Recycler Brad Scott with the bowl he made from 1,870 used bread tags. (ABC South East: Selina Green)
The humble bread tag was once considered waste that could only end up in landfill, but a new partnership between a charity and a small recycling business in regional Australia is changing that.
- The organisation Aussie Bread Tags for Wheelchairs which opened last year collects bread tags which are sold to recyclers like Brad Scott
- From his studio in Robe, South Australia, Mr Scott transforms them into unique bowls
- The money raised pays for wheelchairs for disadvantaged people in South Africa
They hope to encourage more communities to find creative ways to recycle their own small waste.
Aussie Bread Tags for Wheelchairs collects thousands of tags from around Australia, which would otherwise end up in landfill.
All of the tags were once shipped overseas for recycling, but many are now being turned into products like bowls and doorknobs by recycler Brad Scott.
Mr Scott set up his recycling business Transmutation, in Robe — a tourist and fishing village along South Australia’s south east coast, late last year.
Mr Scott receives 50kg of bread tags each month, and the local Men’s Shed and aged care residents have volunteered to help sort them into separate colours. (ABC South East: Selina Green)
The charity and business connected on Facebook and arranged for 50 kilograms of bread tags to be trucked from Adelaide to Robe monthly.
“I can do bread tags, or any sort of polystyrene, Styrofoam, all the types of plastic, but I didn’t have this sort of volume of bread tags,” Mr Scott said.
The beauty of bread tags
Each bowl contains around 1,870 bread tags and is unique — some featuring the hint of a smeared use-by date that is still visible.
“They’re a really great source to recycle because of the size of them and the nice clean plastic as well,” Mr Scott said.
He mixes tags to create the desired colours and uses compression and heat to melt the plastic in a mould, allowing it to cool before adding the finishing touches.
The bowls are hardy, food-safe and microwavable — and can be melted down again by a recycler in future to create other products.
Mr Scott said he only limited by the moulds he has available, with bread tags and materials like bottle tops also melted and transformed into floor tiles, splash backs and cheeseboards.
“This is just the next step on their journey — it’s a circular economy, so you want it to keep going around and around,” he said.
Creating a solution from scratch
Mr Scott built his own workshop machinery using recycled materials, such as kitchen ovens and a car jack.
He taught himself to weld from YouTube videos and utilised open-source plans posted on the internet by Precious Plastics — a free online community of likeminded recyclers.
“You can download the plans — you’ve still got to make them and weld them and get all the bits and pieces, but the designs are there for you,” he said.
Brad Scott built his own recycling machinery using scrap items, such as an old kitchen oven scrounged from a local garage sale. (ABC South East: Selina Green)
Mr Scott said he was speaking to his local council about encouraging` more community recycling.
“To me it’s a future industry. And it’s fun for me to sit here and create something,” he said.
“I think people enjoy seeing the plastic being put in the bin at the front [of the shed] and being made into something here.
“With all the stories about where your recycling goes, they can actually see it turning into something useful.”
Small town can have a major impact
Adelaide’s Jenny Cooper set up the Aussie Bread Tags for Wheelchairs Facebook page in September, last year.
The concept originally began in South Africa in 2006, where individuals and organisations collect bread tags and sell them to recyclers.
The money raised pays for wheelchairs for disadvantaged people in South Africa.
“I just want to show people how easy it is — like one man in a shed and you can do a fair bit,” Mr Scott said.
“I really want to show that in a community about the size of Robe, we can start doing a lot more to recycle the plastics instead of trying to send it somewhere else for someone else to fix the problem.
“We need to bring it back to community and come up with these small industries, and even scale up to a bit larger, but there’s a lot you can do in your own community.”
‘Overwhelming’ response from community
Ms Cooper said the response has been “absolutely overwhelming”.
“We’ve got 180 collection points nationally now and 5,000 followers on Facebook, and everybody wants to do it,” Ms Cooper said.
Jenny Cooper started the Australian chapter of Bread Tags for Wheelchairs last year and now has around 180 collection points Australia-wide. (Supplied: Jenny Cooper)
“I think it’s the dual thing of the environmental aspect and also buying the wheelchairs — people like that combination of things and it’s so easy, everybody can do it.
“We’ve got a lot of childcare centres and schools on board, churches, cafes, businesses, airline lounges.
“A lot of hospital kitchens are doing it and nursing home kitchens — they generally use a lot of bread.
“Even if a family just wants to collect, they can look up on our map and take their 10 bread tags to one of our collection points, and it all adds up.”
Capacity for more
Not all the bread tags collected are able to be recycled in Australia due to a lack of recyclers using the resource.
Those not sent to Robe are sent with travellers to South Africa.
“At the moment we are sending some of them back to South Africa still, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s our only option at this stage,” Ms Cooper said.
“We’re looking for recyclers in other places within Australia so that we can replicate that kind of arrangement.
“Our goal is to have everything recycled within Australia.”