Review into Australia’s recycling standards calls for improved communications and leadership

A Review of standards and specifications for recycled content products released by the Department of Environment and Energy highlights a diverse range of issues. The Review includes details on current documentation for the use of recycled materials in product manufacturing, buildings and infrastructure work.

Equilibrium, an environment and sustainability strategy and management company, prepared the Review and consulted with key stakeholders. The Review found that the absence of any particular standards or specifications may be obstructing the take-up of recycled materials.

Equilibrium researchers said that they communicated with relevant industries and sectors as opposed to specific professional roles and disciplines. Those who gave feedback included professionals and managers across several key disciplines including engineering and applied technology, environment and sustainability, policy procurement, commercial and business development.

The Review stated that key parties haven’t always communicated effectively, with stakeholders being very dispersed. A significant lack of national leadership and harmonisation by government was seen as a major barrier. Slow pace, intangible outcomes and soft targets challenged the industry’s ability to progress the development and uptake of standards.

Stakeholders  felt that the lack of certainty in markets and regulatory environment prevented investment by the waste and recycling industry in facilities that refine recovered materials into raw materials or recyclate. The lack of demand in Australia for manufactured finished product due to the decline of the local manufacturing industry and minimal consumer demand for products using recycled materials along with no regulated requirement were considered significant issues delaying ongoing development of relevant and widely adopted standards and specifications.

A significant barrier identified within the Review was manufacturers having access to cheaper virgin alternatives resulting in them bypassing recyclate.

Meanwhile, peak bodies agreed on some standards and specifications, while individual engineers and professionals were deemed to be typically risk averse and reluctant to immediately embrace the value and potential of recycled content products when price is the only consideration.

Although the stakeholders who were consulted stated that there is a place for mandatory instruments to ensure higher levels of recycled content in products, buildings, and infrastructure, these need to be identified and assessed on their individual merits and performance. The procurement process was also considered a priority and needs to be taken seriously by all potential stakeholders along the entire supply chain.

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan expressed her disappointment with the arrival of another review, pointing to a lack of recommendations, timelines, or targets.

However, Sloan added that WMRR was pleased that at least the National Waste Policy Action Plan called repeatedly for standards, specifications and procurement targets to be in place by this year.

“But instead of getting started with the job, industry is now forced to hear that government agencies believe ‘reputational and organisational risk’ are the major hindrances to using recycled content,” she said.

“We need real leadership and willingness to tackle these vital issues. It all starts with design: designing for repair and reuse, design for material minimisation, designing out waste and designing for stewardship. That way we are not dealing with waste but are recognising resources.”

 

Grants awarded to power waste recycling schemes

Around $13 million in Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) grants for green economy projects has been awarded to researchers and their commercial partners in Sydney and Melbourne to enable Australia to reduce plastic waste and boost plastics recycling.

According to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews the projects demonstrated the great economic opportunities in waste recycling.

“This funding will support Australian businesses and researchers as they forge new markets to limit the use of plastics and create recycled products,” she said.

Chemically convert unrecyclable plastics

The University of Sydney (USYD) has received almost $10 million in funding across three projects. As a result, the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Waste Transformation Research Hub will work alongside Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGE) to oversee a project to chemically convert plastics that are currently unrecyclable.

Associate professor Ali Abbas who is leading the project said that the global problem of plastic waste has become a challenge in Australia, due to the lack of facilities to deal with mixed and contaminated post-consumer plastics.

“The objective of our project is to adapt existing process technology to cost-effectively recycle otherwise non-recyclable mixed plastics,” Abbas said.

“Our intent is to focus on chemically recycling the waste plastic back to the manufacturing of virgin plastic, to close the loop on the circular economy.”

IGE Chairman Paul Dickson explained that the outcome of the project is to deliver a further range of products from end of life plastics.

“The unique combination of the IGE knowhow, a government grant and the University’s expertise will surely accelerate the achievement of creating a cleaner planet for the next generation,” he said.

Miniaturised separation bio-polymer reactor

Separtis, a sustainable waste management solution company, is working with Dr Alejandro Montoya, leader of the Waste Transformation Research Hub to design and operate a miniaturised separation bio-polymer reactor. This will then inform the design of a larger plant, to be constructed at an existing waste plastics collection facility at Orange, NSW.

The technology will use patented bio-polymers (derived from renewable sources) to break down co-mingled and contaminated waste plastics without the need to sort the waste stream. The waste plastics can then be reconstituted into other plastics, without any loss in strength.

“The proposed technology operates at atmospheric conditions with catalysts derived from biomass resources without the need for large amounts of external energy. The technology can be expanded across multiple value chains and industries, making it ideal to operate in regional areas,” Montoya said.

Cleaner milk bottles

A CRC-P grant was also awarded to PEGRAS Asia Pacific, the NSW Smart Sensing Network, and the USYD’s Faculty of Science for a project that aims to make the process of recycling milk bottles cleaner and more efficient.

“Presently, when plastic milk bottles arrive at a recycling plant, they are chopped up and put through a washing process aimed at removing glue, labels, and other impurities,”  director of the Key Centre For Polymer Colloids, associate professor Brian Hawkett said.“We are looking at both the physical and chemical ways whereby we can better separate other components from the HDPE so that the resultant product is purer,” he added.

Meanwhile, an additional $2.9m will underwrite the development of a Victorian plant to turn the plastic waste from the rectification work of hazardous building cladding into recycled shoes and prefabricated building elements.

“Once they reach the end of their life, the shoes and building products can again be recycled, supporting the circular economy of waste and recycling,” Andrews said.

“This project demonstrates an enormous opportunity from using the waste materials as a result of replacing hazardous building cladding.”

Applications for Round 9 of the CRC-P grants opened on February 13 and close on March 19.

Victorian government steps up with major recycling investment 

The Victorian government will invest $129 million through the state’s Sustainability Fund to support local councils to roll out a new system from 2021. The funding package includes a four-bin kerbside recycling scheme across the state to begin next year and the introduction of a container deposit scheme by 2023. 

Premier Daniel Andrews said that the investment will mean more local recycling, more jobs, and less waste going to landfill.

The funding commitment has been positively received by the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR). CEO, Gayle Sloan has described the Victorian Government as “leading the way”.

“Victoria’s government again leads the way by committing significant new funds towards our essential industry to help solve the challenges that we continue to face,” she said.

$49.5m will fund the strengthening of Victoria’s waste and recycling industry and infrastructure, to process more materials locally. This investment includes $28m in funding for businesses to invest in infrastructure through Recycling Victoria Infrastructure fund grants.

The Victorian government will also invest $30.5m to support local, and attract new, manufacturers make new products using recycled materials, through the Recycling Victoria Recycling Markets Acceleration package.

There will be also $10m in funding to help businesses improve resource efficiency, reduce waste, and increase recycling.

A new $7m Business Innovation Centre will be established to bring together industry, universities, and councils to develop new technologies and collaborate on creative solutions to waste challenges.

“We’ll roll out a behavioural change and education program to help Victorians waste less and recycle correctly. We’ll also regulate the waste and recycling sector, as an essential service with a new waste and recycling Act and a waste authority,” Andrews said.

Sloan said that WMRR was pleased that the Victorian government has flagged infrastructure investment as part of this package.

“This will be key to driving success as we work with government to continue to grow markets domestically for these valuable resources,” Sloan said.

By committing funding, the Victorian government gives industry confidence that they are at the table with us, working with us to solve these challenges. Our essential industry alone cannot solve these recent challenges. It is a shared responsibility that requires all parts of the supply chain including government and the community to work together to solve,” she added.

Sloan qualified her comments by stating that Australian market development and remanufacturing demand cannot be achieved by one state alone.

“As we head towards the COAG meeting next month and impending export bans, it is vital that there be national action on creating markets and demand for recycled products, this includes emphasis on design, a mandated product stewardship scheme for packaging and national specifications.”

Victoria has taken the lead in investing in industry, however we are at a cross roads nationally – do we head down the path that creates jobs, builds an Australian  remanufacturing sector, and reduces carbon emissions, or do we continue to act as if business as usual and a big stick will get us there?”

2020 could be an exciting time for our essential industry if all jurisdictions take the lead that Victoria has; commit new and real monies to infrastructure, research, technology, and markets. Let’s hope this happens and our essential industry gets the chance to create an onshore manufacturing industry and real jobs,” she concluded.

 

 

 

 

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