An expert has warned Australia faces a “wake-up call” on the toxicity of plastics as authorities implement a new recycling export ban.
From tomorrow, government regulations will mandate that mixed-plastics can no longer be exported overseas for recycling, with restrictions on paper, tyres and other materials scheduled to follow.
The plan was agreed upon by federal and state governments last year, in response to China and Indonesia blocking imports of our plastics, and aims to boost our $15 billion-a-year waste industry.
Globally, around eight million tonnes of plastics end up in the ocean, and Australians have been contributing to the problem.
Over the 2018/2019 period, the nation used a staggering 3.5 million tonnes of plastic, close to a third of which was single-use.
When mixed-plastics were allowed to be exported, waste facilities overseas often deemed them too hard to recycle, so they were stockpiled and subsequently leached toxins into the environment.
Now that Australia has taken ownership of it’s mixed-plastic issue, some recyclers have argued the country does not currently have the capacity to process the predicted increase of new product.
This appears to be an understatement when compared to a prediction from Professor Peter Newman from the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute.
He believes Australia probably won’t ever be able to recycle all of the plastic it produces.
Simple solution to phasing out plastics by 2050
Professor Newman compares plastics to banned substances like DDT, because they break down into nano particulates and enter the membranes of fish, animals and humans.
Instead of recycling our single-use plastics, he argues the country should take a more severe approach.
“In my view, plastic needs to be seen as a toxic material, not just a waste material that should be recycled because it's not nice,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“It is toxic and needs to be banned.”
Because plastic is 99 per cent oil, Professor Newman believes halving our plastic use by 2030 and phasing it out by 2050 is key to achieving Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments.
This, he says, will be possible if the nation invests in switching to plant-based alternatives, an argument highlighted in the nature journal, Sustainable Earth.
“We've got a space and the solar energy and the tree growing capacity to make biologically based plastics,” he said.
“We should stop making them from oil.”
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