The state of the Australia's plastic: this is bigger than straws.

We take a look at Australia’s plastic problem in the wake of the recycling ban in China, and what we can do better.

Plastic has become an integral part of modern life as a cheap, lightweight and effective solution to packaging. Unfortunately, this has created ongoing, costly impacts on the environment. Waste going to landfill is growing at unsustainable rates due to population increase and changes in consumption behaviour despite our best recycling efforts.

Single-use plastics, in particular, are not sustainable and reducing our reliance on these products and recycling them correctly is paramount. Changing opinions about plastic straws is great- but it is just the start. Poor waste disposal practices directly increase the litter in Australia’s beautiful countryside, harming wildlife.

Why should we recycle?

  • Less littering and wildlife consuming plastic products
  • Energy recovery
  • Less energy used to process recycled items than raw materials
  • Less waste going to landfill
  • Reduced use of natural resources
  • Reduction in greenhouse gases
  • And more

A big topic in recycling this year has been China's ban on recyclables and the true fate of our recycling. Many people now think that recycling is now pointless, and believe that their recycling ends up in landfill. Hopefully, this can serve as a reminder to the public that the first step in the war on waste is reducing the use of single-use plastic in favour of reusable options. Read here how to make your lunch zero waste.

Recycling effectively in the wake of China’s ban is more important than ever. It has caused the Australian Government to investigate and develop their recycling facilities, source separation and the reduction of contamination will assist in effectively recycling our waste. Putting the ban into perspective, the cease in China export only impacts 4% (1.3 million tonnes) of Australia’s recycling material – this accounts for 35% of recycled plastics and 30% of the recycled paper. Creating state solutions for these recyclables will be a positive outcome, despite the current predicament.

Awareness and education for meaningful change

We believe one of the most significant factors that will improve reduction and recycling practices, particularly for plastics, is awareness and education. By knowing more about the better types of plastics we can select, we can ensure we are recycling effectively to make a visible difference for our environment. It is important that we support organisations with sustainable business practices and remember that we are responsible for our own waste. As consumers, private or business, we have the power to drive the market towards better production and use of more sustainable resources.

Continue reading for the answers to these important questions:

  • What is the state of Australia's plastic recycling?
  • What do the plastic recycling numbers mean?
  • What are the best plastic products to choose?
  • Are Container Deposit Schemes the solution?

What is the state of Australia’s plastic recycling?

Between 2016 and 2017 only 11.8% of plastics used in Australia were recovered, a considerable reduction from 2014 - 2015 which found 14% of all plastics recovered. However, the government and the wider public are responding; microbeads, single-use plastic bags and plastic straws are all highly damaging single-use plastic objects and are being phased out. A combination of new legislation and public outcry for action has resulted in an effective change for Australia.

Turtle1 A turtle inadvertently became the face of a public anti-straw movement when an image was posted on social media of a straw stuck in his nose.

With these great legislative and public opinion changes, the next round of statistics should hopefully show a dramatic impact in these areas. For example, 5.66 billion single-use plastic bags were used in 2016 - 2017, however, most states have now introduced bans on these. Further, 94% of personal care products are now microbead free. These are great successes in the reduction of plastic use, and the Australian government aims to have all packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2025.

Are Container Deposit Schemes the solution?

Most Australian territories now have, or are planning to implement, a Container Deposit Scheme to recover the second most littered plastic items: drink bottles. Due to the purpose of these items they are most likely to be found in recreational areas such as beaches and parks, increasing the likelihood they will end up in waterways or natural environments.

These items are most often made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastics and that are easily recyclable and collected by most curbside collections. The Container Deposit Scheme returns 10 cents per item returned to a collection point. Incentivisation of returning these items makes source separation, particularly in public areas and workspaces, increasingly profitable for organisations. Alternatively, donate them to a charity to show your organisation's commitment to community sustainability.

While it is too early to see the exact success rates of the new Container Deposit Schemes, South Australia’s long-running scheme has seen 78 per cent resource recovery. New South Wales furthered this success with 64 million container returns in just 14 months (1 December 2017 - 1 February 2018).

What is accepted in the Container Deposit Scheme?

  • Most containers between 150ml and 3L soft drink cans and bottles
  • Bottled water and sports drinks (plastic and glass)
  • Beer and cider cans and bottles
  • Pre-mixed spirit containers
  • Flavoured milk and juice containers less than 1L

Not included:

  • Plain milk containers
  • Containers that have contained wine or pure spirits
  • Flavoured milk or pure juice containers of 1L or more

Please do not be discouraged by the exclusion of these items and make sure to recycle through traditional recycling schemes.

What do the plastic classification numbers mean?

We are all accustomed to seeing the recycling classification numbers within the chasing arrows on plastic products. However, understanding what these numbers mean will allow us to better select plastic products and implement recycling programs correctly.


The table above demonstrates the plastic classifications and most common uses. All plastics are created and used for specific purposes and selecting packaging that is easily recyclable is always encouraged. Plastics 1, 2 and 4 are the easiest and most profitable to recycle, and are included in most curbside recycling programs.

Being informed about the types of plastics and their lifecycle can help us to minimise the impact of our plastic use. For example, #6 Polystyrene (PS) is often used for food packaging and packaging material as it is lightweight. However, this means that it can break up easily and disperse into the environment. It is not included in most recycling programs and thus containers made of #1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) are preferable as they are included in most curbside recycling programs. Unfortunately, recycling can be convoluted if you do not know your waste. For example, PLA plastics are becoming increasingly popular as they are derived from plants, and are being advertised as the sustainable plastic option for food packaging. While the natural production of these plastics is a significant development, disposing of these products can be confusing.

How to dispose of bioplastics

Biodegradable and compostable PLA products should be disposed into a biowaste/ organics stream to be processed in a commercial composting plant. They require specific conditions to break down effectively and are unlikely to degrade in home composts, and will create methane when sent to landfill.

Some bio-based products are designed to be recycled with traditional plastics, bioPE or bioPET, for example, are recovered with their durable plastics counterparts. As pictured in the image below, accurate recovery of these items means closing the loop on those items into a circular economy reducing their impact on the environment.

EOL Image sourced from

Organising recyclables at source is always encouraged as it reduces energy and resources used for organisation and reduces incidents of contamination. Contamination can be defined as items that are not clean enough for recycling or items, such as soft plastic bags, that cannot be separated in the mechanical sorter as they are too light. Contaminated recyclables often end up in landfill, so it is essential to consider these factors.

Read our guide: How clean do my recyclables need to be?

Implementing source separation at your organisation can significantly reduce your environmental impact. Rated the world's most sustainable bank ten times, Westpac is an excellent example of a sustainability leader in New Zealand, staying ahead of what is required of businesses and instead are showing genuine corporate social responsibility. Read about how they successfully incorporated Method’s bins into their sustainability efforts.

Plastic recycling can be confusing, and the sudden ban on recycling imports from China has created a predicament for Australia’s recycling economy. However, the plastic problem is not going away, and the development of effective onshore solutions is a great outcome. Further, awareness and education are key to making a visible difference in for Australia.

How can your space improve its plastics recycling?

Recycle more, and waste less with Method

Get in touch with one of our knowledgeable BDMs to get the ball rolling here.

Improve the sustainability of your space

Related Posts