Big change coming for how to use your yellow bin

A new system will enable Australians to place soft plastics in their recycling bins.

The use of yellow recycling bins is set to be overhauled, with a new item to be allowed inside, and it’s going to cost food manufacturers hundreds of millions a year.

The plan is to allow soft plastics to be bagged up and placed on top of bottles, containers and paper. It would replace the failed REDcycle scheme that relied on people taking their waste into Coles and Woolworths.

Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) CEO Tanya Barden agreed a key failing of REDcycle was that most people were too lazy to take their old wrappers and bags to the supermarket. The program collected just one to two per cent of soft plastics in circulation.

Pictured are yellow recycling bins. Source: AAP/Getty
Soft plastics will soon be added to your yellow recycling bin. Source: AAP/Getty

“There's a small group of committed people who will use those models, and they have been devastated by the demise of REDcycle. There are a whole lot of people for whom the inconvenience of that will override their desire to recycle,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

What are soft plastics?

Soft plastics include chip packets, plastic bags, Glad Wrap and bread bags — basically anything you can easily scrunch up in your hand. They need to be processed on specialist equipment to stop them getting tangled up in machinery.

Which companies are funding the project?

The new National Plastics Recycling Scheme is the brainchild of AFGC, which has signed on a number of partners including PepsiCo, Arnott’s, Nestlé, Mars and George Western Foods.

It will be a stewardship program, meaning a levy will be paid by the manufacturers to fund the collection and processing of soft plastics. They will also agree to use recycled content to package their products.

What’s different about this recycling plan?

Previous attempts could not recycle soft plastic into food-grade material. AFGC has built upon a proof of concept developed by Nestlé who took a Kit-Kat wrapper, turned it into oil, then back into a wrapper again.

“So we've taken that concept, and then brought on board other chocolate manufacturers, companies that use soft plastics to cover toilet paper, frozen chips, frozen peas, bread and worked with them to develop up this scheme,” Ms Barden said.

  • Trials of 20,000 households in Victoria, NSW and South Australia have been completed.

  • The next phase will involve 100,000 households.

  • Recycling infrastructure will be built over the next 18 months.

  • As capacity increases, the amount of recycled material produced will grow.

A trial of 20,000 households was completed across NSW, Victoria and South Australia. Source: AFGC
A trial of 20,000 households was completed across NSW, Victoria and South Australia. Source: AFGC

How much will it cost?

AFGC is working to identify and fund economic gaps in the supply chain, with collection and decontamination identified as two areas to incentivise with funding.

Costs will be significantly higher during the pilot phase as bags will be mailed out to individual households, but they will ultimately be distributed at other collection points and this is expected to save the program money.

Once the scheme is fully operational, the cost, which will be funded from levies is expected to be in the hundreds of millions.

Due to the scale of the plastic problem, Ms Barden acknowledges it cannot be fixed overnight. “We’re needing to phase it in a sensible way so we avoid the REDcycle situation,” she said.

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