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Ten years of data shows growth and opportunity for Australian plastics recycling

The plastics and chemicals industry has welcomed the release of the tenth consecutive national survey showing record high recovery and recycling for plastics in Australia. The ‘PACIA 2010 National Plastics Recycling Survey’ reveals that during 2009-10 Australian consumers, industry and governments recycled a record 282,194 tonnes of plastic, an increase of 2.2% over the previous year. Of this amount, plastic packaging accounted for 196,925 tonnes.

The survey was undertaken by independent research group Hyder Consulting. Commissioned by the Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association (PACIA), it is a collaborative effort with funding support from Sustainability Victoria, the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Resource Management, Western Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation, Zero Waste South Australia and the Australian Packaging Covenant.

Margaret Donnan, PACIA Chief Executive, said “Ten years of robust data demonstrates strong positive results and highlights commitment and action by industry, government and the community to work together to improve the recovery of plastics for a second life. We appreciate the support of our funding partners as well as the commitment by PACIA members and the broader plastics and recycling industry to provide data, monitor achievement and identify opportunities for further improvement”.

In 2000, plastics consumption was 1,530,783 tonnes with 167,673 tonnes recycled. The 2010 survey recorded consumption at 1,501,258 tonnes with 288,194 tonnes recycled – an increase of 120,521 tonnes, or 72%. Better design and light weighting appear to be contributing factors to a decline in consumption, while growth in recycling is attributed to coordinated improvements in consumer education, collection systems taking a wider range of plastic types from a growing number of locations, recycling investments and market development.

Plastic products make an important contribution to Australian’s quality of life. Durable products such as water tanks save water and automotive plastics save fuel by light weighting cars. Plastic packaging such as bottles, bags and pouches preserve food, allowing it to be safely stored and transported for domestic, commercial, military and emergency relief use. But increasingly, Australians understand that plastic is too valuable to waste by throwing it away to landfill. Cooperative initiatives such as the Australian Packaging Covenant demonstrate that industry, governments and communities create improvements. In the ten years of the survey, packaging recycling has increased by 74% from 113,189 tonnes to 196,925 tonnes. Recycling of plastics numbered 4-7 has increased from 10.7% in 2003 to a record 28.8% in 2009-10.

The robust, consistent data provided by the survey has enabled governments and industry to track progress, develop suitable policy and programs and identify areas for future improvement.

Margaret Donnan said, “PACIA will continue to work with industry, government and community partnerships such as the Australian Packaging Covenant and the National Waste Policy to inform and drive further improvements in design, education, collection systems and investments. These are good for the Australian environment, community and business”.

Media contact: Rachel Black, Manager, Marketing & Communications on (03) 9611 5400.


The Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association (PACIA) commissioned independent consultants, Hyder Consulting, to carry out the annual PACIA National Plastics Recycling Survey for 2010.

The survey received funding support from:

  • Sustainability Victoria
  • Department of Environment and Climate Change (New South Wales)
  • Department of the Environment and Resource Management (Queensland)
  • Department of Environment and Conservation (Western Australia)
  • Zero Waste South Australia; and
  • Australian Packaging Covenant

The survey is the tenth in the current series and the principal source of recycling data for the Australian plastics sector. The data was gathered for the 2009-10 financial year on the consumption, recovery, reprocessing and applications for used plastics in Australia. Previous surveys have gathered data on the calendar year basis.

Key statistics and facts:

The Australian plastics industry converted 1,501,258 tonnes of polymers in 2009-10, into a broad range of products to meet consumer demands for a safe, modern lifestyle.

  • 935 973 tonnes (62%) of this demand was for medium to long term, durable products such as high security banknotes, rain water tanks, light weight automotive components, high-efficiency insulation for cool rooms, lightweight and durable underground water pipe and electrical cable which will be in service for over 50 years.
  • 565 285 tonnes (38%) was required for shorter term products such as crop films for improved food production, packaging to extend shelf life and secure food supply, blood bags and other medical devices.
  • A record 288 194 tonnes of plastic was recycled during 2009-10. This is an increase of 6,162 tonnes over the previous year and is 120 521 tonnes greater than the 167 673 tonnes recycled 10 years ago in 2000.
  • While the quantity of plastic packaging recycled in 2009-10 was 196 925, a slight fall from 204,036 tonnes in 2008, there was an increase in plastic packaging coded 4-7 to the highest level ever of 28.8% up from 27.8% (these are the polymer codes of interest to the previous National Packaging Covenant).
  • Of the total of 288 194 tonnes of plastic recycled in 2009-10, 150 097 tonnes was reprocessed locally in Australia for a new life into over 100 new types of products, whilst 138 096 tonnes was exported for reprocessing overseas.
  • A total of 73 polymer reprocessing sites are operating across the country.
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