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Resource recovery and circular economy hot topics at National General Assembly

Resilient resource recovery and creating a sustainable circular economy were among topics discussed at the Australian Local Government Association’s National General Assembly in Canberra.

The National General Assembly, held from June 16-18, is the largest gathering of local councils in Australia, and is attended by mayors, councillors and general managers from governments nationwide.

Lake Macquarie City Council’s deputy chief executive officer Tony Farrell and National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read were among attendees encouraging stronger collaboration between governments and more focus on creating a circular economy.

Farrell shared Lake Macquarie’s efforts towards a regional circular economy through the use of glass sand and recycled organic compost, highlighting the city’s civil engineering works, which include creating ‘greencrete’ footpaths.

In March, the council unveiled a ‘greencrete’ footpath created from fine aggregate that was 50 per cent crushed glass sand, rather than natural sand. The footpath also used thin polypropylene strips made from 100 per cent recycled plastic.

Examples of a re-use and recycling, such as these were among waste management and climate change discussions that dominated the conference.

Read discussed some of the key aspects of a shared approach to resource recovery sector and a circular economy that encompassed local, state and federal government working collaboratively.

“Industry and local councils can work together to put recycling back on a sustainable pathway.

“Central to this shared approach are activities that will reduce contamination such as consistent state-wide community education programs; smarter ways to separate materials at source; removing toxic and dangerous items from bins like batteries and electronics; along with upgrading re-processing capacity at material recovery facilities.”

Read explained that these actions would help reduce yellow recycling bin contamination levels from as high as 40 per cent down to less than 4 per cent.

“The implementation of container deposit schemes has started the decontamination and quality improvement process. Council trials are also underway on source separating glass and paper.”

Support is coming from all levels, including the Federal government, which has committed $2 million towards funding for an Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) app that will use photo recognition to allow people to find out where a particular item can be recycled in their area. The app is being trialled in NSW, with ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel telling Inside Waste, upon the announcement of government funding, that ACOR aims to roll it out nationally by 2020 or early 2021.

“We are hoping that we can use the app in the next 12-18 months to change the conversation a bit. It’s about having the consumer as part of a supply chain,” he said.

At the National General Assembly, Read also highlighted the need to upgrade recycling facilities’ sorting and reprocessing capacities so they can produce higher quality outputs that meet producer specifications.

“Creating local markets is also key. It is vital that local, state and federal government procure recovered mixed plastics for civil construction and that packaging companies are required to meet minimum recycled content in selected HDPE and PET products and packaging,” Read said.

On day one, topics also included mayors from across Australia discussing the implications for local government of incoming federal government policy. Day two include a panel session to discuss housing, infrastructure and population, and day three included discussions on community engagement and responding to disasters.