This interview is part of ReCo Circular CityTM 2023 edition, Circular Sydney. For more information, please visit reco.net.au/circular-sydney
Back in the 90s, every night before sleeping, I had one thing to look forward to: goat milk, freshly delivered in a glass bottle the next morning. The empty bottle got taken away at the same time.
The milkman slowly phased out and Mum started to buy milk packaged in 250ml cartons. I drank a lot of them. No guilt, until today: the carton, the straw attached, the plastic layer that wrapped up the straw — everything could still exist somewhere in the world.
Australia produces 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, equating to 100 kg per person. Only 13% of plastic is recovered. 84% is sent to landfill. (National Plastics Plan 2021)
Can we summon the milkman to help tackle the waste crisis? We should, not only for milk, but for everything that requires single-use plastic packaging. Here's why:
1. A refill model will help solve the problem within the recycling industry
Before the waste import ban, Australia exported about 4.5m tonnes of waste to Asia each year (The Guardian).
Since then the Australian government has announced to form a $600m Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) with state and territory governments and industry investments.
Ambitious goals include having 70% of plastic packaging recycled or composted, and phasing out unnecessary single-use plastic packaging by 2025.
But all is not that simple, and therefore, the progress is slow.
It took 3 years for the government to announce the funds, since China announced the waste import ban in 2018. It'll take some time for the funds to hit the ground working. Let's do the math: the $190m funding is said to divert 10,000 tonnes of waste — that's really just 0.22% of the yearly exported waste.
And don't forget every minute we're still generating waste.
Ultimately, we should reduce and reuse because it's a solution that we can already do at an individual level, but at a mass scale. The less we throw into the recycling, the less it costs to recover wastes. If we could do it at scale, it would make it much easier to achieve the ambitious goals by 2025.
2. A refill model requires only minimal energy
Recycling saves energy compared to using raw resources. But don't forget the process of transporting, sorting, heating, cooling, processing and manufacturing recycled products also consumes energy.
Plus, not all products can be made from 100% recycled materials. Plastic is also not infinitely recyclable, and will eventually become waste that nobody wants.
In other words, recycling is a great solution but should be our last option.
According to Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a refill model could save 80-85% carbon emissions created by the single-use model. We really just need to make packaging reusable, give it a good, quick clean, and it's ready to go again. No bin required.
The modern milkman could bring a significant impact
Based on the circular economy framework, we think the ideal version of the modern milkman should be:
Design and manufacture reusable packaging using recycled material that can also be recycled infinitely.
Operate and deliver locally and minimise delivery packaging.
Products being used locally.
Packaging returned to the milkman, cleaned with minimum water and energy usage.
Back in the system again.
Just like the recycling industry, anything at scale takes time. Essentially, the problem we're trying to solve are deeply rooted in our economic system, the supply chain and our culture.
When done right, the modern milkman could bring a significant impact to help transition to a circular economy, along with the recycling industry. What we need to do is continue to build the infrastructure and cultivate conscious user behaviour. That is, the old saying – reduce, reuse, recycle.
This Interview is part of Circular Sydney.
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Circular Sydney shares the stories of visionary individuals and organisations who are pioneering change, overcoming challenges and reshaping Sydney’s sustainable future. Circular Sydney is proudly supported by the City of Sydney Knowledge Exchange Grant.
Refillable eco-friendly products, delivered in your local areas
Get our refillable laundry powder and dishwasher powder, proudly made by SimplyClean from Lismore, NSW. We collect your empty glass jar and deliver your refill to help reduce plastic waste and carbon emissions.