Jeff Angel, director of the Sydney-based Boomerang Alliance, a group of 56 environmental groups, said: "The collapse of the REDcycle scheme and 'secret stockpiling' has revealed deeper problems that must be fixed if the community is to have confidence in plastics recycling."
He said REDcycle has been a flagship for "industry and government claims they are taking action on soft plastics recycling, but it has only ever been a small operation compared to the 336,000 tons of soft plastics used and dumped every year."
Angel said the fundamental problem of the lack of a market could only be fixed by mandatory recycled content rules, which were opposed by industry and government.
"All producers need to be part of a mandatory product stewardship scheme that requires investment in comprehensive collection systems and use of the material in new products. Reliance on the voluntary approach was always going to fail," Angel said.
"REDcycle and buyers of the collected plastics have been a good proving ground, but much more needs to be done to make it mainstream."
Professor Veena Sahajwalla, from the School of Materials Science & Engineering at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, echoed Angel's view.
She said: "Any schemes to recycle are welcome but what is really needed is a more coordinated, systematic process around recycling the many problematic wastes not normally subject to traditional recycling services, including soft plastics and plastic/mixed material packaging."
She said a lack of recycling facilities, cost barriers for industry and councils, and technology to enable problematic wastes to be recycled contribute to the problem.
Sahajwalla also called for stronger product stewardship to make product producers and consumers more accountable when products reached their "so-called end of life, and better collection and recycling, using new technologies to extract and reform the valuable elements they contain."
Shane Cucow, plastics spokesperson with the Brisbane-based Australian Marine Conservation Society, agrees. He said the only real solution is for governments to mandate plastic reduction targets for big companies.
"Due to problems with degradation, soft plastics [can] only be recycled into low-quality products, such as road base, park benches and playground equipment. But our oceans are drowning in plastic, and there's only so many park benches we can build," Cucow said.
The Federal Government's 2021 National Plastics Plan (NPP) says more than 1 million tons of single-use plastic goes straight to landfills and about 130,000 tons of plastic leaches into Australian waterways and oceans annually.
NPP statistics said in 2020 that 12 percent of plastic waste was recycled and 81 percent went into landfills.