Can We Recycle All Plastics By 2040? ♻️ Podcast Ep. 39 Don’t Be A Waster
Recycling All Plastics By 2040 ♻️ Podcast Ep. 39 Don’t Be A Waster
Transcript: Is Recycling All Plastics By 2040 Possible?
Recycling All Plastics By 2040 ♻️ Hello and welcome to another edition of your favourite recycling podcast: that’s Recycle: Don’t be a Waster! In today’s episode, I want to talk about a recent news article, and this was in reading on the ABC on the 50th of November. So just maybe two weeks ago, and the headline is the Australian government pledges to recycle all Plastics by 2040. You know, and that’s a really nice thing to say and we’ve got a picture of Tanya Plibersek here who is the Minister of something I’m not sure… environment Minister.
And the pledge is to recycle all Plastics by 2040. When we look into the detail a little bit, I don’t think that’s fully what they’ve pledged. I think they may be suggesting they will recycle old virgin plastics, which means new plastics. So I think we need a bit of detail on that, and whether they just mean we’ll recycle things once, which is clearly very different. But you know, I think we’re gonna, I suppose, we’ll discuss today is that practical? Or is it even something we would want to do? Or is it, you know, is it even sensible?
It is one of the questions, and you know, I think I’ll do a spoiler alert and say that I don’t think this is sensible at all. I think the… there are a lot of issues and problems with recycling plastic that we’ve gone into multiple times, discussed multiple times. And I think this may end up causing more problems than it’s worth. You know, I think the recent news about recycling in Australia has been fundamentally the RedCycle collapse or fiasco whereby, you know, the major recycling company was collecting soft plastics at major supermarket change like Kohl’s and Woolworths. You know huge, volumes.
Act 2: Is Recycling All Plastics By 2040 Possible?
But it apparently has been stockpiling that plastic for years and most of it has not been recycled. You know, everyone’s shocked by this. And we’re really upset. But in some way, I don’t think we should be surprised by it just fundamentally, you know, if you’re… if we’re recycling things through a charitable free service when there really is no production or no actually… all intake of the product in the long term. I think fundamentally, you’re going to have to collect more rubbish plastic or waste plastic than you will be able to use.
So that to me is not that surprising. I’ve seen also here one of the the comments from one of the partners of RedCycle talking about, to some extent, what happened. And we’ve seen his comment here is what we’ve seen from the retailers. It is that they’ve participated in the RedCycle program. Well, what we’re saying is that they’re not taking the next step which they need to do and they need to support the sale of the products on the shelves.
It’s not recycled until somebody buys a product with recycled content. You can have the best collection program in the world, but until someone buys, it’s not recycled. And here suggested that the government should look at providing an incentive to the large retailers to ensure they’re bought back: the products made with the waste they had created, I suppose. Fundamentally, there is a problem, you know, and we’re going to ignore on this podcast.
Act 3: Is Recycling All Plastics By 2040 Possible?
Obviously, we all always argue on this podcast that we should simply reduce the amount of plastic literally whenever possible. Certainly, in food packaging, for health reasons and environmental reasons, we should, you know, use aluminium and we should use a glass, which are clearly much easier to recycle, much economic, more ergonomically sensible to recycle and much less limited health impact. But I suppose we are where we are. You’ve got to play the ball from where it lies.
And the problem with this plastic, soft plastic, is almost a definition of junk. It it is very low-grade plastic and it cannot generally or realistically, it cannot be recycled into anything of much us.And hence, RedCycle traditionally have made very low-grade products with it that are usually donated or given away such as insulation ,such as plastic street furniture like park benches and those sort of items of which there’s, to be honest, not very much of a market at all. So the idea that we can get this product back onto supermarket shells, to me… I don’t even think that’s a plausible scenario. You know, very low-grade packaging that we shouldn’t use, you know.
Why would we want to back on our shelves? I would be much more a fear of absolutely reducing down the plastic packaging yields by 99, you know, putting sanctions on that stuff and then, you know, incinerating whatever the remainder plastic is. So you know, is it plausible that we can recycle all of it again? Let’s assume that we’re not massively reducing it. Can we recycle all of this plastic by 2040?
Act 4: Is Recycling All Plastics By 2040 Possible?
I suppose the major gap, you know, which Mr Hodges has touched on is that we don’t have an industrial base. And we don’t have an industrial base anymore in Australia. We don’t; that fundamentally means we have nobody to use this waste plastic to make other products. And even if we did have make these products, would we want this waste to make them? I think to both of those questions. The answer is a. we don’t have an industrial base b. we don’t have an industrial policy.
And I really cannot see the labour government promoting an industrial development policy because, you know, we’ve shared these very strict climate change, or you know, carbon emissions policies, and so I can’t imagine we’re going to be building factories and plastic manufacturers in Sydney Melbourne, you know, Adelaide and Perth. I just can’t see that happening. So I cannot see with the current volumes being able to produce, you know, to develop enough indigenous or, you know, national industries that will use this plastic product to make it useful.
Further products that can be sold in a commercial basis so some of the other proposals are that we put mandate on construction projects to use recycled materials like asphalt and stuff like this, concrete and asphalt and bricks, you know, which is a different argument to some extent that I can accept. That is probably not a bad idea, that we will reuse the stuff rather than get a landfill. That’s understandable.
Act 5: Is Recycling All Plastics By 2040 Possible?
But when we get into the area of plastics again, I have to query how sensible that is, because… or we would try to find a solution to a problem that really, I don’t think has a solution. I think the only solution to the problem is to reduce the sheer amount of plastic. Secondly, I think we should embrace incineration. Of course, this is saying… not say… we shouldn’t recycle plastic bottles. We shouldn’t recycle plastics that can be recycled, and you know, which we’re currently doing through commingled bins and also through return and earn schemes.
But when we get into the realms of soft plastics, the sort of stuff that cannot go when, you’re you know, coming with recycling bin at home or business, you really are getting into the realms of “we’re wishcycling” fundamentally. And what we, you know, we may end up making a bad problem worse if we double down and say we will recycle all of this stuff. I think it will give a false, you know, a false impression to consumers and businesses. I think it would make people feel more comfortable continuing to use plastic if they think it’s clean, you know. Let’s be honest, over the last two or three years, when people have been dropping off their bags at Woolworths, yeah, they put some effort into doing that.
They’ve gone in there, they’ve driven to the store, and they’ve collected their bags, they put effort in and they’ve done that to feel better in some way to feel better about the environment or their own choices. But the reality of it is that it was fake. It wasn’t actually getting recycled the way they believed. And so maybe, what we were doing was we were just encouraging people to actually use these products more. I might provide… I think we should really accept the reality and and say even maybe these things aren’t that easy to recycle, maybe recycling these products is difficult, if not impossible.
Act 6: Is Recycling All Plastics By 2040 Possible?
And if we do recycle them, we end up with stuff that we still don’t want. So we’ve just changed this form from one thing. We don’t want to… another thing we don’t want, whilst, you know, investing transport energy, you know, facilities millions of dollars. So you know, I… all I can think there is what we’re doing is we’re continuing down the same lane of kidding ourselves, thinking more regulations will help when we’re not actually answering the real question, which is “should we be using plastic at all?”
Should we be using plastic in the volumes that we do, you know? And, you know, should we be recycling it at all? If it isn’t commercially viable to recycle it, you know. So those are my questions. And I think I would like to see the government really dig into that and actually discuss those those questions rather than, you know, pushing, you know, we will… demanded we will make the private sector do something. Let’s be honest, the private sector is struggling through a cost, you know, cost of living crisis.
If you push up through mandates, if you push up the price of materials such as with the cost of doing business even further, and, you know, you could have some benefits there by, you know, making people use less plastic. And I think that’s the only benefit of this. I don’t think, you know, you’re probably… what you probably end up doing is making Australian industry even more expensive because you’re passionate.
The cost of inputs, and so what probably, what the… in the… you know, native water, indigenous industrial base is in its weak instead of what it is now. I can imagine it will get even worse and we’d probably be importing more and more products from other countries than we even… we do know. So I think we’ll leave it there. I often am a big believer that politicians never see a problem that can’t make worse but I hope I’m wrong on this. But of course, the proof of the potting is in the eating so we will wait to see over the next couple of years. And we leave it there today, and as always, thanks for listening. And Recycle: Don’t be a Waster!