The Hidden Impact of Recycling: Microplastics and Climate Reporting

Alfred Tang

Hatched by Alfred Tang

Mar 11, 2024

3 min read


The Hidden Impact of Recycling: Microplastics and Climate Reporting


Recycling has long been touted as a solution to our plastic waste problem, but recent findings reveal a darker side to this seemingly eco-friendly practice. Not only does recycling contribute to the release of microplastics, but it also intersects with climate reporting requirements. In this article, we will explore the connection between recycling and microplastic pollution, as well as the implications for climate reporting.

The Microplastic Dilemma:

While recycling centers are meant to reduce plastic waste, they inadvertently contribute to the proliferation of microplastics. Studies have shown that plastic particles can be released into wastewater during the recycling process, with up to 75 billion particles per cubic meter being emitted. Moreover, recycling facilities themselves can become hotspots for airborne microplastics, posing health risks to workers.

Diminishing Returns of Recycling:

Recycling is not a foolproof solution to our plastic problem. Each time a plastic item is recycled, its material degrades, making it less suitable for further recycling. This means that the lifespan of a plastic bottle, for example, is limited in terms of how many times it can be recycled. Ultimately, recycling alone cannot solve the plastic pollution crisis.

The Intersection of Recycling and Climate Reporting:

In addition to the microplastic issue, recycling also intersects with climate reporting requirements. The Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB) has introduced reporting standards that require entities to disclose their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These standards are being rolled out in phases, with different deadlines for different groups of entities.

Entities in Group 1 are required to comply with the reporting standards from 1 July 2024, while Group 2 entities have until 1 July 2026, and Group 3 entities until 1 July 2027. The focus of the reporting is on climate-related financial disclosures, with an emphasis on GHG emissions. This shift from sustainability to climate reporting highlights the growing importance of addressing climate change within financial reporting frameworks.

Challenges in GHG Measurement:

Measuring GHG emissions accurately is a complex task. While there are methodologies and frameworks in place, such as the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) Scheme in Australia, entities still face challenges in converting emissions into a CO2 equivalent value. The availability of Australian-specific data sources and factors for emission estimation adds another layer of complexity to the process.

Scope 3 Emissions Reporting:

One notable aspect of the AASB reporting standards is the inclusion of Scope 3 emissions. However, entities have been granted a one-year grace period, meaning they are not required to disclose their Scope 3 emissions in the first annual reporting period. Starting from the second report, entities will need to provide comprehensive data on emissions throughout their value chain, including indirect emissions from sources such as transportation and waste management.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Prioritize waste reduction: Instead of solely relying on recycling, focus on reducing the amount of waste generated in the first place. Encourage the use of reusable products, promote circular economy practices, and invest in innovative solutions that minimize plastic consumption.
  • 2. Improve recycling technologies: Investing in research and development of advanced recycling technologies can help address the issue of microplastic pollution. By finding ways to prevent the splintering of plastic during the recycling process, we can minimize the release of microplastics into the environment.
  • 3. Enhance climate reporting capabilities: Entities should proactively prepare for the upcoming climate reporting requirements. This includes investing in robust measurement methodologies, collecting accurate data on GHG emissions, and aligning reporting practices with the AASB standards. Seeking expert guidance and adopting sustainability-focused accounting practices can further strengthen climate reporting efforts.


The hidden impact of recycling, in the form of microplastics and its intersection with climate reporting, highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to tackling plastic pollution and addressing climate change. While recycling can play a part in reducing waste, it is clear that it is not a standalone solution. By prioritizing waste reduction, improving recycling technologies, and enhancing climate reporting capabilities, we can take meaningful steps towards a more sustainable future.

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