contamination are small plastic items like bottle lids or bread tags: they can be recycled, but are too small to be optically recognised by the recycling machines so it’s best to collect them into a larger plastic bottle before adding them to your recycling bin.
Recognising and dividing plastic bottles from glass containers from paper is not that complicated but when it comes to soft plastic, well… this is where troubles start.
How do you recognise soft plastic? Of course the ones more interested in chemicals can study all the different types of plastic but the easiest and quickest way is the scrunch test: it’s soft plastic if it can be scrunched into a ball (think of a shopping bag or your sliced bag packaging, for example).
And did you know that soft plastic should not be put in your plastic recycling bin? Unfortunately, soft plastic cannot be recycled by standard materials recycling facilities (MRF) as it can wrap and tangle around the machinery, preventing it from working effectively.
And the worst part of it all is that of the nearly 1.1 million tonnes of plastic packaging produced in 2017–18, approximately 33% were soft plastics. However, only 8% of the soft plastic materials was recycled, with around 28,000 tonnes coming from Commercial & Industrial (C&I) sources and only 1,000 tonnes from consumers. (study from the Australian Institute of Packaging)
That bring us to 1.07 million tonnes of soft plastic that ended up in the landfill in one year only. 2758 tonnes a day, 114 an hour, 1 tonne every minute.
That’s the equivalent of a 1979 Volkswagen Beetle of soft plastic dumped in the landfill (and oceans) every minute.
And some the statistics available on the Condor Ferries website are even more shocking:
- 100% of baby sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs.
- 88% of the sea's surface is polluted by plastic waste.
- By 2020 the number of plastics in the sea will be higher than the number of fish.
The choice of many manufacturers of products like sauces, soups and detergents to swap their rigid packaging for flexible pouches and sachets has providing benefits of reduced overall weight lower greenhouse emissions and fuel consumption for their shipping. However, it has also increased the amount of packaging that cannot be recycled.
Moreover, the addition of a foil film to increase the durability of these packaging has reduced even further the material recyclability as it’s virtually impossible to separate the two polymers.
So, after all these data, we understand if you feel a little bit depressed and hopeless.
Fortunately, the REDCycle program comes in our help with his effort to divert plastic bags and packaging from landfill and close the loop by giving the soft plastic collected to some great companies to make new products such outdoor furniture, bollards, decking, fencing, fitness trails, traffic control etc.
To make it easier for us consumers to recycle our plastic bags and packaging, the Red Group has teamed up with Coles and Woolworths and placed a soft plastic recycling bin in many of their supermarkets, close to the checkout area (you can find the closest collection bin to you here).
There are currently a few different types of REDcycle bins in use depending on the store so please ask at the customer service desk if you can’t locate the bin.
Now comes the main question: How do I know what soft plastics can and cannot be collected in store?
First of all, your plastic waste must pass the scrunch test: it’s soft plastic if it can be scrunched into a ball.
Then , the best way is to keep an eye out for the ‘Return to Store’, ‘Store Drop Off’ or REDcycle logos that are increasingly being included on packaging as a part of the wider Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) program.
If you can’t locate any of these logos, here is a quick visual list for your most common soft plastic recyclable items:
However, be mindful of some very common soft plastics that cannot be recycled in the REDCycle bins such as:
Important: Cellophane (often used to wrap food hampers for example) may look a lot like soft plastic, but it definitely cannot be recycled with your soft plastics collection.
Here is a FULL list of what can or cannot be recycled through the REDCycle bins:
- Biscuit packets (outer wrapper only)
- Bread bags (without the tie)
- Bubble wrap (large sheets cut into A3 size pieces)
- Cat and dog food pouches (as clean and dry as possible)
- Cereal box liners
- Chip and cracker packets (silver lined)
- Chocolate and snack bar wrappers
- Cling film - GLAD, COLES HOME brand and WOOLWORTHS Essentials Home brand ONLY
- Confectionery bags
- Document sleeves (remove the white reinforcement strip along the holes)
- Dry pet food bags
- Fresh produce bags
- Frozen food bags
- Green bags (Polypropylene Bags)
- Ice cream wrappers
- Large sheets of plastic that furniture comes wrapped in (cut into A3 size pieces)
- Netting produce bags (any metal clips removed)
- Newspaper and magazine wrap
- Pasta bags
- Pet food bags (chaff/horse/chicken) - both the plastic and woven polypropylene types (but not woven nylon). Cut into A3 size pieces and shake free of as much product as possible
- Plastic Australia Post satchels
- Plastic carrier bags from all stores
- Plastic film wrap from grocery items such as nappies and toilet paper
- Plastic sachets
- Potting mix and compost bags - both the plastic and woven polypropylene types (cut into A3 size pieces and free of as much product as possible)
- Rice bags - both plastic and the woven type (if large, cut into A3 size pieces)
- Snap lock bags / zip lock bags
- Squeeze pouches with lid on (e.g. yogurt/baby food)
- Wine/water bladders - clear plastic ones only
- Plastic bottles
- Plastic containers
- Any rigid plastic such as meat trays, biscuit trays or strawberry punnets
- Adhesive tape
- Balloons (of any kind)
- Bathroom/shower loofahs
- Biodegradable/degradable/compostable plastics
- Blister packs, tablets and capsule packaging
- Blow up pool, pool toys or beds - plastic or PVC
- Bread bag tags
- Christmas tinsel and Christmas trees
- Coffee bags
- Cooler bags
- Disposable food handling gloves of any variety
- Drinking straws
- Film negatives and x-rays
- Fishing line
- Foam or polystyrene of any kind (including soft flexible foam)
- Laminated materials and overhead transparencies
- Medical waste materials
- Nylon - woven, soft or fishing line
- Plastic/clear vinyl packaging from sheets and doonas etc
- Plastic packaging that has contained meat
- Plastic strapping used for securing boxes and pallets
- Polyester of any kind
- Powdered milk packets, made of foil
- Rope of any variety
- Rubber, rubber gloves, latex
- Solar pool covers
- Tin cans
- VHS Tape
- Vinyl - any type of vinyl packaging
- Wet plastic materials as mould is a problem for us
- Wine/water bladders - foil based
- Wrapping paper and cardboard, ribbons or bows
One of the most important things stressed by the REDCycle program is that the soft plastic collected must be cleaned and dry.
If you are asking yourself if you need to wash your plastic packaging before recycling it, the answer is no. The packaging should be dry and as much as scraped clean, a few crumbs or a bit of dried gravy can still be tolerated. Unnecessarily washing your plastic can instead create more problems as it can create mould and severely interfere with the recycling process.
And what to do if the REDCycle bin is full? These bins are emptied by supermarket staff and taken back of house where they are picked up by our trucks each week. Sometimes the staff are so busy with customers, they are unable to empty the REDcycle bin as often as needed however you can just hand your bags customer service staff and they will add your plastic to those bags awaiting collection.
The RED Group recovers and recycles over 3 million pieces of soft plastic (bags and packaging) every week and since 2011 has collected over 1580 tonnes of soft plastic, the equivalent of 395 elephants.
The soft plastics that’s been collected for recycling cannot be remanufactured back into new soft plastic packaging due to food contact regulations and limitations in technology so waste collected is returned to RED Group’s facility for initial processing and then delivered to one of its partners where undergoes incredible transformations to become recycled-plastic products that are extremely robust, water resistant and will never need painting!
How is the soft plastic recycled to produce these cool items?
Once it arrives in the transformation factories, the operator takes a batch of soft plastic waste into a machine that chops it up. This create friction which causes the plastic to heat up and melt and when the time is right, water is added to solidify the plastic. These small pieces of plastic are put into a screen machine that eliminates any pieces too big, the remain is chopped into even finer particles which are now ready to be combined into moulding machines to produce all sort of plastic furniture products.
You can buy some of these products yourself by checking out the Replas website, who has also done this very cool video to explain what circular economy and closing the loop mean.
Another very cool project the REDCycle program has contributed to is the Australian-fist trial of a road constructed using soft plastics from approximately 200,000 plastic bags and pieces of packaging, together with 63,000 glass bottle equivalents, toner from 4500 used printer cartridges and 50 tonnes of recycled asphalt.
What is even more pleasing is that this road made out or recycled components has a 65% improvement in fatigue life and a superior resistance to deformation which means it will also last longer than standard asphalt roads. A win-win!
We hope you have been inspired to join the REDCycle program and remember: the best way to help solving the waste problem is to look into reducing the amount of waste you produce in your household by adopting biodegradable and compostable alternatives!
Together, we are the solution to leave a better world for tomorrow’s generation!