If you can scrunch it, you can save it.
That’s the ethos of Warners Bay’s Samantha Cross who is using her business know-how to challenge the idea that soft plastics, used to package everything from fruit to furniture, cannot be recycled.
“At the end of the day there is more plastic than what we can produce things out of.
“So we need to reduce.
“But it’s knowing that if we make those changes we could stem the tide of plastics or reverse it,” she said.
Plastic Police, a soft plastics recycling enterprise Ms Cross has been trialing at schools in Merewether, Warners Bay and Belair, as well as businesses Hunter Water and Quarry Mining, has been announced as the recipient of a $150,000 grant from the state government.
The Waste Less Recycle More program provides funding for commercially-oriented projects that divert waste from landfill.
“We need to be creating a circular economy moving away from make, take, dispose,” Ms Cross said.
“Sixty per cent of soft plastics go to landfill, 30 per cent get incorrectly placed into kerbside recycling for hard plastic and only two per cent is going to bring-back schemes.”
Ms Cross said trials of her business model had shown the program was reducing the amount of problematic plastics entering landfill, as well as building interest in environmental protection.
“We offer a collection service to schools and businesses, and every bit of the plastic is weighed. That is so we know what percentage of what is being collected is coming back to the community as a product,” Ms Cross said.
“We try to look for items that are a cost that you’re currently incurring, so that you can just substitute it.”
Schools participating in the project have seen their waste come back as new benches. Belair Primary School’s collection of soft plastics was used to create 179 wheel stops for a renovated car park at Westfield Kotara.
Ms Cross admitted that finding opportunities to reuse soft plastic was “difficult” but interest in growing Australia’s own market for recycling plastics, especially since China’s introduction of the National Sword policy, was promising.
“I’m happy to say there's some amazing new initiatives putting soft plastic into asphalt and other products,” she said.
Ms Cross has an ambition that Plastic Police, run through her Warners Bay waste management consultancy Cross Connections, could provide a regional, if not national, solution to the scourge of soft plastics.
“As a region and a community we’ve got the opportunity to do something with what we collect,” she said.