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About Plastics Recycling

Q. Is all plastics packaging recyclable?
A. Yes it is, but not all of it is recycled through the kerbside recycling scheme.

Q. Why Not?
A. The kerbside recycling scheme is the common household collection process organised by Local Government. A contracted waste collector takes selected recyclables from your collection bin, sorts the materials, and bales the waste for distribution to a mechanical recycler who then processes the material for distribution to end user markets.

Q. What types of plastics are collected?
A. At present in Australia we collect PET soft drink bottles, (clear bottles used by Coca-Cola, Cadbury Schweppes, etc.), HDPE milk bottles, cream bottles and orange juice bottles. Many councils collect PVC bottles, the ones often used for cordial. Some councils now collect the whole range of rigid plastic packaging.

Q. Is that all?
A. These are the most common collected items where the kerbside scheme operates.

Q. What about those margarine tubs, yoghurt tubs and detergent bottles?
A. Some councils take all plastics, but the majority of these items are not currently processed for recycling. Research is now underway to find solutions for these materials.

Q. What do the numbers in the triangle mean?
A. The numbers are a simple coding system that was developed for manual sorting of plastic, so that recyclers knew what type of plastics they are dealing with. These numbers do not mean that the items are automatically recyclable. The Plastics Identification Code tells recyclers what type of plastic a product is made from.

Q. Will they ever be recycled?
A. Yes they probably will, as market demand for recycled material grows, more recycling will be possible. The more diverse items we make from recycled materials, the better chance we have of recycling progressing. The options include new products from either a single plastic type or mixed plastics, or for efficient conversion into energy.

Q. How are plastics mechanically recycled?
A. They are collected, sorted and baled into like materials, they are then washed and shredded into flakes and then placed into an extruder which is a little like an old fashioned mincer or a spaghetti maker. The plastic is melted, pushed through the extruder, cooled and pressed through a die and chopped or pelletised into granules almost the same as virgin material. It is then ready for remaking into new products.

Q. Is the plastic the same after this has happened or does it lose some of its strength?
A. Yes it does lose some of its original stability, there are always specks of dirt, that can affect it, the original molecular make-up is changed a little therefore it is not quite as easy to make it back into the item it was originally. It can be recycled back into the same items, but it often needs the help of some virgin materials to achieve a quality result.

Q. How much plastic is used in packaging in Australia?
A. Approximately 376,000 tonnes per year.

Q. How much plastic is recycled each year?
A. The figure is growing annually and at the end of 1997 the figure for kerbside recycling was 37,357 tonnes and industrial and post consumer industrial was approximately 55,000 tonnes.


Q. What is made from recycled plastic?
A. There are wheelie bins, outdoor furniture, timber substitute planking used in jetties and walking tracks, pipes, mud flaps, traffic calming equipment, water meter covers, pots for plants, crates, pallets, garden edging, bags, worm farms, compost bins and a developing stream of goods as more recycled material becomes available.

Q. Can plastics be made biodegradable?
A. Yes they can, and there are a number of biodegradable plastics available, but to degrade properly they need to be treated like compost and not just left in a landfill site where degradation is very difficult due to the lack of oxygen and moisture. Biodegradable plastics are not appropriate for all packaging uses. They are also more expensive than traditional plastics. There are different types of degradable plastics.

Q. Why doesn't plastic degrade in the landfill?
A. Plastics being benign, and no known organism with big enough jaws to eat the molecules, plastic does not biodegrade, however most plastics is photodegradable and will break down if exposed to strong sunlight or adverse temperatures. If we could achieve those conditions in a controlled space we would be able to degrade plastic.

Q. Is there another solution for plastics packaging waste management?
A. Yes, in some countries waste plastics are combusted to recover the energy from them to provide energy and steam as an alternative fuel source. Plastics are derived from natural gas and petroleum refining processes, so they are a valuable fuel source in countries where fuel is expensive. Waste to energy recycling is not an immediate option for plastics at present. While new technology is safe and efficient, communities and governments are reluctant to introduce this into Australia.

Q. Is there any legislation to minimise plastics waste or all packaging waste?
A. The National Packaging Covenant is about sustainable use and recovery of packaging.

Q. Is plastic a good product?
A.Yes plastic is a very good product, it is energy efficient to produce, it is lightweight and therefore reduces fuel costs in transportation, another energy saver. It provides protective packaging with a minimal use of material. It is shatterproof and it is inexpensive to manufacture and purchase. If you look around your home, school, or workplace and take away all the plastics and replace them with traditional materials, you will be amazed at the things you would have to learn to live without, or the number of trees that would be felled to replace some of the plastics.

Q. What happens if I put the wrong plastics in my council bin?
A. Those plastics will be separated and sent to landfill, during the sorting process, however this increases the cost to council of recycling.

Q. Do I have to wash things that I put out for recycling?
A. Not really. Certainly not hot wash, that uses unnecessary energy, just rinse out the residue and remove the caps.
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