FAQs About Plastics Recycling

Which plastics can I recycle?

A. Most plastic products at the end of their life are able to be recycled when they are put into collection or recovery systems. There are a growing number of recovery systems, depending on where you live.

  • Check with your local Council to see which types of rigid plastic bottles, containers and other packaging they include with their kerbside collection systems
  • The Planet Ark RecyclingNearYou website can help identify what can be recycled where you live
  • Some states have deposit schemes for beverage containers
  • Some supermarkets have collection systems for soft plastics
  • Many offices have collection systems for used printer cartridges

Q. What do the numbers in the triangle mean?

A. The numbers are part of the Plastics Identification Code. They tell recyclers what type of plastic a product is made from.


Q. How are plastics mechanically recycled?

A. They are collected, sorted and baled into like materials, they are then washed and shredded into flakes and then placed into an extruder which is a little like an old-fashioned mincer or a spaghetti maker. The plastic is melted, pushed through the extruder, cooled and pressed through a die and chopped or pelletised into granules (recyclates) similar to virgin material. It is then ready for remaking into new products.

Q. Is the plastic the same after this has happened or does it lose some of its strength?

A. Yes, it does lose some of its original stability, there are sometimes specks of dirt, that can affect it, the original molecular make-up is changed a little therefore it is not quite as easy to make it back into the item it was originally. It can be recycled back into the same items, but it often needs the help of some virgin materials to achieve a quality result.

Q. How much plastic is used in in Australia?

A. Approximately 3.4M tonnes were used in Australia is 2017/18. 1.3M tonnes (38 per cent) were products made in Australia from local and imported resins, 1,981,000 tonnes (58 per cent) were imported plastics finished and semi-finished goods, and 125,100 tonnes (4 per cent) was locally processed recyclate into local use.[1].

Q. How much plastic is recycled in Australia?

A. In 2017/18, 320,000 tonnes of plastic was recycled – 163,000 tonnes from municipal sources, mainly kerbside, 151,000 tonnes from commercial and industrial and 6,000 tonnes from construction and demolition[2]

Q. What does recycled plastics get made into?

A. Recycled plastics are used to manufacture wheelie bins, outdoor furniture, timber substitute planking used in jetties and walking tracks, pipes, mud flaps, traffic calming equipment, water meter covers, pots for plants, crates, pallets, garden edging, bags, worm farms, compost bins. More products are being developed as more recycled material becomes available.

Q. Are there other solutions for plastics packaging and other used products?

A. In addition to mechanical recycling the energy from plastics can be recovered to provide energy and steam as an alternative fuel source. Plastics are derived from natural gas and petroleum refining processes, so they are a valuable fuel source in countries where fuel is expensive. In Europe during 2018, energy recovery accounted for 42.6 per cent of the plastic post-consumer waste treated, 32.5 per cent was mechanically recycled and 24.9 per cent was landfilled[3].

Chemical recycling is a further technology that typically alters the physical form of used plastics, either by dissolving the plastic with chemicals or using heat to break down plastics into their original components. The results are plastics in a purified form or chemical products and feedstocks that are then used to create new plastics, fuels or other products.

[1] '2017-18 Australian Plastics Recycling Survey – National Report’ Envisage Works

[2] '2017-18 Australian Plastics Recycling Survey – National Report’ Envisage Works

[3] 'Plastics - the Facts 2019’, Plastics Europe