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Increase of household waste during isolation affects recycling

During current lockdown measures, Australian households have thrown out more than 10 per cent more rubbish and recyclables via kerbside bins.

ACOR said urgent action is needed to manage the additional volumes of plastic waste as the increase in household waste is affecting Australia’s recycling and resource recovery system.  

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said over the past two months, the recycling and waste industries have experienced unprecedented levels of kerbside recycling, especially from soft plastics.

The impact of more people staying at home has raised concerns with ACOR on Australia’s ability to meet national packaging recycling targets by 2025, which were agreed by federal and state governments in 2018.

Mr Schmigel said before COVID-19 emerged, the nationally adopted target for plastic packaging being recycled was set at 70 per cent of plastic packaging being recycled or composted.

“A commitment was made to the phase-out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging,” he said.

“With these new and unexpected trends, these targets will be even harder to hit by 2025.”

Mr Schmigel said there are exceptionally high levels of soft plastic going through the system, including fresh food packaging, packaged food wrappers, the wrapping around paper towels and toilet paper, postal and delivery sacks, and plastic shopping bags.

“Regretfully, too much of this soft plastic is ending up where it does not belong – the kerbside recycling bin – and that spoils our good recycling efforts as a country,” he said.

“As per local Councils’ instructions, soft plastics do not belong in kerbside recycling bins.”

However, return of soft plastic by consumers to supermarkets has stayed steady, which means extra material being consumed is not being fully captured for recycling. 

Mr Schmigel said also due to people working from home, recycling from business sites is down by over 20 per cent, which is impacting on the overall viability of the industry.

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction Trevor Evans launched a report by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) this month tracking the progress of the national 2025 packaging targets.

It found only 16 per of Australia’s plastic packaging was recycled or composted in 2017-18.

“We need change at both the supply and demand ends: behavioural changes from Australians to get it right at the kerbside and to return soft plastics to supermarkets, and policy changes from governments,” he said.

ACOR is calling on the Federal and state Governments to help consumers by making  labels mandatory rather than voluntary for brand owner companies and purchase recycled content products such as plastic roads and noise barriers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced export bans on waste plastic last year, to tackle the amount of rubbish including paper, glass and tyres in the world’s oceans.

“If no action is taken to address the plastics issue, other than to implement the proposed export bans and the current system is maintained, the recovery rate for plastic packaging will drop from the current 16 per cent to 13 per cent in 2025,” the 2019 report stated.

“Upcoming communications campaigns to help consumers reduce kerbside recycling contamination from the Governments of South Australia and Victoria are very welcome in this context, and their example should be followed by the other States,” he said.

“These campaigns go a long way to help inform Australians on what to recycle where, but it is ultimately all our responsibility to actively learn correct methods.”

Mr Schmigel said ACOR’s suggested low-cost initiatives are necessary and will keep hi-viz recycling jobs in cities and regions going during this challenging time.

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