Since its invention over 100 years ago, plastic has left an indelible mark on our lives. Look around you, and almost everywhere you look, you’ll see plastic. It is truly one of the most remarkable inventions ever - it’s cheap, easy to produce, durable, and highly versatile. It has revolutionised the hospitality industry by making it much cheaper and easier to store food safely by replacing traditional earthenware, glass or even wood.
It is only in the last few decades that we have started to take notice of the negative impact this 20th century marvel has had on our planet.
As a material, plastic’s greatest strength is its durability. Unfortunately, this also means that most plastics will take a long time to break down once it has been discarded. Environmentally, this is a catastrophe, especially since much of the plastic we produce is intended for single use. This means the product has a very short lifespan before it ends up as landfill, where it can enter our waterways, injuring and even killing wildlife.
Thankfully, recycling is tackling that issue head on. By reusing materials we have already produced, we can make less plastic, extract less oil, and generally reduce our impact on the planet.
Recycling plastic can be a confusing business with many do’s and don’ts - it can be hard to know what to do. If you’ve ever taken a close look at the bottom of a take-away container or drink bottle, you’ll have noticed a triangular pattern with a number from 1-7 in the middle. These are there to help recycling companies identify what each bit of plastic is made from, which allows them to sort and separate each type of plastic.
But what do those numbers mean?
1. Polyethylene Terephthalate or PETE/PET -Clear, tough and typically used for things like soft drink bottles, detergent bottles - this is the easiest to recycle
2. High Density Polyethylene HDPE - usually coloured or white, typically used for things like milk or cream bottles
3. Polyvinyl Chloride PVC - tough, sometimes clear, is typically used as cordial and juice bottles, but also is used for pipes and even disposable gloves
4. Low Density Polyethylene LDPE - soft and flexible with a waxy surface - typically used for squeeze bottles, single use plastic bags
5. Polypropylene PP - hard but flexible, used for things like take away containers, ice cream containers
6. Polystyrene - clear, rigid, brittle plastic, used for things like margarine containers
7. OTHER- includes all other forms of plastics
OK, great, but can I recycle them?
Typically yes, if its a container or a bottle, but it’s a good idea to check with your local council/recycling company, or use PlanetArk’s handy https://recyclingnearyou.com.au to find out what your local recycling service accepts.
You might find that your council won’t accept certain plastic items because they can be difficult to process. Plastic cutlery is a good example, because their shape makes it difficult for the machinery at recycling plants to pick up and process the materials effectively. Similarly, plastic bags, and other ‘scrunchable’ plastics such as those flimsy trays you often get in biscuit packets are generally not accepted in kerbside recycling programs because they can clog up the machinery at the recycling depots, however Redcycle are a service that recycle soft plastics such as plastic bags and food wrapping, and they have collection points all over the country.
How can I make better plastic choices?
From a recycling point of view PET products are a good bet because they are pretty much universally accepted in kerbside recycling programs around Australia. Once a PET product is recycled, it can easily be turned back into things like drink bottles. Tossware have a unique range of semi-disposable PET drinkware that is shatter-proof, is sturdy enough to stand up to multiple uses, and because of its PET construction, can easily recycled once you have finished with it.
An alternative to traditional, petroleum based plastic is bioplastic, a form of plastic that is made from things like vegetable oils, cellulose and starches instead of fossil fuels, while the carbon footprint in producing this type of plastic is lower, Biopak aren’t able to say how quickly this stuff breaks down when left in landfill, so a more thoughtful method of disposal is called for. Unfortunately, bioplastics are not recycled in kerbside recycling programs, however Biopak is leading the charge here with their commercial composting service that collects compostable packaging and disposes of them in commercial composting facilities. Look out for the collection bins in cafes and other public spaces, or head over to this helpful map of collection points in your area
If you're having a picnic, or throwing a party, stop adding to the nation's growing landfill woes by picking up one of our compostable picnic packs!