It's nigh on impossible to give up plastic altogether, but thanks to China refusing to take our plastic, innovation in plastics recycling is finally starting to develop at a decent speed.
I hated fish as a child and used to stuff it in my clothes pockets and feed it to the dog when no one was watching. Like most children, my follow through wasn't particularly diligent and I eventually got sprung by my mother when she was doing the washing. She watched me like a hawk after that and thanks to her, I now have a lifelong appreciation for healthy food.
The problem with us all stuffing our unwanted plastics on a fast boat to China was pretty much the same, as we eventually got sprung and told to deal with our own shit. China really did us an enormous favour when they called it quits. The move not only forced us to deal with our own waste, but we began to understand how our plastic was impacting the environment and everything in it, including us. It also shone a light on our complete lack of infrastructure capacity to deal with it. And so we began to learn how to really recycle.
Our primary source of plastic waste in Australia is packaging - bags, packets, bottles, jars. There is about one million tonnes of the stuff circulating at any given time. Only about 32% of this is recovered and less than 5% of it is made of recycled plastic in the first place. The Australian Government has pledged to ensure that 100% of Australian packaging will be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 and has given the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) the job of making sure the target is delivered. And things are changing.
Many people think they are buying products in 100% recycled plastic because the label says, 'Recycled Plastic', but those labels are 100% partly recycled plastic and generally have virgin plastic in the mix. Unless a label says 100% rPET, it's probably not. It's really only been since 2020, that 100% recycled plastic has been widely available in Australia. Companies like Ant Packaging, who use PET plastic from the Council Yellow Bins in NSW.
Wellman Packaging also announced a collaboration with Colgate Palmolive, bringing 100% rPET to mart in dishwashing liquid and other products. And they have announced their intention to convert all their feedstocks to recycled plastics.
The easiest way to know if the plastic you are buying is recycled is to read the label or stamping and use the negative sell technique. You can be reasonably sure that if someone does not tell you their packing is 100% recycled, then it's virgin or a combination. If you see something that says, "made from recycled materials / plastic", that generally means it is only partly recycled plastic. The reason is because structurally strong rPET is tricky to make and more expensive.
So it's important for all of us to to be aware of which brands use rPET and which do not. While plastics manufacturers have a choice in which plastics they produce, it's a supply chain thing, which all of us influence. When you choose products that are in rPET packets or bottles, you effectively provide a market for recycled plastics.
Choosing ePET gives life to manufacturers, recycling facilities and the brands who care enough to both choose it and pay for it. When we consumers purchase products made with recycled content, we send a message to companies that we value their sustainability efforts and help solidify recycling programs and recycled goods as valuable pieces in the production process.
There is an endless list of alternatives to plastics, so please avoid it where you can in the first place. Ditch soft plastic wrap for either Beeswax wraps or glass containers and always microwave food in glass or ceramics. (And cover food with another plate when you heat it up - not plastic.) One shopping tip - if you do cave in to the occasional soda, then choose a can rather than a plastic bottle, or get a soda stream.