Australians Lose $419M Annually by Not Recycling PET and HDPE Plastics

Josh Alston 12/12/2022 Recycling
australia pet and hdpe plastic waste

Australia is failing to capitalise on the estimated $419 million of revenue potential it is missing out on by not recycling PET and HDPE plastics annually, according to The CSIRO National Circular Economy Roadmap.

In addition to this missed opportunity for revenue, Australia is failing to protect its environment using a sustainable approach. As these plastics waste are being discarded, and not reused in everyday life. 

Australia’s use of plastic is nothing short of alarming. Every year, Australians generate an estimated 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste through consumption, with households responsible for virtually half of this waste. 

Of that amount, a whopping 1 million tonnes come from single-use plastics, including 5 billion single-use HDPE bags and approximately 10 million single-use plastic straws per day; tiny but mighty polluting agents, indeed. 

The recycling rate across the nation is unsurprisingly low at 12.4 per cent, with only 13.1 per cent of plastic waste ever recovered and only 36 per cent of PET bottles recycled. To top it off, around 130 thousand tonnes a year are leaked into the marine environment in Australia.

In Australia, there is a huge potential for economic benefits that come with increased PET and HDPE plastics recycling but unfortunately, as waste continues to pile up in landfills, we are failing to take advantage of this opportunity. 

It has been estimated by the Australian Recycling Roadmap that an increase in waste recycled instead of being sent to landfill could potentially generate 9.2 jobs per 10,000 tonnes of waste compared to only 2.8 jobs when the same amount is thrown away. 

This is a stark contrast that shows how great the potential could be if Australia adopted a more serious approach towards preventing waste generation and investing efficiently in effective recycling management infrastructure.

What Is PET Plastic?

PET plastic bottle waste
PET plastic bottle waste

PET plastic is one of the most commonly used polymers in packaging and manufacturing today. Produced from purified terephthalic acid and mono-ethylene glycol, it is lightweight and highly resistant to cracking or breaking over time. 

A major benefit of PET plastics is their ability to be recycled again and again without loss of strength or clarity, making them a much greener alternative than other types of plastic. Additionally, they’re non-toxic and approved for contact with food and beverage products, making them an incredibly versatile material.

PET plastics are incredibly versatile and durable, making them the perfect choice of material for many products that require long-lasting performance. Aside from food and drink containers, items such as apparel, carpets, ropes, toys and industrial fibres are all commonly made from PET plastics. 

As a bonus, they can be recycled multiple times without any loss of quality or strength. The recycling process allows PET plastics to be reused again and again not just for their original purpose, but also for newer products such as fashion accessories or outdoor furniture.

*Download here to see the infographic for PET Plastic facts.

What Is HDPE Plastic?

HDPE plastic waste
HDPE plastic waste

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is a durable thermoplastic made from ethylene and other petroleum-derived chemicals. It is one of the most commonly used plastics due to its extreme versatility and lightweight yet effective strength. 

HDPE is remarkably malleable yet strong, making it ideal for manufacturing food containers, shopping bags, plastic bottles, pipelines, drainage systems as well as a variety of everyday products we interact with regularly. 

Its non-toxic nature also makes it a suitable material for medical applications such as syringes, protective equipment, and containers for hazardous materials. In addition to this, because it does not contain BPA or phthalates as some other typical plastics do, it minimises the potential risks associated with these compounds leaching into our everyday products. 

Overall HDPE plastic has proven to be a safe and versatile alternative to many commonly used materials today.

HDPE is also widely used in marine environments due to its exceptional water resistance. In addition, HDPE sheets and films are popular among manufacturers as they are lightweight and help protect items during transport while still being a more sustainable option compared to other plastic materials. 

Finally, HDPE is frequently used in road construction due to its durable nature and ability to resist extreme weather conditions without losing strength or stability.

Why Are Australians Not Recycling PET and HDPE Plastics?

Australia produces an enormous amount of waste, with a large percentage of it being plastic. Unfortunately, Australians are not doing their part to recycle PET and HDPE plastics. This is due in part to the high levels of contaminants present in recycled plastic products, resulting in many buyers choosing not to purchase them. 

There is also the issue of infrastructure: companies have limited access to sorting and reprocessing facilities that can adequately process these materials and turn them into usable-quality products.

As a result, recyclers often have difficulty selling their recycled plastic products, making it difficult for many people to make a living from processing PET and HDPE plastics. 

Providing better access to sorting facilities and increased incentives could encourage more Australians to become aware of the importance of recycling PET and HDPE plastic waste, helping to reduce the amount of waste produced nationally.

Failing to recycle PET and HDPE plastics impacts our environment in numerous ways. It is essential to reduce the number of single-use plastics that wind up in landfills, which can take hundreds of years to decompose. 

If not recycled, these materials contribute to climate change by releasing greenhouse gas into the atmosphere when burned. The toxins released from burning plastic waste also make their way into the air, soil and water, contaminating wildlife habitats and local sources of water. 

Furthermore, energy must be used for manufacturing new products from raw materials if recycled materials are not used. Therefore controlling waste production through proper collection and disposal of these kinds of plastics can significantly reduce their negative effects on our environment.

Why Australia Needs Automated Collection Systems to Boost PET and HDPE Recycling

Australia has made significant strides in boosting PET and HDPE recycling levels over the last decade, but more can be done to ensure that these materials are reused and kept out of our landfills.

Automated collection systems in waste management involve machines that are equipped to collect, sort and store waste efficiently. These systems typically use a robotic arm or system of mechanical sorting belts to separate waste into different categories before it is sorted and stored for disposal, recycling or reuse.

Additionally, automated collection systems can be programmed to identify hazardous materials and contaminants, flagging problems that may require special handling. They are advantageous for reducing human labour in managing waste streams, increasing the accuracy of sorting and storage processes and helping to reduce environmental impact. 

These systems can help save costs related to the collection of waste in the long term by reducing errors related to manual sorting strategies.

manual waste sorting
manual waste sorting

Automated collection systems have been proven to increase rates of sector-wide recycling and boost local economies. Automated collection systems not only provide a more efficient way to collect waste materials, but they also reduce emissions and conserve resources by allowing recyclable items to go right from household bins straight into the reprocessing plants. 

Automation helps create a reliable stream of high-value plastics, creating a better economic stimulus for those involved in the supply chain. For example, when automated collection systems are used, separation activities like sorting become less important, enabling Australian companies to focus their efforts on other areas such as product development and giving them the potential to expand plastics supply chains even further.

Coupled with other advancements in modern technology, automated collection systems have become increasingly invaluable for waste collection and management companies. 

By automating the process of data collection, these machines allow for faster and more accurate assessments of employee efficiency and provide greater insight into daily activities. It’s also possible to increase productivity through fewer manual processes and more efficient use of resources like fuel. 

As well, the cost of stock control can be greatly reduced due to higher accuracy in data entry and improved time-tracking of employees. Automated collection systems are a great way for waste collection and management companies to get an edge on their competition while increasing safety metrics.

How Efficient Processing Facilities Can Improve PET and HDPE Recycling Rates

Proper waste collection and efficient processing facilities are key to increasing PET and HDPE recycling rates. With modern, sophisticated machinery, recyclable material can be more accurately separated and easier for workers to handle. 

Automated sorting eliminates the manual labour of having to sort materials by hand. Additionally, new technologies allow for plastic particles to be efficiently sorted according to size, colour, and shape before they get turned into pellets which can then be used in the production of items like bottles and packaging materials. 

Processing facilities should also focus on creating awareness among citizens about the importance of sorting waste correctly. This will ensure that unwanted or damaged materials do not enter the recycling stream, preventing contamination with non-recyclable items and keeping costs down in terms of time and resources needed to clean up piles of mislabeled garbage. 

Ultimately, these measures help to make PET and HDPE recycling an efficient process, greatly boosting its rate in today’s increasingly sustainable world.

Waste management companies can benefit from greater efficiency in their PET and HDPE processing facilities. By streamlining the equipment and processes used to sort, clean, melt, and shape the recycling material, they can cut down costs and increase their profits. 

To make these changes though, waste management companies need to make sure that the right technology is being used for each step of the process. For example, as many materials as possible should be automated by robotics or other technologies, as this can reduce costs significantly. 

Also, newer technologies like AI-based sorting machines can identify common plastic items with greater accuracy than manual methods, meaning less time spent on manual labour. Finally having systems that allow for easy repair and maintenance will help keep operations running smoothly which will lead to even more savings.

How a Circular Economy Can Help Prevent PET and HDPE Plastics Reaching Landfill

The implementation of a circular economy can be an incredibly important factor in helping to prevent PET and HDPE plastic waste from reaching landfills. 

From materials to product design, manufacturers and consumers alike should prioritise the reuse and repurposing of these materials, as well as find other methods of recovery such as composting or energy recovery. 

Companies are beginning to take the initiative by finding innovative ways to utilise various production methods that prevent environmental harm and promote sustainability. 

For example, companies have started using mechanical recycling processes which break down PET and HDPE plastic waste into tiny shards, allowing them to be remade into new products with minimal machine effort or material waste. 

Ultimately, with collaboration from all sides of the process-manufacturers, consumers, and governments-it is possible to create a successful circular economy that helps limit the negative impacts of PET and HDPE plastics on our environment.

Also Read: Greenwashing Problems in Australia

Posted By

  • Josh Alston

    Josh is a reporter, editor and copywriter. Specialise in corporate writing, politics, innovation and stories that generate human interest and engagement.

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