An Australian Recycling Scam Sends More Than 5,700 Tons of Soft Plastics to Landfill
Between a recent Australian recycling scam and reports of our growing plastic problem, the world's waste can seem insurmountable. Here's what you need to know.
In our new Eco-Events series on Good Together, Brightly founder Laura Wittig will be discussing headlines you should know about. Listen (or read on) to learn about a recycling scam in Australia that’s resulted in a ton (actually, thousands of tons) of wasted plastic.
We all want to do our part to help minimize and properly process our waste. So, when programs crop up that claim to do just that—particularly with materials that are notoriously hard to recycle, like plastic bags—it's only natural to want to participate. But sometimes, these seemingly simple solutions can actually be too good to be true.
Such is the case with REDCycle, a Melbourne, Australia-based "consulting and recycling organization" that has been hoarding Aussies' soft plastics in warehouses rather than recycling them. Now, more than 5,700 tons of those soft plastics are headed to landfill.
"If somebody's going to show up and tell you, 'Oh, I've got this magical solution for things that actually can't be recycled,' you should be skeptical," says Laura Wittig, founder of Brightly, in a recent episode of Good Together.
REDCycle and Soft Plastic Recycling
Unlike hard plastics, soft plastics (made from either high-density polyethylene or low-density polyethylene) are notoriously difficult to recycle—in fact, most recycling facilities aren't even equipped to handle them. And once in the landfill, plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
REDCycle, however, said it has a solution: turning materials into new products like shopping carts, adding them it asphalt, and more. Australian superstores Coles and Woolworths jumped on board, partnering with the organization to collect customers' soft plastics, ostensibly diverting them from the landfill.
As it turns out, those soft plastics have been stashed in warehouses, the stockpiles reportedly estimated to fill about three and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools. The EPA and Fire Rescue NSW are mandating that the materials be disposed of or exported to another country—but, spoiler, no one will take that much soft plastic.
So, to the landfill it goes, to leach into soil and outlive us all.
Our Single-Use Plastic Problem
As if that wasn't enough bad plastic news, according to a new report, the world is creating more single-use plastic waste than ever before, with more than 6.5 million tons added to the already staggering statistic (more than 150 million tons) between 2019 and 2021.
Though we all know the problems that come with single-use plastic, their ubiquity can make them difficult to avoid, particularly in certain parts of the world. "Despite the increasing awareness of the negative impacts of [plastics], most countries have yet to implement effective measures to reduce its use," says Wittig. "This is obviously a worldwide problem, and we've got to hold hands and go through this solution together."
What's the Solution?
1. Buy Less
Use your purchasing power and avoid products that come wrapped in plastic, as well as single-use plastic bags.
2. Repurpose and Reuse
If you do end up with plastic products, reuse or reimagine the materials to the best of your ability.
3. Do Your Research
Whether you rely on a third-party organization, your community, or yourself, strive to understand how waste management works—the better to divine if a program is a bit too perfect.
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