The missing piece of the recycling puzzle

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As Australia’s population and waste levels continue to rise, recycling matters now more than ever. This year Planet Ark’s National Recycling Week (13 – 19 November) highlights why recycling is only part of the battle. To help win the War on Waste consumers and businesses need to properly close the recycling loop by purchasing products that contain recycled content.

In the 20 years to 2015, Australia’s population increased by 28 per cent and waste levels grew by 170 per cent (i). The good news is that recycling is growing at an even faster rate than waste. What happens to those materials once they have been recycled and how everyone plays a part in the process is a key focus of this year’s National Recycling Week campaign.

Currently the Australian manufacturing economy is predominantly linear, which can be summarised as ‘take, make, use and dispose’. This is not sustainable. A circular economy on the other hand, replaces ‘dispose’ with ‘recycle, reuse and repurpose’ and keeps important materials from being wasted in landfill.

“Since the introduction of kerbside recycling in the 80s and 90s Australians have really embraced recycling. But to truly close the recycling loop, and keep valuable resources like plastic, metal and paper in circulation and out of landfills, we need to buy back the products that have been made from our recycling,” says Ryan Collins, Planet Ark’s Recycling Programs Manager.

New research (ii) from Planet Ark’s new guide What Goes Around: Why Buying Recycled MattersMatters shows 88 per cent of Australians already purchase products that contain recycled materials, and 70 per cent said they would be more likely to purchase products and / or packaging if they contained recycled materials. Most Australians also have high awareness of some products that can be made with recycled materials including office paper (83 per cent), toilet tissue (75 per cent) and paper towels (78 per cent).

However, the new research also shows there is less awareness about other products that can be made using recycled materials, such as road surfaces, printer cartridges, paving and carpet underlay.

“We’re actually surrounded by products made from our recycling, and people may be surprised by some of the recycled products out there, like wallets and purses made from tyre inner tubes; surfboard fins made from ocean plastic; eye glasses made from milk bottle lids; fencing made from printer cartridges; as well as shampoo bottles and shopping bags made from recycled PET plastic and even pet litter made from recycled paper. Also, inspiring discoveries from research and development projects are finding more and more ways to utilise waste, so the list of products made from recycled materials will continue to grow,” Collins says.

Some of those innovations include using the unique qualities of problem waste, like tyres, to create synthetic hockey or soccer pitches, or even green steel, which reduces electricity consumption and delivers productivity improvements. Other inspiring stories include research into new uses for glass, which can be used in road bases and construction.

“When consumers and businesses purchase products that are made from recycled materials, they create a demand for recycling, which supports Australian industry, allows new recycled manufacturing opportunities to flourish and creates jobs. As well as being good for the environment, the financial benefits of this closed loop cycle are significant. It’s estimated that by 2025 the circular economy in Australia could be worth $26 billion,” Collins says.

High consumer support for products that contain recycled content will grow that market and strengthen the circular economy in Australia. To make it easier for consumers and businesses to buy recycled, Planet Ark has created a handy online directory to raise awareness that these products are available and plentiful.

i) MRA Consulting Group 2016, ‘State of Waste 2016 – current and future Australian trends’ https://blog.mraconsulting.com.au/2016/04/20/state-of-waste-2016-current-and-future-australian-trends/#_edn2

ii) What Goes Around: Why Buying Recycled Matters. A Guide for Households, Businesses and Councils, October 2017 http://recyclingweek.planetark.org/media/research.cfm