Know your frenemies: the low-down on plastics

Why is it important to recycle plastic? Get your head around this: nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today.


And it’s probably all in there. Ugh.

It’s pretty easy to hate on plastics. According to Clean Up Australia, these resource-hungry polymers:

  • Require fossil fuels in their production, and emit gases like methane when they decompose.
  • Account for most of the 6 million tonnes of rubbish dumped into the world’s oceans every year.
  • Are estimated to kill more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals ever single year.

No matter how old you are, you’ve probably seen a lot of plastic in your lifetime. But instead of hiding under your sea of yoghurt tubs and takeaway containers in shame, learn more about man’s greatest frenemy: plastic. Knowing how to recycle plastic is the first step to reducing the plastic pollution that you create.

smallrecyWhat can I recycle?

The bad news: just because a plastic item has a recycling symbol, doesn’t mean your local council recycles it.

While this symbol helps tell manufacturers what type of plastic the container is made from – it won’t necessarily tell you whether something can be recycled or not. For example, both squeeze bottles and plastic bags can be made from LDPE plastic – but both are not recyclable in kerbside bins.


Image via Earth First

The good news is, it’s very likely that all the rigid plastics containers you use can be recycled in your kerbside bins!

TIP: A good way to check if a plastic container is rigid is to ask two questions – could it hold liquid? Does it hold its shape when crumpled?

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That includes a wide range of the plastic items you use at home everyday, from soft drink bottles and milk and cream bottles, to plastic take-away containers and butter and margarine containers.


Plastics to avoid

Lots of soft plastics – like plastic bags and cling wrap – cannot be recycled as they may get stuck in sorting equipment at recycling centres. Bottle tops can also obstruct machinery or trap liquid inside containers, so Planet Ark advises they be removed and thrown into the garbage.

Another big recycling no-no is polystyrene foamincluding the white packaging found in takeaway containers and polystyrene hot drink cups, as well as the spongy black foam trays used for meat packaging. Plastics found in items like nappies, syringes, irrigation and garden hoses should also be placed in your waste bin.

What does this mean for you?

There is no definitive nationwide policy on recycling as Australia’s waste industry is state-regulated – so you should check with your council to see what you can put in your recycling bin. Make sure to scrape containers, remove lids, and crush items before placing them in the bin. For plastics and other recyclables that can’t be placed in kerbside bins, find your nearest recycling centre here.

Please don’t forget to reuse, reduce and recycle – especially when you’re hanging out with plastics.

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Plastics Macro v1 blog size

Ten quick tips – cut down your plastic use

  1. Bring reusable shopping bags with you when you go shopping.

  2. Use glass containers instead of plastic tupperware.

  3. Avoid plastic water bottles – instead use a stainless steel water bottle and tap water.

  4. Avoid disposable plastic cutlery – try to use compostable or reusable cutlery instead.

  5. Try using cloth diapers instead of plastic nappies.

  6. Use a travel mug instead of using plastic coffee takeaway cups.

  7. Bring your own container for take-out meals instead of using plastic containers or styrofoam.

  8. Say no to straws when you’re eating out.

  9. Don’t throw your electronics in the waste – recycle them.

  10. At the supermarket, try to choose items with cardboard or paper packaging rather than plastic.

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  • twothirdswild

    I think its important to mention here that Redcycle bins are now located in many Coles Supermarkets located around Melbourne metro area. These bins accommodate a wide range of soft-plastics for recycling, such as plastic shopping bags, plastic bread bags, pasta and rice packets, old green bags, and more. To find a redcycle bin nearest to you, check out Redcycle’s website and help reduce the amount of soft-plastics going into landfill.

    • Fireman01

      How are these bags recycled and into what?

    • Sue Moran

      The best thing you can do is not accept a plastic bag in the first place. Coles aren’t recycling the bags,
      in that whatever they are doing with them its not reducing the number of bags that leave their stores.

  • Fireman01

    As much as I do my best to reduce any kind of packaging and waste we are lied to lots by councils. Most cannot handle the shear volume of recycled materials and lots of it gets dumped into landfill anyway. From my research I know that:

    (a) It costs far more to make a plastic from recycling than it does to make new plastic so not many manufacturers can or will use it
    (b) There is not enough demand / products that CAN be made from recycled plastic so if it was ALL recycled then what do we do with it?

    I’ve seen some fantastic ideas for it like outdoor furniture, children’s playground equipment and even framing for houses instead of timber. The problem is that it costs much more than timber to produce. The upside is it doesn’t warp or rot and doesn’t have knots so it’s easier to use and there are no splinters!

    I’d like to see more end uses for it and for the price to come down to make it more attractive to use and then just maybe more people will get into it when then see the completion of the cycle.

    • Pink&PurpleRules

      so true, i recently went to my local tip to drop off some recycled stuff ( it is free at our local tip) and one worker just told me to dump them in the main station ( waste area) because it will just end up there anyway- his words. i was so pissed off because my family does the right thing and to hear that made me rethink is it really worth recycling these days?? i still recycle and use our own shopping bags hoping it makes a difference!

  • twothirdswild

    Information from Redcycle’s website states that “Your empty packaging will be recycled into useful new products such as sturdy outdoor furniture and signage.”

  • twothirdswild

    The main benefit of the Redcycle bins in Coles is that you can put ALL your soft plastic packaging in them. It’s not just about plastic shopping bags, which we all know by now that we shouldn’t use, its about the plastic packaging that comes with so many food items that we buy every day in the supermarket. Sure, we can try to buy items packaged in cardboard but inevitably, many items don’t come with that option. So to be able to put all that soft plastic packaging in a Redcycle bin, and know that it stays out of landfill is a great step ahead for the environment. Don’t you think?

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  • Ohh… The relief I felt, realizing I already do 90 % of the things on that list…