Plastics recycling increases: survey

Plastics packaging recycling has increased over the past year by almost 2 per cent, according to the Australian National Recycling and Recovery Survey.

Last year, the Australian Packaging Covenant (APC) commissioned Envisage Works and Sustainable Resource Use (SRU) to undertake the 2015–16 National Recycling and Recovery Survey (NRRS) for plastics packaging.

However, although recycling rates have enjoyed a steady increase, the APC argued the results highlight a real need for Australia to understand and support plastics closed loop economies, particularly in relation to soft plastics.

The results show an improved plastics packaging recycling rate of 31.1 per cent, up from 29.3 per cent on the previous year.

Approximately 263,000 tonnes of plastics packaging was recycled across Australia during the survey period, with a total consumption figure of 844,300 tonnes.

Plastic packaging recovery saw a relatively minor decrease of 5,500 tonnes on the 268,500 tonnes of plastics packaging recycled in 2014–15.

This represents a decrease of 2 per cent in overall recovery from 2014–15. In comparison, total consumption was down by 11 per cent in the same reporting period. The APC said the decrease was driven mostly by a drop in reported locally reprocessed plastic packaging, in tandem with steady exports of plastic packaging recyclate.

The APC noted another factor that may have influenced the drop in recovery are low oil and gas prices that have resulted in cheaper virgin resins, the main competitor to recycled plastics. A general oversupply of virgin polymer manufacturing capacity internationally has also compounded competitive pressure.

A total of 48,100 tonnes of flexible plastics were recycled in 2015–16 compared to 49,700 tonnes in 2014–15. This represents a 3 per cent decrease in overall recovery year on year, and is a similar result to 2013–14.

The APC said soft plastics have been addressed in their new five-year strategic plan, and has been further explored at the recent Packaging Sustainability Think Tank in February.