Are Soft Plastics Recyclable? The Short Answer Is Yes, BUT!

If soft plastics are recyclable, why are they not being recycled in Australia? The short answer is that we consume more soft plastic than we currently have the infrastructure to recycle.

300,000 tonnes of plastics are sent to landfill each year.....

and for a long time, soft plastics were unable to be recycled. Companies like REDcycle stepped up to help tackle the overwhelming statistic. REDcycle created a model for collecting soft plastics from consumers, partnering with major brands including Coles and Woolworths, and then sending the plastics to their partner recyclers.

What happened to REDcycle?

Australians began recycling a whopping 5 million pieces of plastic per day through the REDcycle program. Australians were doing it and doing it well. However, due to the rapid volume of plastics being recycled, the pandemic & other unforeseen challenges, REDcycle’s partners became unable to accept & process the volume they were receiving. As a result, REDcycle’s program was put on hold in November 2022. 

So, what is the silver lining to come out of this? Australians, more than ever, are aware of their plastics consumption. They are on board with the mission, researching ways they can initiate recycling themselves and finding alternatives to the soft plastics they can avoid. The good news on soft plastics recycling is that there is an infrastructure on its way, however, it will be around 1-2 years before it is fully operational.

How can your industry help?

Through the Sustainable Salons program, we collect soft plastics via our Plastics bin for members wanting to recycle the plastics used in their business. 

Salon owners can also reduce their soft plastics consumption using some of the recommendations below.

  • Avoid giving out soft plastics to clients when making sales and encourage them to bring their own reusable bags or containers for products
  • Educate staff and clients on the importance of reducing waste and recycling properly
  • Take note of how salon stock is packaged when it arrives. Ensure you are partnering with brands that are choosing sustainable packaging and materials
  • Make sustainable swaps
  • Look for plastic-free packaging alternatives such as glass or aluminium jars or containers, which are easily recyclable
  • Use biodegradable or compostable alternatives like biodegradable packing peanuts or compostable mailers

What can salon owners do to assist their clients wanting to recycle their soft plastics?

At this time, Sustainable Salons does not recommend accepting soft plastics from clients, for two reasons:

  1. Soft plastics currently make up less than 5% of the plastics Sustainable Salons collects from our members, and we do not have the infrastructure to sort & process a significantly larger volume of soft plastics.
  2. Our program is specially designed for salon waste, and if we introduce residential waste to our streams, there is a risk of cross-contamination with the other materials we collect. 

We love that salon clients share in our mission to make sustainability reality, so we have listed some tips and alternatives below:

  • Reducing soft plastic consumption where you can. For example, purchasing essential products in bulk rather than purchasing single products wrapped in plastic packaging
  • Use reusable bags for shopping, and keep them in convenient locations such as in the car or by the door. 
  • Encourage clients to switch to reusable alternatives like beeswax wraps instead of cling wrap, or reusable straws instead of plastic straws.
  • Check with your local council to find out if they can accept soft plastics. Some councils are now trialling soft plastics collections
  • Repurpose soft plastics in creative ways, such as for art projects


How is Sustainable Salons closing the loop on soft plastics?

  1. Partnering with Soft Plastics Recycling Specialists: Sustainable Salons is currently working with specific partners who specialise in soft plastics recycling. By partnering with these experts, Sustainable Salons is able to ensure that recycled soft plastics are being put to the best possible use.
  2. Transforming Soft Plastics into Furniture: One exciting initiative that Sustainable Salons has already demonstrated is how soft plastics can be turned into furniture, crafting a 400 kg park bench out of soft plastics recycled by our members.
  3. Transforming Soft Plastics into Oil: Sustainable Salons is also experimenting with a company that will turn more than one ton of our recycled soft plastics into oil. This oil will then be resold to make new recycled plastic. This initiative is an exciting development that offers a circular solution for soft plastics that would have otherwise gone to waste.
  4. Buying & Supplying 100% Post-Consumer Recycled Products: Through our Sustainable Salons program, our members also have access to our Rewards Store where they can purchase a range of environmentally friendly products, including our new 80L Bin Liners made from 100% Australian post-consumer waste providing a circular solution for soft plastics.

Where do we go from here?

For everyday soft plastics, try to reduce, and use as many alternatives as possible to reduce plastics in your daily life. By consciously choosing not to purchase products containing soft plastics, we teach these companies that we want change. By continuing to encourage salon clients and consumers to purchase products that are made from a % of Australian soft plastics, it supports the funding needed to build bigger infrastructure for soft plastic recycling. The same goes for Sustainable Salons; the more people who support Sustainable Salons, the more we grow, the bigger our facilities, and the more materials we can recycle.