Recycling Plastic Containers and Lids, why is Australia so far behind the rest of the World?

The different Container Recycling schemes running across Australia has shown once again that not having a single federal entity responsible creates a bureaucratic mess with massive duplication in costs for all involved and a minefield with different rules for each state creating confusion about what can and cannot be recycled.

Not a single state has chosen the Reverse Vending Machine model at the point of sale like successful implementations in places like Germany and instead the requirement is for millions of trips to be made to dedicated recycling sites which does nothing but harm the environment.

The next issue is that most states don’t recycle the plastic lids and require you to remove them before you return them and throw them into bins that are destined for landfill. This is contrary to the practices of other countries that have invested in recycling facilities and shows that once again our recycling in Australia in a joke. Organisations like Envirobank further confuse the issue with their ideas on how container lids should be handled and recommend that you put them into your recycle bin or use them for other purposes!

Did you know that the plastic in the lids are different to the plastic in bottles? This means they need to be recycled differently. Not only that, but if recycling batches are contaminated with lids it can mean the whole lot might get sent into landfill (Noooo!).

When lids enter a recycling facility’s sorting process, they often get lost along the way because of their small size and weight, and are then sent on to landfills. What a waste – right!

When lids are included in the recycling at our drop points it can wreak havoc on our machinery – causing technical issues, risking personal injury, and delaying your Crunch Credits being issued! So always make sure to remove the lids before dropping them in.

Loose lids on their own can be too small to be picked up by depot sorting machines which means they often get sorted out and end up in landfill.

Place your loose lids into a larger plastic bottle, like a milk bottle, before adding them to your yellow council bin for recycling so they are contained and make their way through the recycling machines.

Look for alternative ways to reuse them. For example, ask if your local schools and pre-schools would like to take some for their craft-hour.

23rd of June 2019 | Envirobank

The truth is that the lids don’t need to be removed as they can be recycled at the same time as the bottles and automatically separated during the washing process. If the lid is removed before this occurs it will likely end up in landfill. Some Australian States and organisations will tell you to remove the lid and put it into a recycling bin but this will see it likely end up in landfill due to it’s size.

In fact by being told that we can recycle without the lids this has created an issue with bottle lids now being in the top 5 items being found in beach cleaning and litter monitoring around the world. The top 5 in order of number are

  1. Fishing Gear
  2. Plastic Bags and Utensils
  3. Balloons
  4. Cigarette Butts
  5. Bottle Caps

In the summer of 2016, The North Sea Foundation and more than 2,000 volunteers picked up as many bottle caps as they could find along the entire Dutch North Sea coast. These bottle caps were analysed one by one. The survey shows the quantity, type and origins of the bottle caps that pollute the North Sea and its beaches.

The biggest issue in Australia is that we generally just send our recycling to other countries for them to deal with and each council area differs in their approach, some even send recycling to landfill directly as we have seen many times recently.

The following is from The Association of Plastic Recyclers who have an excellent FAQ that illustrates how far behind we are in Australia.

Caps On – Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve always heard that plastic recyclers needed caps to be taken off? Why make the change?
Two key reasons: First, when recycling gets easier, participation goes up. APR is dedicated to boosting participation in recycling programs. Second, the cap material is recyclable. Why dispose something that could be recycled? In the past the plastics recycling industry was not able to effectively recycle bottles with caps on so the message to remove the cap was created. Recycling collection and processing technology has improved, demand for the recyclable material has increased allowing the current caps on recycling message and process.

Are recycled caps marketable?
Yes. Generally, caps are made out of high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) – both of these have high demand from applications in both domestic and export markets.

Caps are usually made of a different type of plastic than bottles. Do they have to be recycled separately?
No. Although closures may be made of a different material than the bottle, bottles are ground into flake before being vigorously washed in the recycling process. The washed cap material is then separated from the bottle material during a water bath float/sink process. PET will sink, PP and HDPE will float. Both materials are then recycled into new items.

Should bottles and containers be flattened before replacing the cap?
APR’s primary message is EMPTY AND REPLACE CAP. According to a recent MRF Material Flow Study, flattening bottles can lead to improper sortation, and they may end up in the paper stream. Retaining a 3D form can help containers be successfully sorted.

Can bales of bottles with caps on be marketed at the same rate as bales without caps?
Yes. APR’s model bale specifications do not downgrade for the inclusion of caps. APR member companies regularly buy and recycle bales of caps-on bottles and containers.

Can I get a good bale compaction rate with caps on bottles?
Yes. Good bale density is important – too light and it’s hard to hit load requirements. Too tight and the material is over compacted, and recyclers cannot break them apart very well. While the answer varies by the type of baler, generally speaking 100-120psi of pressure should allow most balers to compress plastic bottles with caps on. Large-scale 2 ram systems, most commonly used in MRFs, should have no trouble as they often range in the 150-300+ psi range. A single ram, closed door baler usually operates at 70-120 psi. While larger balers of this format should be fine, those running at the low end of that range will generally have trouble securing a good bale. A single ram extrusion auto tie also needs to operate more at 100-120psi range but there’s some finesse needed. By running a load of cardboard before the bottles, the operator then gains something hard to push against and should be able to reach compaction.

Must the bottles go through a perforator machine before baling in order to get a good compaction rate?
Generally, no. Most current Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) do not operate a perforation machine to puncture the bottles before baling. Heavy duty horizontal balers take care of the job using plenty of pressure.

Will the caps shoot off during baling?
APR strongly suggests all baler safety equipment such as guards be left untampered, unmodified, and unchanged to prevent incidents and accidents. Rupturing bottles in a baler can create projectiles and baler manufacturers have included the guards for worker protection.

Are there things I can do to design my products to make them more recyclable?
Yes. The APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability is the most comprehensive design resource outlining the plastics recycling industry’s recommendations in the marketplace today with the ultimate goal of all plastic packaging to be compatible with the plastics recycling infrastructure. Size and shape are critical parameters in MRF sorting, and this must be considered in designing packages for recycling. Items smaller than three inches in all dimensions are non-recyclable per APR. Most caps are smaller than three inches. If they are not replaced on bottles, they will not be recycled, and end up in the landfill.

Are metal caps really a problem?
Yes. Steel caps may damage machinery and aluminum caps may slow down production. They may cause contamination issues in the float/sink process, as they sink with PET material. Metal caps may also cause plastic bottles and containers to be separated from the plastics stream in the eddy current (magnetic) step of the sortation process at the MRF.

My MRF says that they do not accept caps on plastic containers. What should I do?
Please let them know that APR supports caps and closures to remain on containers before being placed in a recycling cart or bin. We understand that for some MRF’s accepting caps on is readily done and for some it is a challenge. Our message is that the market accepts bales for which the caps and closures are left on the bottles, but the equipment and policies at the local level may take time to adapt. Please feel free to share this information or direct your MRF officials to: www.plasticsrecycling.org.

New road rules in Australia that will do nothing but kill people, logic once again out the window!

At first glance the road rules introduced by South Australia and now NSW and Victoria are there to save lives but the reality is all they do is kill people. No-one is suggesting that emergency workers do not deserve protection on the road but the rules introduced to save them have done anything but and have costs lives, people licenses and created confusion where you have different laws in different states that have not been communicated properly to the drivers especially those from interstate.

This points again to the problems with Australia where each state whilst following the Australian Road Rules also introduce their own laws without any regard to other states nor looking at the experiences in other countries.

These are the road rules in question for each of the states that have introduced them and following them is the simple rule that all drivers across Australia should be using.

South Australia

Drivers are now required to travel at 25km/h when driving through an emergency service speed zone. This law came into effect on 1 September 2014.

The 25km/h Emergency Service Speed Zone applies on an area of road:

  • In the immediate vicinity of an emergency service vehicle that has stopped on the road and is displaying a flashing blue or red light; or
  • Between two sets of flashing blue or red lights that have been placed by an emergency worker at either end of a length of road on which an emergency vehicle has stopped.
  • It does not apply if you are driving on a road that is divided by a median strip and the emergency service speed zone is on the other side of the road beyond the median strip.

An emergency services vehicle includes:

  • Ambulance
  • Fire service vehicle (CFS, MFS or Federal Aviation Rescue)
  • State Emergency Services (SES) vehicle
  • Police.

Penalties are the same as speeding, if in a 80, 100 or 110kph zone and you can’t or don’t slow down you face immediate loss of license no matter what state you come from.

Victoria

From 1 July 2017 you must slow down to a speed that would enable you to stop safely when approaching and passing enforcement, emergency or escort vehicles that are stationary or moving slowly (less than 10km/h)*, and have either:

  • Red and blue flashing lights
  • Magenta (purple flashing lights)
  • An alarm sounding.

You must not exceed 40km/h when passing the vehicle and not increase your speed until a safe distance from the scene (more on this below).

The new road rule does not apply to vehicles on the opposite side of a divided road (separated by a median strip) from an emergency or enforcement vehicle scene.

  • A fire truck extinguishing roadside spot fires is an example of a slow moving emergency vehicle.

A ‘safe distance’ has not been defined in the road rule because every incident will be different.

The infringement penalty for breaching the new road rule is 1.75 penalty units ($272.05), with the maximum court penalty of 5 penalty units ($777.30). No demerit points apply.

NSW

The new rule from the 1st of September 2018 requires motorists to slow down to 40km/h when passing a stationary emergency vehicle displaying blue or red flashing lights.

The rule also requires motorists to give way to any person on foot in the immediate area of the emergency vehicle. Motorists should not increase their speed until they are a safe distance past the vehicle.

For everyone’s safety, motorists must slow down to 40km/h when passing stationary emergency vehicles displaying blue or red flashing lights
The rule applies to vehicles travelling in both directions, unless the road is divided by a median strip

Motorists who do not comply with the rule will face a $448 fine and three demerit points with the maximum court penalty of $2,200.

Western Australia

SLOMO (Slow Down, Move Over) law was introduced on the 2nd of March 2018.

The SLOMO law requires drivers to slow down to 40 km/h when approaching specific stationary emergency vehicles which are displaying flashing lights while attending an incident.

SLOMO applies to all emergency service vehicles and first response personnel who need to attend to roadside incidents very quickly. Their priority is the safety and survival of the person requiring assistance.

As well as emergency vehicles, SLOMO includes tow trucks, RAC roadside assistance patrol vehicles, and Main Roads Incident Response Vehicles, which assist with the removal of broken down vehicles and debris.

Vehicles travelling in oncoming traffic from the other direction will not be required to slow down.

However, if there is an incident that has occurred in the middle of the road or on a median strip for instance, traffic in both directions would be required to slow down if lanes in both directions are affected by an incident.

The penalty for this offence is three demerit points and $300.

Summary

Four states with four different laws that apply to different vehicles.

  • South Australia fines you for exceeding the 25kph speed limit and loss of license is easy, another state has a fine but no demerit points and two other states have different demerit points and fines.
  • Victoria requires you to slow for slow moving or stationary vehicles and the other three only for stationary.
  • West Australia requires you to move over where possible, the other three do not.
  • West Australia also doesn’t apply to traffic coming in the other direction without a median strip whereas the others do.
  • Each state applies the laws to different emergency vehicles and one includes roadside service.
  • Every state has different interpretations of how soon you can speed up again.

Problems with implementation

Victoria didn’t enter the correct offence code so all fines had to be withdrawn as three points were assigned to those fines when no points should apply. However police started issued summons to appear in court until the issue was resolved. [source]


It took just one day after Victoria’s new 40km/h speed limit when passing emergency vehicles was introduced before a big truck slammed into the rear of a small sedan writing it off. [source]


A NSW driver who was unaware of the 25km/h rule in South Australia was fined $1007, disqualified from driving for 6 months after driving past two police cars with their red and blue lights on in early 2018 before laws were introduced in NSW. The police were located 12m off the road and she passed them at a speed of 85km/h hour in a 110km/h zone. The driver was a female on her own travelling from Northern NSW to visit friends in Adelaide, she had driven for 49 years with no infringements and had to find a place to store her caravan and organise a lift to get back home. [source]


South Australian Police and RAA suggested an increase in speed to 40km/h”But SAPOL and the RAA said it had led to a potentially dangerous situation on stretches of high-speed road — the South-Eastern Freeway in particular.” The government however refuse to increase the speed. [source]


More ambiguity around the new laws with NSW Roads Minister, Melinda Pavey claiming that it’s up motorists how fast they slow down and to what speed. “In response to these concerns, NSW Roads Minister, Melinda Pavey, said it is up to motorists to assess whether it is safe to slow all the way down to 40km/h.

“To slam your breaks on to get down to 40 is dangerous and no one expects people to be driving in an unsafe manner,” she told ABC radio.

“We must be aware of what is behind us, appreciating and respecting that it takes a truck a lot longer to slow down.”” [source]


Cop injured under emergency speed rule [source]

What should we do?

Implement an Australian wide law similar to the United States move over laws which refer to requiring drivers to give a one lane buffer to stopped emergency vehicles. For example, while driving in the right lane, if the driver sees a stopped police car, the driver is required to move one lane over to the left to give enough buffer space to avoid any potential accidents.

Communicate changes to laws such as this by including an insert with vehicle registration papers as not everyone watches TV or reads News Papers to see advertising that is costly and ineffective. Distribute for free printed road rule refreshers at newsagencies, service stations and car servicing locations. Given that most people have to fill their car advertise road rule changes on the pumps or other parts of the service station.

The idea that it’s safe to have to brake heavily from 110km/h to 40km/h or 25km/h shows just how out of touch our lawmakers are.

Another system to use in conjunction with the United States move over laws is to look at how they deal with this in Germany with their unrestricted autobahns, police use a digital sign in the rear window to indicate to the driver to follow and they pull over in a safe location away from the road. Another easy solution to this problem that the Australian Governments will never consider just like the United States one above.

Simply put, Australian Governments will never introduce clear uniform laws across all the states.