Today it has been announced that Australian leaders have agreed to work towards a set date to ban all domestic waste exports (including plastics, paper, glass and tyres), while increasing efforts to turn more recyclable material into energy and use in building materials.
So what are we going to do with all the waste staying on our shores, while keeping it out of our oceans and away from our precious marine life? First thing we need to do is cut down on our production and use of single-use plastic. Take action to reduce your use of plastic and sign our petition here to tell key Australian politicians to ban the 10 worst single-use plastics.
We Australians are a resourceful lot. And when it comes to plastics, necessity is proving the enterprising mother of invention.
If we can't stop the production and use of plastic altogether, we're doing the next best thing - putting it to practical use. No longer a disposable waste stream, plastic is a valuable resource - and an increasingly versatile one at that.
All around the country, committed businesses and communities are pioneering strategies and technologies that, in time, will make plastic recycling more efficient and economical. Home-grown solutions intended to grow the market for recycled products. And if we drive that demand for recycled plastic, then we'll be able to ensure that more is recycled.
We're proud to introduce some of the innovative people and processors demonstrating that the buck stops with us. People passionate about protecting our environment and our economies, large and small.
Plastic free living
A handful of Australian communities have taken their waste management responsibilities to a whole new level, under the Plastic Free Places program.
Working with the Boomerang Alliance and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, Noosa in Queensland, Byron Shire in north-eastern NSW, and the Perth suburbs of Bassendean and Bayswater have garnered council and community support to end reliance on single-use plastics.
These progressive communities are working directly with food retailers, event organisers, markets and other organisations to make the switch from water bottles, straws, coffee cups and takeaway containers to reusable or compostable alternatives. They're also partnering with suppliers, manufacturers and waste managers to deliver lasting business solutions.
Noosa was first cab off the rank and has brought together 168 businesses to eliminate more than 2.7 million single-use plastic items. But it's a program that can be implemented in any community with the support of the council and people like you and me, who are prepared to change our habits and collaborate to help create a low carbon future.
Recycling with bite
Have you ever wondered what to do with your old toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes? Well, global environmental company TerraCycle has the answer.
It collects oral care products (toothbrushes, tubes and dental floss containers) and organises for them to be sorted, shredded, washed and melted into pellets that go into manufacturing garden beds and playground equipment. Since launching the program in 2014, TerraCycle has diverted more than 700,000 pieces of plastic from landfill in Australia alone.
When you consider how many toothbrushes you use in a lifetime, that amounts to a lot of plastic waste that we’re giving the brush, for which a useful purpose has been found.
And that's not all. TerraCycle has become a world leader in recycling the ‘non-recyclables’, including coffee pods, pens, plastic gloves, beauty products and contact lenses. It works in 20 countries and accepts the items for free, thanks to funding from brands, manufacturers and retailers. Participating schools and charities can even earn rewards.
A visionary solution
And not to be outdone, WWF-Australia has found its own creative use for a troublesome plastic product - and is drawing attention to the dangers it poses in our oceans into the bargain.
When WWF-Australia and our supporters raised enough money to retire the last full-time commercial gill net from the northern Great Barrier Reef to protect dugongs, sharks and other endangered marine creatures, our next challenge was what to do with it.
With our partner VisionDirect, we came up with the eye-catching idea to transform the plastic net into stylish, sustainable sunglasses. They’re now available for pre-sale orders under the ReefCycle name.
If we reach our pre-sale targets, we’ll be able to go into production and the whole net (all 200kg of it) will be shredded, melted then injected into moulds to male thousands of sunglasses. This upcycling keeps the net out of landfill and provides a powerful way for us to highlight the risks that plastics pose in marine environments.
It's a first for WWF-Australia and the ReefCycle initiative is commanding lots of attention as a creative recycling solution. With 50% from all sunglass sales going towards WWF conservation projects, we hope to upcycle more problematic fishing nets in the future. Now that's visionary!
A rural-led renaissance
Rural and regional Australia is proving that a commitment to recycling wastes can bring about widespread behavioural change and create valuable jobs.
In Wagga Wagga (NSW), the social enterprise Kurrajong Recycling started recycling paper and cardboard, then mixed plastic containers, long before it was core council business. Their black crates were first rolled out in 1962 and are thought to be among the earliest of kerbside collections in Australia. Locals have grown up with a culture of dedicated recycling.
Now Kurrajong provides employment for 90 people, half of them with a disability, at its Material Recovery Facility, and services the entire Riverina, including six councils. Educating schoolchildren and their families about recycling is an important part of Kurrajong's work.
"We can't continue to send our wastes overseas," said CEO Ray Carroll. "Australia is big enough to solve its own waste problems and it's a wonderful opportunity to create jobs, especially in regional centres."
Among Kurrajong's long-standing customers is Wagga Wagga Shire Council, which operates its own recycling and resource recovery centre. It, too, is an industry rarity, running a small processing plant that accepts (for free) extruded polystyrene foam (better known as Styrofoam) and melts it down for the production of new foam.
In nearby Albury, the plastic film recycling plant at Plastic Forests processes material from all over eastern Australia. About 20% comes from the farming sector - like silage wraps and grain bags - and the remainder from food production and post-industrial.
Since 2014, Plastic Forests has transformed about 1,500 tonnes of plastic into a range of practical products, including wheel-stoppers, garden edging and cable covers.
"We have many more customers than we can deal with," said managing director David Hodge. "There are only so many wheel-stops that people can buy. Everybody's buying choices determine the success of recycling businesses like ours. Recycling doesn't work unless someone buys a recycled product."
So yes, we have the technology … now we just need to step it up to the next level, countrywide.