City News

Sea change for recycling plastic waste

Waste Warriors: waste plastic recyclers Will of Defy Design with Flo, AJ and Josh of Seaside Scavenge. Photo: Alec Smart

BY ALEC SMART

Scavengers took to the inner west bays of Sydney Harbour on Nov 23 to help clean up our shoreline. Seaside Scavenge, a non-profit organisation that has been clearing Australian waterways of garbage since 2015, hosted the first Harbourside Challenge in Jubilee Park in Glebe, partnered with Defy Design plastic recyclers.

A team of volunteers, mainly residents from the surrounding community, picked up loose trash from the banks of Rozelle Bay, Blackwattle Bay and Johnston’s Creek, which they exchanged for tokens. For every 10 pieces of litter collected, participants were awarded a token to trade in for assorted second-hand books and clothing at a pop-up market in Jubilee Park.

The Sydney-based Seaside Scavenge has previously hosted clean-ups along the NSW coast as well as inland, including Jindabyne in the snow country, where a significant number of disposable items, such as food and drink containers, wash down from ski resorts in the Snowy Mountains. This waste typically collects in the Snowy River, which flows 350km from the NSW snowfields through Victoria before pouring into the ocean at Bass Strait.

Waste Warriors
Seaside Scavenge Director, Anna Jane – ‘AJ’ – told City Hub: “The idea to retrieve and recycle waste from our waterways started as an incentive-based approach, so Australians can see it’s a problem here, not just in ‘developing’ countries. We find 82% of participants on our scavenge events have never done a clean-up before. We funnel them to become more aware ‘Waste Warriors’: to not just look at litter as waste but as a resource that should be valued.
There is a lot of public awareness of marine debris, but much of it travels via inland rivers to the sea. By recycling that waste we offer a solution-based approach to the problem. It’s not just about picking up litter, we need to recycle and reuse it – but don’t buy recyclable plastic if it’s not made of recycled products.”

The trash, including coffee cups, crisp packets, drink containers, plastic cutlery and beer bottles, was sorted and catalogued in Jubilee Park by volunteers working for the Australian Marine Debris Database. This data is being collated to identify the biggest polluters and risks to Australia’s marine environment.
The plastic was then separated and team members from Defy Design, an Inner West Council-funded pilot project that crafts functional objects from plastic waste, recycled it on the spot.

Utilising a portable micro-factory with small-scale machinery set up in Jubilee Park, Defy Design grated the plastic waste objects into small flakes, placed the flakes into shaped compression moulds, and heated them up in an electric oven, which melted the scraps into bowls or coasters.
Some of the bowls featured vivid colours and trippy patterns that resembled the psychedelic-era clothing The Beatles’ wore during their Sergeant Pepper phase.

Recycle by numbers
Defy Design’s Emily Rossi explained to City Hub: “Whilst Seaside Scavenge collect trash, we take what doesn’t go to kerbside recycling facilities like Return & Earn cashback. This includes coffee cup lids, plastic cutlery, large milk containers and bottle tops.
We look firstly for the triangular symbol on the base of most plastic objects, where the numbers 1 – 7 tell you what type of plastic it is. We recycle numbers 2, 4, 5 and 6, because they are easy to melt down and there are no UV stabilisers in the plastic. Number 2, HDPE [high-density polyethylene] is the best because it can be recycled again and again and doesn’t have strong fumes when heated.
Number 1, PET [polyethylene terephthalate] is usually clear and the most common food and drink containers. Return & Earn take them. Number 3, PVC [polyvinyl chloride] is not recyclable, and number 7 is a big group of plastics, including nylon, which melt at different temperatures and don’t bond together.

“We’re working with designers to develop our product range to include dog leash handles and pot plants, but for the moment we make bowls, coasters and rings. We place the moulds for half an hour in a converted kitchen oven that is pre-heated to 180 degrees where the plastic is melted until malleable. Once it has cooled it is very strong – basically it’s the same material as milk crates.
A bowl typically consists of 350 grams of recycled plastic – about 12 milk bottles. However, they’re not microwave-friendly nor are they accredited food-safe. Basically, they make excellent desk tidies or dog drinking bowls – they’re very pretty but for decorative or storage purposes, not eating.”

City Hub examined a pretty, multicoloured bowl, fresh out of the oven, and learned it was recycled from 3 apple juice lids, 3 milk bottle lids, 1 chewing gum bottle and 6 flavoured milk bottles.

For more information on Seaside Scavenge, visit: www.seasidescavenge.org
For more information on Defy Design, visit: www.defydesign.org

Upcoming scavenges include:

Cronulla Beach, Sunday 8 December
Dunningham Park, Cronulla, from 09.00-13.00
https://www.seasidescavenge.org/upcoming-scavenges/2019/12/8/cronulla-seaside-scavenge

Bronte Beach, Sunday 19 January
Bronte Park, from 09.00-13.00
https://www.seasidescavenge.org/upcoming-scavenges/2020/1/19/summerama-seaside-scavenge

Bondi Beach, Sunday 16 February
Bondi Park, from 09.00-13.00
https://www.seasidescavenge.org/upcoming-scavenges/2020/2/16/bondi-seaside-scavenge