Sustainable Plastics Recovery guide

Chemistry Australia, as part of the global plastics industry, has developed the Sustainable Plastics Recovery guide to improve how used plastic products are recovered conserve precious resources and energy in the process.

Chemistry Australia has a policy position of working to eliminate plastic waste to landfill. After serving out a useful purpose as a product, plastics are able to be recycled into a range of material or energy types. Plastic products can be mechanically recycled and re-manufactured into a variety of new products. Compostable plastics are able to become compost in commercial facilities. Plastics can also be used as an alternative fuel or energy source.

Generally, all of these options are better than plastic’s resources being locked up and wasted in landfills. Importantly, the different recovery methods each have an environmental contribution in reducing both materials and energies needed to make new products. The waste hierarchy provides a valuable guide to selecting suitable methods.

Sustainable Plastics Recovery guide thumbA Guide to Sustainable Plastics Recovery provides the fundamental principles to be used by governments, industry and communities in best recovering plastics.

This guidance is a non-binding statement of principles and values relating to the management of plastic products at end-of-life.

It is based on a document developed at the 19th Annual Global Meeting on Plastics and the Environment, held in October, 2008 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The meeting was attended by plastics industry associations from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe, India, Japan, South Africa and the USA.

This group of associations, and the plastics industries in various parts of the world they represent, recognise the value and importance of responsibility, leadership and global cooperation in managing environmental issues relating to plastics. This is consistent with the role of plastics providing solutions to the challenges of climate, population and economic change.

The group recognises the role of all types of plastics and that the selection of materials for a given application should be based on technical merit, over whole-of-life, supported by sound science.

Plastics are one of the most resource efficient and versatile materials available to society. Plastics make a significant contribution to the goals of sustainable development:

  • Social progress: plastics provide affordable products giving more people access to higher standards of living, healthcare and information. More than one billion people in the world lack access to safe water. Plastics can save and distribute water economically, reliably and safely.
  • Economic development: the plastics industry chain in Australia adds value to society. It directly employs more than 26,000 people and generates domestic sales in excess of nine billion dollars a year.
  • Environmental protection: plastics help save resources, fossil fuels and energy. Plastics products also save water and preserve food.
  • Using plastics products save energy: 100kg of plastic parts in cars reduce oil consumption by about 12 million tonnes each year in Europe reducing CO2 emissions by 30 million tonnes a year.
  • Plastics protect our food: trays, bags, films and seals extend shelf life and prevent tampering.
  • Renewable energies: rely on plastics (solar panels, wind turbines and batteries).
  • Plastics are too valuable to waste: : this includes end-of-life. After serving a useful purpose, plastics can either be recycled or used as an alternative fuel. Plastic waste has a calorific value at least equal to coal and with lower CO2 emissions.
  • Responsible use: The Australian plastics industry takes an active role in managing its products and how they interact with people and the environment. Operation Clean Sweep targets zero pellet loss.
  • Plastics make our lives safer: Medical equipment, airbags, seatbelts, baby seats, bike helmets and life jackets are just some examples of life-saving products made of plastic.

The building and construction sector is the second largest consumer of plastics (after packaging) in Australia. The sustainable use of plastics in this area will continue to develop due to the design flexibility, light weighting, durability and other environmental gains plastics offer, such as reductions in energy and water usage throughout the life of the home. Plastics continue to replace traditional materials in many types of applications, such as insulation, pipes, water tanks, siding, decking, decorative trim, bathroom fixtures and skylights.

For more information about the use of polymers in the construction industry, please visit the website of the Australian Modern Building Alliance, an initiative of Chemistry Australia.

The word Plastics comes from the Greek word "plastikos", which means easily moulded.

Plastics are made by linking together the atoms of elements and forming long chains of molecules called polymers.

The polymers are formed into products by different processing methods. The most common methods involve heating the plastic until soft, shaping in a mould, and cooling until the plastic is solid and set in its new shape.

Plastics come in all shapes and sizes and are used to make may everyday items you probably take for granted; like bank notes and credit cards, phones, devices and computer parts, insulation and pipes for buildings, food packaging, toys, medical and surgical equipment.


Source: Acil Allen based on American Chemistry Council 2017, Elements of the Business of Chemistry.

Natural Gas As Feedstock

Source: Chemistry Australia


Many of the existing, new and beneficial products that meet our current and future needs are made of plastic. Degradable plastics can give us increased flexibility in the design of materials to make products better-suited to their intended use and also minimise any detrimental impact on the environment at the end of the product’s life.

At end-of-life, products made from any type of degradable or compostable plastic need to degrade in the right place, at the right time and in the right end environment.

For this to happen, industry needs to use clear, accurate and consistent information. When selecting a material, designers and manufacturers must consider a product's end environment and base their selection on sound science that includes proof of compliance to standards that can be independently verified.

Consumers and governments must be assured that performance claims can be met and that product labelling is clear, accurate and honest.