INTERNATIONAL sustainability economist and plastic circular economies expert Doug Woodring says Australia’s recycling record is behind global standards and lags most OECD countries on diversion from landfill. He believes that this creates an opportunity for Australia to dominate the new $100 billion global plastic circular economy in Asia Pacific, if it acts now.

While a large percentage of Australians want to recycle and actively participate in waste reduction, only 15% of plastics thrown away are recovered, and only half of that is reused in Australia with the remainder exported.

Australia is not alone in the struggle to effectively recover plastics, as most countries face similar issues. However, Doug Woodring believes that Australia is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in the region, and to exploit business opportunities locally and elsewhere globally.

Australia already has successful innovators in this area and is seeing a growing interest in impact investment, governments actively supporting initiatives and Australians strongly committed to recycling.

He says what remains is for Australia to capitalise on the new market opportunity before it is too late.

A 2016 report from the World Economic Forum shows that the plastic recovered and reuse (about 14%) represents 36% of the original value. If end-markets are established to create demand for the other plastics, the forum set a theoretical EU and North America value of $80-120 billion Euro. On very rough GDP calculations, Australia should be seeking an industry in excess of A$3.6 billion.

OECD data from 2015 showed that Australians generated 557kg of municipal waste per person with 47% going to landfill. In the UK, each person generated 489kg of municipal waste with 23% going to landfill.

The 2015 data showed that those in the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Switzerland generated 591kg municipal waste per person with just 0-1% going to landfill.

Doug Woodring and other leading experts in plastic sustainability innovation, capital markets and market opportunities were in Australia in late October attending a global forum called Plasticity.

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