The War on Waste Meet the busi­nesses find­ing cre­ative ways to up­cy­cle plas­tic.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - NOVEMBER -

Scary sta­tis­tics, guilt­driven pro­pa­ganda, harsh penal­ties and a planned na­tion­wide sup­ply short­age: no, we’re not talk­ing about an oil cri­sis, out­break of crime or a vi­ral plague, we’re talk­ing about the hum­ble drink­ing straw. The tubu­lar piece of light plas­tic might make an icy drink more plea­sur­able to con­sume, but it has also in re­cent times be­come a sym­bol for the war on waste, tar­get­ing bars and bar­tenders, con­sumers and super­mar­kets.

The straw is just one of the so-called big four of plas­tic pol­lu­tants, to­gether with the shop­ping bag, dis­pos­able cof­fee cup and wa­ter bot­tle. In Aus­tralia, Coles and Wool­worths have an­nounced plans to stop sell­ing plas­tic straws by the end of 2018. But is the war on waste a doomed one? A fu­tile bat­tle where scare tac­tics won’t cre­ate pos­i­tive buy­ing pat­terns? Ac­cord­ing to some Aus­tralian en­trepreneurs, it might be time for a mind­set change, where re­cy­cled plas­tic is viewed as the new power ma­te­rial.

Eva McKin­ley, founder of The Last Straw, a cam­paign aim­ing to re­duce the use of plas­tic straws in Aus­tralia, says, “It’s al­ways bet­ter to change peo­ple’s be­hav­iour of their own vo­li­tion than by force. If only peo­ple who re­ally needed to use the straws would use them, such as the dis­abled com­mu­nity, then we wouldn’t have this prob­lem.”

In the USA alone, 500 mil­lion straws are used ev­ery day. McKin­ley says the daily fig­ure be­ing used in Aus­tralia is 10 mil­lion. Many of those straws end up in the ocean, harm­ing ma­rine life.

McKin­ley be­lieves no al­ter­na­tive to straws is the best al­ter­na­tive. “We need to ad­dress con­sump­tion as a whole. That piece of dis­pos­able plas­tic with a life span of 20 min­utes, do we re­ally need to use it?” she says. “When you go into a restau­rant you don’t eat with plas­tic cut­lery, you use metal, so the same should go for any other food uten­sil.”

This year, McKin­ley has suc­cess­fully cam­paigned for the Solo­tel hos­pi­tal­ity group to stop us­ing one mil­lion straws each year at the Syd­ney Opera House, and then in Septem­ber Vir­gin Aus­tralia an­nounced the re­moval of plas­tic straws and stir­rers from their flights. “By the time you add Grill’d, McDon­ald’s, your lo­cal RSL, it all adds up.”

How­ever, Perth en­gi­neer and en­tre­pre­neur Dar­ren Lom­man says plas­tic straws and sin­gle-use plas­tic bags from super­mar­kets are not the prob­lem, or the so­lu­tion — the big­ger re­cy­cling pic­ture is what’s wor­ry­ing him.

The for­mer West Aus­tralian Young Aus­tralian of the Year has spent re­cent years trac­ing what hap­pens to our care­fully sorted re­cy­cling once it leaves our kerb­side yel­low-lid bins, and it’s not good news. “Here in Western Aus­tralia, we have zero plas­tic re­cy­cling. None of the plas­tic we put in those bins gets re­pro­cessed,” he says. “Our only op­tion is to ship it by the tonne.”

We need to ad­dress con­sump­tion. That piece of dis­pos­able plas­tic, do we re­ally need it?

This bulk waste would pre­vi­ously travel to coun­tries such as China — and not for re­cy­cling pur­poses, either. “Once it left our port, we wouldn’t care what hap­pened to it past that point,” he says. “China burns 25 mil­lion plas­tic bot­tles a day — they need this waste to gen­er­ate their elec­tric­ity.”

Ear­lier this year, China banned the im­port of for­eign waste but Lom­man says Aus­tralia’s so­lu­tion so far hasn’t been a proac­tive one. “We’ll just find an­other coun­try like Bangladesh, In­done­sia or Malaysia to ship it to. We’re now nine months into the ban. It’s caused chaos but we still have no re­pro­cess­ing in this state. Aus­tralia is a pretty wealthy coun­try. Why are we not tak­ing charge of our plas­tic?”

So Lom­man him­self de­cided to take ac­tion. His com­pany GreenBatch is cur­rently build­ing WA’s first plas­tic re­cy­cling plant, which will turn PET plas­tic bot­tles into fil­a­ment for use in 3D print­ers. The col­lected plas­tic bot­tles will be washed, shred­ded and melted down into pel­lets, which can then be used just like vir­gin plas­tic, in­clud­ing be­ing made into long strands of 3D prin­ter fil­a­ment. So far, in the early de­vel­op­men­tal stages, the com­pany has pro­duced small items such as pot plants, vases, key rings, cookie cut­ters, fid­get spin­ners — but Lom­man says the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less, and the plant aims to process 15,000 bot­tles an hour. “We are speak­ing with the roads depart­ment about us­ing plas­tic waste as a ma­te­rial in road con­struc­tion and sig­nage. Plas­tic is a won­der­ful ma­te­rial, it’s amaz­ing from an en­gi­neer­ing point of view. It’s light, strong, af­ford­able, it can be re­cy­cled again and again.”

Lom­man says that the war shouldn’t be on plas­tic, but on the pol­lu­tion its in­cor­rect treat­ment and pro­cess­ing re­sults in — whether it be in the air, on the ground, or in the wa­ter. As for the straw and bag ban, Lom­man says it’s a very small drop in a pol­luted ocean.

“It’s easy to ban those things be­cause it’s ba­si­cally the low-hang­ing fruit, but that’s not go­ing to save our planet. It’s not the so­lu­tion,” he says. “We need to ad­dress plas­tic waste at a scale that’s ac­tu­ally go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence, at a sys­temic, eco­nomic level. I sup­port them be­ing re­duced. But don’t stop there. We’re not shift­ing far enough or fast enough.”

The list of en­trepreneurs keen to ad­dress the global plas­tic waste prob­lem is grow­ing, with pos­i­tive re­pur­pos­ing and up­cy­cling sto­ries on ev­ery con­ti­nent.

In many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, the hum­ble plas­tic bag is turned from a banned item into a fash­ion piece, in the form of wal­lets, hand­bags, hats and home dé­cor. In South Africa, en­trepreneurs Thato Kgatl­hanye and Rea Ng­wane sup­ply hun­dreds of school chil­dren with Re­pur­pose School­bags, made with re­cy­cled plas­tic waste and fea­tur­ing a

Aus­tralia is a pretty wealthy coun­try. Why are we not tak­ing charge of plas­tic?

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT Eva McKin­ley; more com­pa­nies are ban­ning plas­tic straws; stain­less steel straws are a pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive.

CLOCK­WISE FROM BE­LOW Re­cy­cling com­pany Green Batch; plas­tic bot­tles can be used to cre­ate new prod­ucts; 3D prin­ter fil­a­ment cre­ated from other plas­tic.

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