Return and Earn sees half a billion containers returned

More than half a billion containers have been returned to Return and Earn reverse vending machines in NSW, eight months after the scheme launched.

The container deposit scheme aims to improve recycling rates and reduce the volume of litter in the state by 40 per cent by 2020.

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Each eligible container is worth 10 cents when returned to a reverse vending machine or depot.

Drink containers litter currently makes up 44 per cent of the volume of all litter throughout NSW and costs more than $162 million to manage, according to the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) was the first educational institution to install a reverse vending machine as part of the scheme.

UNSW Senior Manager, Environmental Sustainability Will Syddall said that while this initiative helps to reduce littering and improve recycling rates, it is just one step in improving the way we create and manage waste.

“In the waste hierarchy, reducing and reusing resources is better than recycling them. We encourage the community to use reusable water bottles and coffee cups so that they can avoid disposable cups and bottles altogether,” Mr Syddall said.

“We also recognise that we have more work to do to reduce the amount of single-use plastic and other consumables used on our campuses.”

According to the World Bank, half of the plastic ever manufactured was made in the last 15 years.

Global definition of recyclable developed

The term “recyclable” has received a global definition in relation to plastic packaging and products from two international recycling organisations.

In order for a plastic to be considered recyclable according to the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and Plastics Recycling Europe (PRE), it must meet four conditions.

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The product must be made of a plastic that is collected for recycling, has market value and/or is supported by a legislatively mandated program. It also must be sorted and aggregated into defined streams for recycling processed.

It must also be able to be processed and reclaimed or recycled with a commercial recycling process and it must become a raw material that is used in the production of a new product.

Under this definition, innovative materials must demonstrate that they can be collected and sorted in sufficient quantities, must be compatible with the existing industrial recycling processes or will have to be available in sufficient quantities to justify new recycling processes.

In a joint statement from PRE President Ton Emans and CEO of APR Steve Alexander said the onslaught of recent announcements around commitments to package sustainability and recyclability often did not have a defined definition.

“Recently, we have seen many announcements regarding legislative measures on plastics products and pledges of the industry actors committing to making their products recyclable,” Mr Emans said.

“As recyclers, we are a fundamental part of the solution to the issue of sustainability of plastics, and we need for the appropriate audiences to understand what is necessary to label a product or package ‘recyclable’,” he said.

Mr Alexander said the use of the term ‘recyclable’ is consistently used with packages and products without a defined reference point.

“At the end of the day, recyclability goes beyond just being technically recyclable there must be consumer access to a recycling program, a recycler must be able to process the material, and there must be an end market.”

Both groups have said they understand the complexity of a global system and welcome comments from the plastics recycling industry and relevant stakeholders.

Starbucks to eliminate single-use plastic straws by 2020

Coffee company Starbucks has announced it will phase out single-use plastic straws from more than 28,000 company operated and licensed stores by 2020.

The company said it will be making a strawless lid or alternative-material straw options available around the world. Starbuck anticipates the move will eliminate more than one billion plastic straws per year from its stores.

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Starbucks will also begin offering straws made from alternative materials, including paper or compostable plastic, available for customers by request.

Customers in Seattle and Vancouver will be the first to see the strawless lids implemented, with a global rollout to follow. The lids will arrive in Europe in select stores in France, the Netherlands and the UK.

According to reports, Starbucks is the largest food and beverage retailer to make such a global commitment.

President and Chief Executive Officer for Starbucks Kevin Johnson said this is a global milestone to achieve Starbuck’s aspiration of sustainable coffee served in more sustainable ways.

Nicholas Mallos, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program says with 8 million metric tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year, industries can’t afford to sit on the sidelines.

“We are grateful for Starbucks leadership in this space,” Mr Mallos says.

Director of Sustainability Research and Development and Material Science at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) US Erin Simon said Starbucks’ goal to eliminate plastic straws by 2020 represents the company’s forward thinking.

“Plastic straws that end up in our oceans have a devastating effect on species. As we partner with Starbucks in waste reduction initiatives such as Next Gen Consortium Cup Challenge and WWF’s Cascading Materials Vision, we hope others will follow in their footsteps,” Ms Simon says.

Volvo Cars commit to 25 per cent recycled plastics by 2025

Volvo Cars has announced that by 2025 at least 25 per cent of the plastics used in each new Volvo will be made from recycled material.

It has also urged the auto industry suppliers to work more closely with car makers to develop new sustainable components, especially when it comes to plastics.

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The company has unveiled a new version of its XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid SUV that has several of its plastic components replaced with equivalents containing recycled materials.

The XC60’s interior has a console made from renewable fibres and plastics from discarded fishing nets and maritime ropes. The carpet contains fibres made from PET plastic bottles and a recycled cotton mix from clothing manufacturing offcuts.

The seats also contain material from PET bottles, with used car seats from old Volvo cars being used to create the sound absorbing material under the bonnet.

It follows the company’s announcement that it will electrify all new Volvo cars by 2019, stating that it aims to make fully electric cars 50 per cent of its global sales by 2025.

President and CEO of Volvo Cars Håkan Samuelsson said Volvo Cars is committed to minimising its global environment footprint.

Environmental care is one of Volvo’s core values and we will continue to find new ways to bring this into our business. This car and our recycled plastics ambition are further examples of that commitment,” he said.

Senior Vice President of Global Procurement at Volvo Cars Martina Buchhauser said the company already work with suppliers when it comes to sustainability.

“However, we do need increased availability of recycled plastics if we are to make our ambition a reality. That is why we call on even more suppliers and new partners to join us in investing in recycled plastics and to help us realise our ambition,” she said.

Image: Volvo Cars

Vic gov set date of bag plastic bag ban for 2019

The Victorian Government has announced it will ban single-use, lightweight plastic shopping bags from late 2019 to fight plastic pollution.

The ban will come into effect from late next year and will include all plastic shopping bags less than 35 microns in thickness. It also includes shopping bags made from biodegradable and compostable plastic.

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It follows a public consultation which received more than 8000 submissions, with more than 96 per cent supporting a ban.

The Victorian Government said it will use feedback over the next 12 months to develop a plastic pollution plan to reduce other types of plastic contaminants in the environment.

A reference group will also be established to help develop the plan, with representatives from the government, industry, retailers and community environment groups.

The state government also announced it will support an education campaign for both retailers and the community to ensure the ban is effective.

It also said a transition period will be required to help consumers and businesses adapt to the changes alongside co-operation with other states and territories on a national, voluntary phase-out of thick plastic bags.

Victorian Minister for Environment Lily D’Ambrosio said banning single-use plastic bags will slash waste, reduce litter and help protect marine life in Victoria’s waters.

“We know Victorians want to do more to reduce pollution in our environment – we’ve received an enormous amount of feedback and they’ve told us loud and clear they want us to deliver this ban,” she said.

“The Government will continue to work closely with Victorian communities and businesses to design the ban – to ensure it works for all Victorians and our environment.”

recycling challenge

Experts react to single-use plastic ban

A senate inquiry into Australia’s recycling industry has recommended that all single-use plastics should be banned by 2023.

The decision could potentially include products like takeaway coffee cups, chip packets and takeaway containers.

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Professor Sankar Bhattacharya from Monash University’s Department of Chemical Engineering said time is of the essence to find a new home for recyclate stockpiles.

“Now that China has stopped taking our trash, we’re scrambling to figure out how to keep all those good intentions out of the landfill,” he said.

“The majority of the plastics we use in our daily life – different grades of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and even polyvinyl chloride, to some extent – can be processed into liquid fuel.

“That’s what China was doing with the plastic recyclables it bought from us. They’re now realising that their domestic production of waste products is so large that they cannot process any more by bringing in waste plastics from other countries,” he said.

Katherine Gaschk, a Research Masters from Murdoch University said she was pleased with the Senate inquiry’s findings.

“The sooner we accept the need to stop using plastics and change from our current mode as a throw-away society, the better for the future health of our planet,” she said.

“Ultimately it is human behaviour that is responsible for plastic pollution. Removing the plastics will certainly help to reduce pollution, but there is also a need to educate retailers, consumers and manufacturers about the impacts of plastic pollution and how we can reduce our dependence on plastics.”

Simon Lockrey, a Research Fellow from RMIT University’s School of Design warns that while the ban would be great in theory, there may be rebound effects.

“For instance in food systems, packaging can save food waste in the supply chain, from farm to plate,” he said.

“Without acknowledging other changes to that system when taking away single-use packaging, we may move the waste burden, sometimes to more impactful levels. For example, packaging can be a low impact compared to food waste impacts.

“Therefore, it would be good with this senate initiative to see the complimentary strategies for industries using single-use packaging to make sure we are in a waste reduction winner all around,” Mr Lockrey said.

Thavamani Palanisami, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle’s Global Centre for Environmental Remediation said what should be the next step.

“Tags such as ‘biodegradable’, ‘bio-based’, ‘100 per cent degradable’ need to be regulated,” he said.

“We need to create public awareness about types of plastic and their individual behaviour.

“We need to set standard testing methods to verify the biodegradability of the plastic items tagged as ‘biodegradable’,” Dr Palanisami said.

National Sword could displace 111M tonnes of plastic waste by 2030

An estimated 111 million metric tonnes of plastic waste will be displaced by China’s National Sword policy by 2030 around the world, according to new research.

The Chinese import ban and its impact on global waste trade research paper published in the journal Science Advances reports that new global ideas are needed to reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials, including redesigning products and funding domestic plastic waste management.

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The report, authored by researchers at the University of Georgia, said China had imported 106 million tonnes of plastic waste since 1992, which makes up more than 45 per cent of total global plastic imports.

The National Sword Policy has implemented new restrictions on the contamination rate for imported waste, requiring a cleaner and more processed version of materials such as plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and textiles.

“The displaced plastic waste is equal to nearly half (47 per cent) of all plastic waste that has been imported globally since reporting began in 1988,” the report said.

“Only 9% of plastic waste has been recycled globally, with the overwhelming majority of global plastic waste being landfilled or ending up contaminating the environment (80 per cent).

“Plastic packaging and single-use items enter the waste stream immediately after use, contributing to a cumulative total of 6.3 billion MT of plastic waste generated worldwide.”

The report warns that if no adjustments are made in solid waste management, then much of the waste that would have been diverted from landfill by customers paying for a recycling service will be landfilled.

“Both the displaced plastic waste and future increases in plastic recycling must be addressed immediately. Initially, the countries exporting the most plastic waste can use this as an opportunity to develop and expand internal markets,” the report said.

“If domestic recycling of plastic waste is not possible, then this constraint reinforces the motivation to reduce use and redesign plastic packaging and products so that they retain their value and are more recyclable in domestic markets.”

Unilever Australia on track for sustainablity targets

Unilever Australia has announced it is on track to meet 80 per cent of its Sustainable Living Plan commitments, which include improving the health and wellbeing for 1 billion people and reducing the company’s environmental impact by half.

The plan originally launched in 2010 and aimed to decouple the company’s growth from its environmental impact, while increasing the company’s positive social impact.

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Some key commitments include sourcing 100 per cent of all grid electricity used in manufacturing with renewable sources by 2020, becoming carbon positive in its manufacturing operations by 2030 and making 100 per cent of its plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable while increasing the recycled plastic content in its packaging by 25 per cent by 2025.

Unilever Australia and New Zealand CEO Clive Stiff said the company has made good progress towards the targets in Australia and globally and that consumers were increasingly aware of the impact the products they purchase have on the environment.

“We also want to be transparent about how much more work there is still to do. This is critical when we are witnessing a crisis of trust in institutions in Australia and across the world. We believe business must play a leading role in restoring trust, and that at the heart of trust lies transparency,” Mr Stiff said.

“We also know that the biggest challenges facing our nation and our world can’t be addressed on our own. There is an ever-increasing need for us to work in partnership to drive transformational change across our value chain. To do so will require a new level of transparency across the board and business must be part of the solution.”

Q&A War on Waste episode to feature WMAA

War on Waste season 2 focus on e-waste and recycling crisis

The ABC’s War on Waste will return on Tuesday, July 24, to tackle new targets including plastic water bottles, straws, e-waste and furniture waste.

The series will also explore previous topics such as food waste and the recycling crisis.

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More than 4.3 million viewers watched the original series in 2017, which sparked one of the ABC’s most successful social media campaigns with a video on dumping edible bananas reaching 20 million views.

The series inspired Australians to get involved about waste management, with the Keep Cup crashing and sales rising by 400 per cent after the series, Woolworth and Coles announced lightweight plastic bags in the series, and reusable coffee cup scheme Responsible Cafes went from having 420 cafes to 1050 a week after the broadcast.

Craig Reucassel returns as host and aims to expose the effects of e-waste from discarded laptops, mobile phones and electronic goods in landfill.

ABC ME is also launching a new eight-episode series for children called Project Planet that aims to demonstrate how everyone can make a difference for sustainability.

ABC Director of Entertainment & Specialist David Anderson said War on Waste highlights the ABC’s capacity to spark national conversations and drive community action and social change.

“The distinctively ABC series empowers people to take immediate steps to reduce their consumption of plastic and electronic goods, and wastage of coffee cups and food. Waste is a universal issue, it impacts everyone,” he said.

Coles to halve food waste by 2020

Coles has announced it will halve food waste across its supermarkets by 2020, make all packaging of Coles Brand products recyclable and reduce plastic wrapping on fruit and vegetables.

The company has pledged to divert 90 per cent of all supermarket waste, including food, cardboard and plastic, from landfill by 2022 and donate the equivalent of 100 million meals to people in need by 2020 by redistributing surplus food.

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The supermarket giant is also planning to begin phasing out the use of single use plastic bags in its stores on 1 July.

Removing double plastic packaging for fruit, selling bunched vegetables like kale and silver beet without plastic and removing plastic packaging from Coles Brand bananas are among the initiatives planned to reduce plastic waste.

Replacing the packaging for meat and poultry products with recycled and renewable materials and replacing single use fresh produce bags with 30 per cent recycled content are also part of Coles commitments.

The company will also provide its customers with an option to recycle soft plastics at every Coles supermarket across Australia, which can be turned into outdoor furniture and road base.

Coles Managing Director John Durkan said Coles wanted to lead the way in its commitment to the environment.

“We know that 69 per cent of customers say that we need to actively reduce waste and landfill through recyclable packaging and find alternative uses for waste,” he said.

“We are delighted to be the only Australian supermarket to sell own brand water bottles that are both 100 per cent recyclable and 100 per cent made from recycled materials. Now we are the first major food retailer in Australia to announce a target to make all of our own brand packaging recyclable by 2020, ahead of the Federal Government’s target of 2025.”

The company also plans to connect every Coles store with Food rescue program SecondBite, meaning surplus edible food from supermarkets will be redistributed to people in need.

Mr Durkan said connecting an additional 130 supermarkets to SecondBite will also divert further waste from landfill.

“By 2020, we want to provide the equivalent of 100 million meals to Australians in need. Since 2011, we’ve donated around 72 million meals to SecondBite and Foodbank so we’ve still got 28 million meals to go.”

Coles has also pledged that it will label all Coles Brand products with recycling information to assist consumers when it comes to disposing of their waste.

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