The reality of recycling.
Here in Australia our recycling facilities are not always readily accessible to everyday households with local councils placing strict controls over what can be placed in kerbside rubbish collections. Due to the processes required not being available to all local councils, any soft plastics placed in kerbside bins in communities where the process is not available creates huge problems as they jam the automatic sorting machines if they remain unseen during the sorting phase and recycling process, therefore potentially creating more landfill; unbeknown to the well meaning consumer and businesses promoting recyclable packaging.
For the majority of households across Australia recycling is not accessible for soft plastics through local council kerbside pick ups, however they are recyclable through REDcycle; a nationwide program with soft plastic collection bins in most local Coles and Woolworths stores.
So how much soft plastic is actually being recycled?
“Of the nearly 1.1 million tonnes of plastic packaging placed onto the market in 2017–18, approximately 352 000 tonnes (33%) were soft plastics. However, only 29,000 tonnes or 8% of the soft plastic materials was recycled, with around 28,000 tonnes being recycled from Commercial & Industrial (C&I) sources and only 1,000 tonnes from consumers” Australian Institute of Packaging.
If consumers are not able to easily recycle the food packaging that is created; is it necessary to create fully recyclable packaging?
With movements being made to meet a National Packaging Target of 70% plastic packaging being recycled by 2025 it is necessary to continue on the journey to ensure soft plastics and as much packaging as possible is able to be recycled through commercial collection services now; and hopefully kerbside by 2025.
The REDcycle website has a clear list of what can and cant be recycled HERE with plastic sachets and soft plastics being included as recyclable through this method.
Why keep soft plastic packaging out of the landfill?
When consumers place soft plastics in kerbside recycling bins that are not capable of recycling such plastics, the automated sorting machines that are used in the process of recycling the contents collected in the kerbside collection bins can become jammed as the soft plastic remains unseen and flows through. When the automated sorting machines become jammed, they are unable to process the materials, therefore those materials end up going to the local landfill. As more recyclable food packaging products end up in landfill, not only is the opportunity to recycle those materials lost, we are also contributing to the masses of landfill that produce environmentally impacting methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Landfill is where rubbish is compacted and covered with earth and allowed to deteriorate over time. Landfill breaks down at a very slow rate, with financial implications, environmental implications and remains a problem for future generations.
What happens when soft plastic is recycled?
REDcycle can recycle any soft plastic that is deposited into their bins that meets their approved list of products; the recycled materials are supplied to Replas who then covert into a range of products that can be used in varying construction and commercial products. By using materials that would otherwise be waste to close the loop on recycling, Replas is turning recycled plastic back into a viable product that can be used by many. The process of repurposing the soft plastic packaging is a much more sustainable option for the community and the environment with many of Replas products being made from 98% recycled materials.
“When government, schools, and industry purchase these products they are all helping to make the process work by closing the loop on recycling” Replas.
What about bio degradable, compostable and degradable food packaging?
If you are considering purchasing soft plastics marked as bio degradable or compostable for your product packaging, it's time to think about the actual impact to the environment and your budget.
Food packaging labelled as bio degradable, compostable or degradable can increase the cost of packaging for your business and while it sounds great, from an environmental point of view there are many things to consider including, they are also not able to be recycled through regular kerbside recycle bins or accepted by the commercial recycling programs REDcycle.
Compostable and degradable food packaging begins to degrade before it can be recycled by REDcycle and other commercial recycling facilities, therefore it is not accepted and is unable to be recycled in this manner. This type of packaging is manufactured to break down in the general waste stream or commercial compost facilities.
How long this type of packaging takes to break down is often not thought of by the end user with the conditions that allow the packaging to break down quickly needing to be ‘just right’, if not it can take years for them to break down fully if at all.
To allow biodegradable packaging to break down fully within a few months the conditions need to include the right balance of fungi, microorganisms and bacteria compared to the amount of packaging that needs to break down. Get the balance wrong, and biodegradable packaging may become just as problematic as regular soft plastics if treated the wrong way.
If you are looking for biodegradable food packaging that will degrade in landfill, it is important to ensure they’re ‘landfill biodegradable’ so even when conditions aren't perfect, eventually they will break down.
When looking for an option that will please both the end user and the environment it's important to look past the marketability of these types of soft plastics and think about just where the packaging will end up, and what is more desirable and achievable by the end user that looks to recycle properly.
Compostable bags are different to biodegradable in the fact that they are mainly designed to compost in a commercial facility that has the specific settings to ensure they break down. These settings can include ensuring the right temperature, air and moisture for the best results, with many end users not having the reach or knowledge to ensure these compostable bags are sent to a commercial facility, many of these bags may be left to landfill where they will not break down over time. Choosing ‘home compostable’ packaging may help end users dispose of their packaging by allowing it to break down over time with a home composting system; however, again if conditions are not correct, the breakdown process will not occur.
So, how can your business look to inform end users of your product on recycling flexible packaging properly?
Fully informing consumers of the requirement to recycle pouches like ours through REDcycle or commercial recycling facilities, rather than non-compliant kerbside is the responsibility of individual business promoting pouches and packaging as recyclable. As a business looking to promote REDcycle on your packaging, you would need to contact and work closely with REDcycle as an individual brand to ensure your product can be labeled with the appropriate logo as part of your packaging design.
“Word on the street is that only 22% of Australians know they can recycle their soft plastics” Clean Up Australia.
While we hope kerbside soft plastic recycling will be available Australia wide in the future, for now recyclable packaging depends entirely on the consumer to recycle the right way. We continuously work to ensure our packaging is manufactured with soft plastic by continuing to monitor the materials used in production and ensure our ‘foil’ lining is created from locally sourced soft plastics and able to be safely placed in commercial soft plastic recycling bins. NOTE: Remember to remove any one-way valves as these are not able to be recycled during the commercial recycling process.
We advise you to do your own research when purchasing and marketing your packaging as ‘recyclable’.
We strive to educate and work with our customers to ensure a full understanding of the Australian recycling process wherever possible and work toward a more transparent packaging industry.
What does the term ‘soft plastics’ actually mean?
In terms of recycling, soft plastics are described as those that can be scrunched in one hand. This includes packaging such as our stand up pouches, sachets, 3ss, and centre seal bags. Soft plastic that is easily scrunchable is perfectly suited to recycling through commercial recycling programs such as REDcycle. While we wait for further advancements by the Australian Government to introduce soft plastic recycling through kerbside collections for the moment we guide our customers on the recycling system that is in place now, and what we provide in terms of flexible packaging and recyclable materials.
In scientific terms, ‘soft plastics’ are traditionally manufactured from a combination of the following materials:
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)*
Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE) &
Biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP)*
*Used here at Read Labels and Packaging in the process of manufacturing.
Want to know more?
Red Group REDcycle: https://www.redcycle.net.au/
Clean Up Australia: https://www.cleanup.org.au/
Australian Institute of Packaging: http://aipack.com.au/
Sustainability Matters: https://bit.ly/3okPPr9