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Plastics packaging recycling rates have increased, according to a survey commissioned by the Australian Packaging Covenant (APC).

The APC commissioned Envisage Works and Sustainable Resource Use (SRU) to undertake the 2015-16 National Recycling and Recovery Survey (NRRS) for plastics packaging.

The survey results show an improved plastics packaging recycling rate of 31.1 per cent, up from the 29.3 per cent in the previous year.

Approximately 263,000 tonnes of plastics packaging was recycled across Australia during the survey period, with a total consumption figure of 844,300 tonnes.

Plastic packaging recovery saw a minor decrease of 5500 tonnes on the 268,500 tonnes of plastics packaging recycled in 2014–15. This represented a decrease of two per cent in overall recovery from 2014-15.

In comparison, total consumption was down by 11 per cent in the same reporting period.

The decrease is driven mostly by a drop in reported locally reprocessed plastic packaging, in tandem with steady exports of plastic packaging recyclate, according to the APC.

Another factor that may have influenced the drop in recovery are low oil and gas prices that have resulted in cheaper virgin resins, the main competitor to recycled plastics.

A general oversupply of virgin polymer manufacturing capacity internationally has also compounded competitive pressure.

A total of 48,100 tonnes of flexible plastics were recycled in 2015–16 compared to 49,700 tonnes in 2014–15. This represents a three per cent decrease in overall recovery year on year, and is a similar result to 2013–14.

Although recycling rates have enjoyed a steady increase, the results highlight a real need for Australia to understand and support plastics closed loop economies, particularly in relation to soft plastics.

This is an area the APC plans to address in its new five-year strategic plan.

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