The Australian Organics Recycling Association believes that Four Corners’ recent Plastics Wars program contains valuable lessons for Australia in better managing its waste and recycling tasks.
Plastic Wars, a PBS Frontline production, was featured on Four Corners in August and provided an overview of the “disastrous state” of reduction, reuse and recycling of plastics in the United States.
The program illustrated how clever marketing campaigns were created to persuade consumers that they should carry the burden of plastic pollution by recycling, rather than expecting industry to reduce the amount of plastic it manufactured.
The program suggested that tactics brought in decades ago are still fooling consumers.
“At the bottom of all these plastic containers is this little chasing arrow – the little recycling symbol with a number…there are no kerbside programs that would accept any of these tubs,” an environmental scientist said on the program.
The Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA), the national voice of the organics recycling industry, believes that the Four Corners program contains valuable lessons for Australia in better managing its waste and recycling tasks.
“Obviously, the story was specific to issues in the United States. However, it would be wrong to claim that there are no common issues between Australia and the United States,” Peter Wadewitz OAM, AORA National Chair, says.
“And a greater mistake not to pay heed to the lessons to be learnt from their errors.”
According to Wadewitz, the Australian recycling crisis following the China National Sword bans, and forthcoming COAG waste export bans, have brought home the challenges facing several Australian waste streams.
“In the midst of addressing the challenges in plastics and other streams, it must be remembered that there are parts of the Australian recycling industry which consistently deliver on their promises,” he says.
“The circular economy works best in organics recycling because it is the industrialisation of a natural process.
“Uniquely among recycling streams, the supply of the organics recycling industry’s products such as composts and mulches does not always meet demand.”
Wadewitz adds that most major organic recycling processing facilities are located within 90 minutes travel time from their largest input and end user markets.
“Both supply of feedstocks and demand for the industry’s products are domestic, and usually local,” he says.
“The organics recycling industry does not export its problems.”
AORA and the organics recycling industry are targeting a national organics recycling rate of 95 per cent by 2030, up from the current 51.5 per cent.
At that level, the industry would generate an additional $1.6 billion in supply chain opportunity, with an extra $612 million in industry value add towards the Australian economy.
This would deliver 4094 extra jobs paying $309 million in livelihood to Australians, Wadewitz says.
He adds that an extra 3.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions would be saved.
This is equivalent to 4.8 million trees planted or 742,000 cars taken off the road each year.
The biggest challenge in achieving these significant benefits is the contamination of organic feedstocks, usually by plastics.
For this reason, AORA advocates that Australia’s governments must urgently ban single-use plastics which are not recyclable, reusable or compostable, with exemptions for plastics used in medical and similar devices.
“Our industry’s products are needed for programs to meet state and national targets to reduce waste to landfill, mitigate the impacts of drought, retain water, improve soil quality, address soil salinity, improve agricultural productivity and to deliver the benefits of soil carbon capture,” Wadewitz says.
“These opportunities must not be lost with the current focus on other, more problematic recycling streams.”