Everyday Enviro with Elise: explains why recycling alone isn't the answer

Everyday Enviro with Elise: explains why recycling alone isn't the answer

By Elise Catterall  November 24th, 2022

Last week saw the suspension of the REDcycle soft plastics programme. I’m going to be yet another person weighing in on this issue because the opportunity this temporary event creates is too good to miss.  


I’ve been writing about sustainability, waste, and environmental issues for Planet Ark for five years now and so much of what comes up time and time again in my writing is mindful consumption. This is where my thoughts land again when considering the REDcycle suspension issue.   

Of course there are big picture issues around the practicalities of soft plastics entering the waste stream and landing in landfill now, as opposed to being recycled and this is something Planet Ark has addressed in a recent social media post

What I want to explore is how the suspension of the REDcycle programme has shone a light on how complacent many of us have become as consumers. I have spoken to a lot of people about this, and the consensus seems to be that having a recycling avenue so readily available meant we became less reluctant to consume soft plastics in the first place. And this potentially has removed some accountability from the manufacturers using plastic packaging.  

The suspension of this really effective programme – it diverted some five billion pieces of plastic from landfill since being established – might give us a wakeup call to acknowledge that we have – and need to have – some agency when it comes to packaging. For example, we can choose to not buy plastic packaging, we can choose to remember our green bags/veggie sacks/bread bags and not rely on the supermarket’s plastic alternatives, we can choose to not opt for convenience, we can choose not to fix things at the other end.  

We can also appreciate that the issue doesn’t lie with REDcycle - after all, they were trying to fix a problem not of their making - and instead understand that the impact from the suspension is the responsibility of the manufacturer, the retailer, and the consumer. This reality gives us power because we can make better choices and hold manufacturers and retailers accountable well before recycling of plastics becomes a necessity.  

We know that recycling comes well below avoiding and reducing in the waste hierarchy due to the resources required for the manufacture of plastic packaging, so the positive outcome of all of this could be that we begin to address the issue of plastic waste at source.  

I personally will welcome the return of the REDcycle programme when it resumes because some soft plastics are unavoidable, but I hope this break in its availability will give us the heads up we dearly need to reduce the demand for soft plastics in the first place.  

Some ideas to make the most of this opportunity:  

  • This is our chance to let manufacturers know we need them to find alternatives to plastic packaging. Do a garbage audit and work out the products you consume that generate the most plastic waste and send that manufacturer an email – and send the retailer you bought it from an email while you’re at it asking for their support.  

  • Seek out products with paper, cardboard or aluminium packaging over plastic. There are often comparable items with better packaging.  

  • Be vigilant with reusable bags and containers, whether it be bread bags, vegetable sacks, or green bags for groceries. 

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


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Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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