Collapse of soft plastics recycling programme exposes our consumption problem
Party Kit Network member Kate Bowker shares her tips for reducing our consumption of soft plastics. Find Kate on Instagram @less_waste_kate
In Australia we are one of the largest consumers of soft plastics globally. Collectively we use around 70 billion pieces of soft "scrunchable" plastics including food wrappers each year [source].
Back in 2011 Liz Kasell created a company called RedCycle. Their programme enabled consumers to recycle soft plastic waste by taking it to one of hundreds of drop off points at local supermarkets. The programme has diverted 5.4 billion pieces of soft plastic from entering landfills.
In 2022, during Australia’s National Recycling Week (7 – 13 November), that all changed.
News leaked that Redcycle has been stockpiling soft plastics – the plastics were simply coming in at a faster rate than Redcycle could process. A combination of greater supply (an 350% increase since 2019) and some of Redcycle’s soft plastic processing partners no longer accepting soft plastics meant the organisation was forced to announce an immediate pause of its soft plastics collections giving waste conscious consumers just two days notice.
The outrage has been loud. But louder has been the voice of many people in the sustainable community that this is not Redcycle’s fault – we have a consumption problem. A soft plastic consumption problem. We need a system change.
Soft plastics are often used to package food and household products. Common soft plastics are: bread bags, cereal box liners, food and vegetable packaging, chip / crisp packets, biscuit and confectionary wrappers ,and packaging for household items such as toilet paper. So how do we reduce our consumption of this type of plastic?
Here's my tips for how to take action against soft plastics waste:
Avoid unnecessary soft plastic packaging:
Buy from bulk food stores
Bring your own produce bags and buy loose produce
Support companies and businesses that don’t use plastic in their packaging
Stop using cling wrap (cling film) - try containers, the old school plate & bowl, beeswax wraps
Try to use less soft plastics:
Buy in bulk. For example, buying one big bag of chips rather than 5 small individually wrapped bags uses less plastic.
Have a go at making your own snacks (as they seem to be the big soft plastic culprit!)
Reuse & Repurpose
Bread bags can be reused as bin bag liners or use them to store things in your fridge or freezer.
Reuse post bags. Simply turn them inside out and add a new address label.
Save bubble wrap and give away to friends/neighbours who are moving.
Write to companies who use excess plastic packaging demanding change. Let the supermarkets know too.
Write to your MP and demand action from our governments. We need to manage our own waste, not rely on other countries to take our trash.
In Australia find your government Representative/Senator
In the UK, write to your local MP via the Write to Them website
Take direct action. For inspiration, in 2018 a group in the UK sparked a movement highlighting plastic waste.