PLASTICITY generally refers to an ability to flex and change shape, to adapt easily to changes.
It is perhaps ironic then that plastics as we know them in the modern world are one of the hardest habits for us to break despite our knowledge they are doing harm to our environment in a multitude of ways due to their durability and proliferation into many aspects of our lives.
Plastics Police, then, offers a ray of light. The soft plastics recycling enterprise trialled in Hunter schools as businesses has won $150,000 from the state government as it attempts to turn plastic recycling into a commercial enterprise as much as an environmental one.
Proponent Samantha Cross is clear that recycling itself is no panacea: “At the end of the day there is more plastic than what we can produce things out of,” she said. “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.”
The schools that have taken part in Ms Cross’ trials have concrete results for their efforts, which is no small part of encouraging better behaviour.
Car park wheel stops and benches have arrived at two Hunter schools, seemingly from thin air. But the invisible benefit, thanks to Ms Cross and the schools involved, is the plastic that never entered the ocean or food chain. It is a small contribution to an enormous problem. Estimates put the tonnage of microplastics entering our oceans annually as high as 236,000 tonnes.
It then accumulates on beaches, where researchers from Macquarie University in 2016 found they could flow from small crustaceans into small fish.
An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report released in May found recycling plastic remains largely more expensive than producing it anew.
The report seeks “stronger incentives for better design of plastic goods to ensure easy recycling, as well as investment in waste collection infrastructure”.
Ms Cross concedes there is difficulty in finding places to re-use soft plastics, but showcasing uses is a potent first step. With Lake Macquarie City Council recently awarded for trialling recycled glass in construction projects, the Hunter appears a perfect place to lead the charge on a more flexible approach to plastics.