Rethinking Recycling: The Plasticky Predicament

by Liv McLeod
Rethinking Recycling: The Plasticky Predicament

Drinking from a soda bottle feels a whole lot better when you know you can lob it straight into the recycling when you're finished. Or does it?
We're here to bust some myths on the ins and outs of plastic recycling here in Oz. Spoiler alert: it's not pretty.
But there is a solution on the horizon. Buckle up!

The Troublesome Truth

Our efforts at plastic recycling are more of a stumble than a stride. Brace yourself: Australians only recycle 16% of the troublesome polymer. The rest, of course, heads straight to our landfills, incinerators, and oceans.
The low recycling rate is partly due to the fact that only PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) plastics can be properly recycled. Now that REDCycle has collapsed in Australia, the other five plastics don't have much of a chance at an afterlife.
There's also evidence that plastic recycling itself is an imperfect solution. A recent study at a UK plastic recycling facility suggested that 6-13% of the plastic processed could be released back into the air as microplastics. The study is the first of its kind, but if this is the case, we're still adding to the problem.
Plus, recycling costs. It's expensive to collect and sort plastic. There are heaps of different types, and unfortunately they can't all be melted down together.

What About Chemical Recycling?

Chemical recycling has been pitched as an idea to combat this, which involves breaking down the plastic on a molecular level into its raw materials. By using this process, the idea is that more types of plastics can be recycled together.
Unfortunately, it's also complicated, energy-intensive, and pricey. And the raw materials of plastic release the kinda gases that are turning our planet into a sauna.
Speaking of energy-intensive: Did you know that plastic must have a recycling rate of 30% to reach the standard of being recyclable? And no plastic has ever been recycled and reused enough to get even near that stat.
The thing is, plastic isn't designed to be recycled. To re-use plastic, it's often mixed with toxic additives or even more plastic to squeeze some more life out of it. This is why plastic often degrades after a couple of uses.
So even if we develop a top-notch recycling process that releases zero microplastics into the air, we'd still have to recycle plastic a zillion times to make it worth it. And most plastics would fall apart in your hands by that point.

Plot Twist: There's Hope!

Before you start feeling like a deflated balloon, let's remember that we're not stuck in this sticky situation.
Rethink, reduce, reuse, and say no to single-use plastics where we can.
It's the reason we're champions of planet-loving packaging solutions. Who needs pesky plastic packaging when we've got compostable mailers, recycled boxes, and hemp twine?
This is our cue to champion sustainable practices and innovative products. Every individual choice we make brings us one step closer to a cleaner, greener future.

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