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Snapshot: Vinyl Council of Australia’s Sophi MacMillan

In this series of interviews of WARR industry leaders, Inside Waste talks with Vinyl Council of Australia’s chief executives Sophi MacMillan.

What was your first role/job involving waste resource recovery?

Relaunching Vinyl Cycle, a voluntary industry initiative to increase kerbside collection of PVC bottles across Australia for recycling, which diverted around 250 million PVC bottles from landfill, surpassing the initial target of 25 per cent recovery.

In 2000, only five per cent of the 6000 tonnes of PVC bottles produced annually in Australia were being collected at kerbside, and none were being recycled. At the program’s peak, more than half of the PVC bottles were being recovered at MRFs throughout Australia. By 2012, 94 per cent of all households in Councils with populations of 10,000 or more had access to recycling services, which include the collection of the bottles.

What’s the favourite part of your role at The Vinyl Council?

I enjoy working with a wide range of businesses from across the Australian vinyl products value chain to understand PVC product life cycles and work on solutions with industry and stakeholders to advance the industry’s sustainability.

Used in practically every sector of the economy, vinyl accounts for a diverse range of mostly durable, long life products. I love the challenge of the material’s versatility and working with other professionals, businesspeople and consumers to identify potential pathways to address what can – initially – seem like difficult issues.

How has The Vinyl Council changed since you initially became involved?

I’ve been with the Council since its 1998 launch! The Council membership has grown and diversified significantly as more companies recognised the value of our work to advance the industry’s sustainability.

The last decade has seen the most change, as the industry’s voluntary product stewardship program, launched in 2002, reached a level of maturity, and the Best Practice PVC manufacturing accreditation scheme was launched in conjunction with the Green Building Council of Australia.

Improving the circularity of PVC materials in Australia is a key focus. We are looking to address PVC packaging outcomes, further grow the PVC Recycling in Hospitals program, foster research and technology development for PVC waste recycling, encourage the use of recycled PVC (‘recoPVC’) in new products and better measure PVC waste and recycling in Australia.

What are some of your achievements that you are most proud?

Firstly, the continued industry engagement in the PVC Stewardship Program, which requires companies to meet a series of measurable commitments and targets related to the life cycle and circularity of PVC products. Through this, we have driven growth in recoPVC use by local manufacturing signatories – 2500 tonnes of recoPVC over the past four years.

A second program I am proud of initiating is the PVC Recycling in Hospitals program, now operating at over 250 hospitals across Australia and New Zealand. The first of its kind, it collects single use PVC medical items – IV bags, oxygen masks and tubing – for local recycling into new, non-medical applications. In 2019, the program recovered 230 tonnes of PVC, equivalent to over 5.5 million IV bags! The program is now being adopted in other countries such as Thailand, South Africa, USA, Canada and the UK.