The ongoing saga regarding the REDcycle soft plastic recycling scheme, has left industry and governments facing the uncomfortable problem of what to do with all this soft plastic waste. Such schemes have been working hard to bridge the gap between the endless supply of waste plastics and a limited demand for products made from recycled plastics. Restrictions to mixed plastic waste exports introduced in 2022 have further exacerbated the situation.
The growing use plastic waste in construction materials and products has been an exciting space to watch. With mixed soft plastics being incorporated in asphalt pavement and roads base with impressive performance results. More recently railway sleepers made with recycled mixed soft plastics have been introduced by a manufacturer in regional Victoria. These initiatives have been made possible with two key governance changes.
- Construction Standards - being adapted to facilitate the use of recycled materials – with the collaboration of governments, research institutions and industry leaders to develop new waste harnessing technologies.
- Procurement Policy - building requirements for using recycled materials into the tender and contract processes. An example is The Recycled First Policy in Victoria requiring bidders on future transport projects to demonstrate how they will optimise the use of recycled and reused materials.
Higher value recycled plastics are generated from waste that can be readily sorted into common plastic classes – producing a more uniform and quality feedstock. Increasingly used in manufacturing these recycled plastics are regularly utilised across construction systems from civil drainage to electrical components. However, the low cost of virgin plastics makes their recycled substitutes less competitive than is clear in neighbouring recycled materials sectors such as metals and even glass. This price disparity has been the primary hurdle in tackling our growing plastic waste problem, but product and systems innovations in recycled plastics are steadily making up ground across the price gap toward a more even playing field.
Australia produces roughly 3.5M tonnes of plastic waste annually with less than 12% being recycled. The growing burden of plastics accumulating in the environment and waterways is having tragic consequences. With expected waste-lifespan of 450+ years, and the generation of microplastics during degradation, it’s no understatement to call ocean plastics the Sea Monsters of our age. Killing millions of sea animals annually, marine plastics now make up 80% of all marine debris. And with the volume of plastic consumed predicted to increase by 60% before 2030, we will no doubt see the most devastating effects of these Sea Monster in years to come.
Innovations like Eco Site Safety Products by Cacti Conserve are tackling the plastic waste problem head on. With the use of rPET rope made from 100% ocean harvested recycled plastic in their Eco Safety Bunting, and 100% recycled polyester flags made from post-consumer plastic bottles – satisfying project sustainability targets and aquatic creatures alike. In contrast to conventional traffic flags and bunting made from PVC coated fabrics which are not able to be recycled currently, the flag and rope components of Cacti Conserve’s Eco Traffic Flags and Eco Safety Bunting are recyclable via local textiles recycling facilities such as Upparel.
Cacti Conserve is committed to providing a selection planet friendly alternative to common industry consumables, driven to supply value and quality – moving businesses toward more sustainable choices. Eco Site Safety products are designed for use in Australian conditions, are manufactured in Melbourne, and shipped to projects across the nation in plastic free packaging – further mitigating the Sea Monster effect.
As an Australian owned Certified Social Enterprise Cacti Conserve donates 50% of profits to conservation projects in our region - supporting organisations working with indigenous land management crews, protecting threatened habitats, and regenerating disturbed bushlands. And delivering social procurement benefits to contractors and project teams where targets may be stipulated by government contracts.
As industries adapt to reduce and / or consume plastic waste in typical operations, the collaboration between private enterprises, research initiatives and all levels of government will be key to seeing systematic and lasting transformation. Participation of project teams in adapting to new procurement parameters is already driving a demand for circular economy systems, and as innovations like Eco Site Safety lead the way we should expect to see the use of recycled materials is all products on and off the construction site in the near future.