Global recycling sector under pressure

As Australians adapt to a new social and economic order, the global scrap recycling industry is understandably, slowing down. The ambassadors of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) have compiled a wrap-up of how each country under siege is adjusting.

According to BIR, the situation in the United States of America varies from state to state. California has shut down all non-essential industries, but recycling is considered to be essential as it is an important link in the supply chain. However, business is very slow. It is possible to buy and sell but exporting is very tough with no availability of containers.

Smelters closed in Italy

In Europe, Italy has closing smelters as part of the strategy to control the pandemic by shutting all non-essential companies. Owing to a shortage of workers in France, most small to medium-sized businesses are closed. Large enterprises are partially open, with only 40 percent of yards in operation. While there is no more retail business, they are being supplied by those production plants still in operation.

In the UK recycling has been included in the category of critical industries and it appears that larger operators saw a flurry of activity last week, as smaller counterparts attempted to turn stock into money. Some merchants have closed their doors.

In Saudi Arabia, there has been a shift to stringent measures being applied to recycling plants between 7am and 6pm, with a curfew in place for the intervening hours. Factories and ports are still open.

The United Arab Emirates  is still operating yards in Sharjah operation however the report said that business is slow for both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Local mills are struggling in terms of both taking deliveries and payments, while export activity is minimal as the buyers are not there.

Yards are closed in Kuwait and in Lebanon, although the latter’s ports are still open. For the Middle East in general, policy changes are coming daily, building up the uncertainty over April deliveries and supplies worldwide.

India comes to a halt

In India, the situation is dire with Mumbai in total lockdown and no-one can leave their home in many parts of Gujarat. The government had announced a raft of closures, including stopping trains up to March 3. Pakistan, meanwhile, is in partial lockdown and yards are not working normally.

There is no official lockdown in Singapore and while plants are technically open for business. Practically nothing is happening because most workers are either Chinese, who haven’t returned since the Chinese New Year holidays, or Malaysians who can’t return because of border closures. There is also massive logistical disruption to container shipments.

Malaysia is effectively in lockdown regarding import cargoes, with only essential goods permitted. With recycling products not categorised as essential, imports are not being allowed at present.

BIR is the only global recycling industry federation representing around 800 companies and 35 affiliated national recycling associations from 70 different countries. Its members are world leaders in the supply of raw materials and a key pillar for sustainable economic development.

Ambassadors are appointed by the president and represent the organisation around the world. Working on a voluntary basis, they provide information about BIR activities in their respective working regions.

 

Packaging report details collaborative vision

Our Packaging Future, the new strategic framework outlining how Australia will deliver the 2025 National Packaging Targets was unveiled yesterday during an industry webinar.

The report was launched by assistant minister for Waste Reduction and Environment Management, Trevor Evans, and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) and featured discussion from Evans, Dr Helen Lewis and APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly.

Our Packaging Future combines data and insights from more than 200 authors and contributors, to identify the current critical challenges contributing to this gap. It then maps the strategies required to move away from our current take, make and waste approach to managing packaging.

The strategies address issues of packaging design, improved collection and recycling systems and expanded markets for used packaging, and provides a systemic, whole of environment approach to building Australia’s sustainable packaging future.

Key recommendations and approaches addressed in the plan include:

  • A change to the 2025 National Packaging Target for recycled content levels in packaging. The Target for the average recycled content in all packaging will increase from 30 percent to 50 percent
  • The launch of a National Consumer Education Campaign for sustainable packaging in 2020
  • APCO to convene a CDS National Working Group as a collaborative forum aiming to facilitate consistency and alignment of future closed-loop schemes
  • APCO to explore and facilitate waste collection partnerships in regional and remote areas including potential collaboration with other product stewardship schemes where kerbside collection is not feasible
  • Voluntary code of practice for shopping bags with key stakeholders
  • New reuse models for both consumer and B2B packaging
  • For compostable packaging, develop a national strategy with industry and government partners.
  • Explore extending the Australasian Recycling Label to include B2B packaging and recycled content.
  • Develop a traceability and verification program for recycled content in packaging and products

According to Evans, “Governments around Australia are relying on APCO and its members to bring about a more sustainable approach to packaging. This report shows that about half of all packaging in Australia is not currently being recovered, and that is the gap we need to bridge to achieve the National Packaging Targets by 2025”.

Brooke Donnelly, CEO, APCO added, “Our planet has finite resources to meet our ever-increasing consumption. Business as usual is simply not going to sustain our communities into the future. We will not accept a future defined by waste stockpiles, inefficient waste recovery economies, self-interest and fragmented regulation and policy approaches.

Clear vision

She said that the vision for this report is clear. It will build a packaging value chain that collaborates to keep packaging materials out of landfill and maximise the circular value of the materials, energy and labour within the local economy.

“Thank you to everyone who took part in the process, it has taken over two years, however we now have a clear vision for a whole of system approach to delivering the 2025 Targets,” she said.

Leaders from across the packaging value chain, including major brands, retailers and business associations, the waste and recycling industry, and the environmental community have responded positively to the report.

“By mapping the challenges faced by all impacted waste streams, the collective impact framework of the report focuses industry and government on the strategies that will drive the critical growth and sustainable end markets that are necessary to drive the system forward and achieve the waste reduction and recycling outcomes the Australian public expects,” SUEZ Australia & New Zealand chief customer officer, Justin Frank said.

Significant milestone

“As the first integrated and holistic perspective of Australia’s packaging ecosystem, ‘Our Packaging Future’ is a significant milestone for packaging sustainability here in Australia. At Kmart Group, we are committed to reducing the environmental impacts of Kmart, Target and Catch’s own brand products and packaging, delivered through our Better Together sustainable development program,” Kmart Group head of Energy and Environment Chris Foley added.

“The Our Packaging Future project is firmly part of diverse network of global organisations, this network, providing an evidence-based foundation for businesses to map, measure and forecast the reduction and, ultimately the elimination, of packaging leakage across their value chains.

The recommendations and strategies outlined in the report will provide Australian businesses with a strong foundation to deliver effective action on eliminating pollution and building a circular approach across our economy,” Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia, CEO Andrew Petersen said.

“The report highlights the very real need for national consumer education particularly the use of standardised on-pack recycling information via the Australasian Recycling Label, itself a highly productive collaboration between APCO, Planet Ark and PREP Design,” Planet Ark Environmental Foundation CEO, Paul Klymenko concluded.

 

Smart dry digestion plant

A new dry digestion plant is being built in Kirchberg, Hunsrück around 40 km west of the German city of Mainz and will process around 15,000 metric tons of source-separated organic waste a year.

The municipal operating company, Rhein-Hunsrück Entsorgung (RHE), has awarded the contract to build the facility to a consortium consisting of Swiss cleantech company Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) and the German construction and composting technology specialist Eggersmann.

Eggersmann will be in charge of the conveying equipment, construction, and biological drying system, while HZI will supply its Kompogas technology, the digestate separation and storage components, as well as the combined heat and power units. The HZI/Eggersmann bidding consortium has won the pan-European public tender on the strength of the most cost-efficient solution.

The new facility will already be the second Kompogas installation in the Rhein-Hunsrück area. The first went into operation back in 1997.

“The old Kompogas plant has been operated by a private operation company and has given us exceptional service over the last 20 years, doing a great deal to assure reliable waste disposal in our region,” explained RHE managing director thomas Lorenz.

Design for greater efficiency
The plant has various technically sophisticated features: The organic waste delivered to the plant will first be prepared in a special separation process before being fed into the digester for anaerobic digestion, and subsequently sieved again. This procedure will maximise the quality of the 10,000 or so metric tons of liquid digestate produced for use as high-grade fertiliser in agriculture.

The digestion process will yield around 1.85 million Nm3 of biogas annually, which will be used to generate 4.26 million kWh of electricity. Another special feature of the Kirchberg plant will be two cogeneration units configured to generate electricity as it is needed:

While one of the units will assure a constant supply of heat and electricity to the plant, the other will only switched in during the day if electricity grid demand is particularly high. The waste heat from the cogeneration units will also be fed into an ORC turbine to generate additional electricity, further boosting the overall efficiency of the plant.

 

Relief arrives with Jobkeeper package

Vital businesses that support and serve the WARR industry will feel some relief following the release of a $132 billion Jobkeeper package by the federal government late yesterday.

Designed to assist workers who have been stood down, the package offers a lifeline to employers whose business have experienced a 30% revenue decline since March 1. By 8am this morning more than 60,000 operators had registered for the subsidy through the Australia Taxation office.

Any worker who was laid off since March 1 can talk to their employers to re-employ them so that they can receive the $1,500 fortnightly payment while the employer will be reimbursed from May.

Even employers whose business has been shut down on government orders will receive money to pay employees who cannot do any meaningful work or attend their workplace.

Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA) executive director Tony Khoury told Inside Waste that it welcomed the government’s Job Keeper $1,500 payment per worker per fortnight.

“Any waste & recycling business that incurs a significant financial hit of 30% revenue reduction caused by COVID-19 will be eligible. This announcement will ensure that a business will continue to directly pay its workers and therefore maintain a connection to those workers.

“In so doing, waste management operators will hang onto their valued, experienced staff,” he said.A statement by Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, and AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said that they had joined forces to urge that every effort is made to ensure Australian manufacturing businesses remain safe and can continue to supply the needs of Australian households, businesses, community organisations and health providers.

Limiting business closures

“It is crucial that businesses in vital areas keep operating through these difficult times and that people remain employed as much as possible.

“This includes businesses involved in manufacturing such as food processing, packaging, pharmaceuticals, chemicals (including sanitising and cleaning products), and health industry supplies. It also includes industries necessary for these activities to continue – those in their supply chains and service partners,” the statement said.

However, they acknowledged that many manufacturing businesses cannot be turned off and on with the flick of a switch. Closures can take time; they are costly and often hazardous.

“Restarting many manufacturing processes is similarly time-consuming, costly, and dangerous. These extra costs and risks need to be weighed in any assessment of a shut down. If they can operate safely they should remain open,” they said.

Retaining employment

They also noted that many workers are employed in industries that supply basic needs. Many more are employed in businesses that can continue to operate safely and without increasing risks of community transmission of COVID-19.

History suggests unemployment rises much faster than it falls. The costs of unemployment – both human and economic – last for many years beyond the passing of the economic downturn. Many people, particularly those who are older and less skilled, will never be re-employed.

Both the AWU and Ai Group welcome the measures the Government has introduced to improve the provision of mental health services in Australia. Avoiding unnecessary business closures will help avoid further escalation of the adverse mental health outcomes associated with unemployment.

A waste bacterium for our times

Scientists have discovered a bacterium that feeds on toxic plastic, not only breaking it down but using it as food to power the process.

The research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology and identifies a new strain of Pseudomonas bacteria which is known to withstand harsh conditions, such as high temperatures and acidic environments. The bacterium, is the first that is known to attack polyurethane and was found at a waste site where plastic had been dumped.

The German researchers, at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ in Leipzig who are behind the discovery, fed the bacterium key chemical components of polyurethane in the laboratory and found the bacteria can use the compounds as a sole source of carbon, nitrogen and energy.

However, they believe that it might be 10 years before the bacterium could be used at a large scale. According to the research, the next step would be to identify the genes that code for the enzymes produced by the bug that break down the polyurethane.

 

City of Parramatta paving the way to a sustainable future

The City of Parramatta Council is trialling two innovative sustainable road solutions aimed at reducing waste materials and combatting heat. An asphalt product incorporating recycled soft plastics from plastic bags and packaging, waste glass and waste toner from used printer cartridges Reconophalt, will be used in the first trial in Epping and Ermington.

City of Parramatta, Lord Mayor Cr Bob Dwyer acknowledged the growing problem that single-use plastics and other materials pose to the environment.

“Finding new ways to recycle and reuse materials means we can reduce the amount of waste that ultimately enters landfill,” he said. “By taking tonnes of plastic and glass from local recycling plants and using it to create roads, we are able to turn trash into treasured infrastructure.”

According to the manufacturer of Reconophalt, Downer, the equivalent of approximately 500,000 plastic bags, 165,000 glass bottles, and 12,500 toner cartridges is diverted from landfill for every 1km of a two-lane road.

Partial DPIE funding 

This project has been partially funded through the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s ‘Waste Less, Recycle More’ initiative, which has been funded by the waste levy.

The second trial, which is being conducted in partnership with Blacktown and Campbelltown councils and Western Sydney University, will examine how lighter coloured roads can help reduce the amount of heat being absorbed and retained by roads on hot days. Renoir Street, Old Toongabbie; Roslyn Avenue, Northmead; Corry Court and carpark, North Parramatta; and part of Binalong Park car park, Old Toongabbie are among the first roads in NSW to be coated with a new ‘cool’ seal coat, GuardTop CoolSeal, a light grey coloured coating, which can be 5-14ºC cooler than regular dark asphalt on a hot day. It is applied to asphalt surfaces to protect and maintain the quality and longevity of the surface.

Researchers from Western Sydney University will collect and analyse data taken from the trial sites, before determining the product’s overall impact in reducing heat.

“As Western Sydney can be several degrees hotter than suburbs in the east, it is crucial we explore ways we can keep our streets cooler – especially in the summer,” Dwyer said.

“Parramatta is going through an incredible period of growth and transformation, and Council is dedicated to building a sustainable and innovative City that will meet the needs of our community well into the future. These road projects are just two examples of how we are achieving this,” he added.

Waste industry strengthens as nation under pressure

Inside Waste has continued to strengthen over the past year with pageviews and readership showing sustained growth. This places us in a sound position to support the industry as it negotiates an adapted environment.

In response to the profound changes caused by COVID-19, the national waste industry has stepped up its communications and advocacy to government to ensure that recent commitments made at COAG stay on track and association members remain informed during a time of disruption.

Leading associations such as Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), National Waste & Recycling Industry Council of NSW (NWRIC) and Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW (WRC) have made specific calls to state governments and authorities to make cash injections and debt guarantees, as well as waive levies and taxes that are applicable to the WARR industry.

Focused communications

From this week, WMRR will send a custom weekly newsletter to members to keep them abreast of the specific impacts of the virus on their businesses.

“Now more than ever, we must remain connected, work together, and share knowledge that will both sustain and support our industry and its people,” WMRR CEO, Gayle Sloan said.
Meanwhile, WCRA has called on Sydney Water to guarantee that they will reimburse licensed waste transporters for any bad debts that are incurred.

WCRA executive director Tony Khoury said that the association will continue to keep the industry informed about COVID-19 related matters as they continue to develop.

“WCRA will also continue to lobby for waste services to be treated as essential,” he advised.

Inside Waste, along with other titles within the Prime Creative Media stable, remains committed to bringing the strongest news to our core readers as they navigate new community and business terrains. Our newsletters are continuing as usual and daily updates to the website and social media. If there are any specific articles or news you would like us to cover in insidewaste.com.au please let me know at claire.moffat@primecreativemedia.com.au.