Scrunching the issue of soft plastics

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has compiled a comprehensive gap analysis on the market barriers to recovering soft plastics. Waste Management Review sat down with APCO’s Brooke Donnelly to discuss how it fits into the broader plastics issue.

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SUEZ NWS JV to build $74M hazardous waste treatment – China

SUEZ NWS and Chinese chemical company Shanghai Huayi have entered into a joint venture to provide hazardous waste treatment and recovery solutions to Qinzhou, part of the Guangxi province in China.

The agreement allows a joint venture between SUES NSW (51 per cent) and Huayi Group (49 per cent) to construction, finance and operate an energy recovery unit for the hazardous waste produced by the Qinzhou Harbour Economic and Technical Development Zone of Guangxi Province for the next 50 years.

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Around $74.5 million (€46 million) has been invested into the facility, which will have an annual treatment capacity of around 27,000 tonnes.

Construction of the unit will begin in 2018 and be operational by 2021.

The facility aims to provide a safe and environmentally friendly method of disposing of hazardous waste, with a unit designed and built according to European standards for air emissions. It is estimated to recover around 78,000 tonnes of steam and reduce the amount of greenhouses gasses by the equivalent of more than 10,000 tonnes of coal per year.

Shanghai Huayi Head of Environmental Protection department Wang Wen Xi said the company was delighted to partner with SUEZ Group on sustainable industrialisation.

“We have every confidence that by combining our strengths, we will achieve excellence in the Qinzhou project, for the benefit of China’s environmental sector. We plan to work with industrialists in more locations to achieve China’s noble environmental ambitions,” Mr Wen Xi said.

SUEZ CEO Jean-Louis Chaussade said the agreement is an important testament to the shared commitment of promoting a circular economy and green growth between China and France.

“We provide our expertise to several industrial parks with a view to reducing their environmental footprint and we aim to pursue our development on the basis of a partnership model. The project developed by SUEZ and Shanghai Huayi in Qinzhou is a perfect example of Sino-French cooperation,” Mr Chaussade said.

City of Ballarat signs waste to energy agreement with MRCB

A due diligence study can now be undertaken for the construction of a $300 million municipal waste to energy plant in the Ballarat West Employment Zone.

It comes as a result of the City of Ballarat signing a Waste to Energy Heads of Agreement with the Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB).

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The City of Ballarat has been planning for a waste to energy facility for five years, which would divert 60 per cent of the city’s waste into an energy source for industries and reduce the current regional landfill’s environmental impacts.

Currently, 30,000 tonnes of waste are deposited in the landfill each year, with waste disposal costing more than $18 million per year.

It is estimated that the plant would increase the size of Ballarat’s economy by $202 million through building and flow on effects, with about 420 jobs created during construction and 120 ongoing jobs.

MRCB’s technology partner, Babcock and Wilcox Volund, built its first waste to energy plant in 1931 and has gone on to build more in the United States, China, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, Malaysia and Korea.

City of Ballarat Mayor Cr Samantha McIntosh said the Western region was already a leader in renewable energy production, particularly wind energy, but this announcement would further enhance its standing.

“Signing this Heads of Agreement means we are one significant step closer to a Waste to Energy plant in Ballarat that would be a regional solution to our waste reduction issues while providing an affordable and reliable energy source,” Cr McIntosh said.

“It would also be a driving force in attracting industries and employment to BWEZ by delivering a uniquely competitive advantage.”

“We will also maintain our commitment to minimising waste through continual education about re-use and recycling.”

MRCB’s Group Managing Director Imran Salim arrived from Kuala Lumpur to witness the Heads of Agreement signing by Ravi Krishnan, CEO of MRCB International.

“MRCB is delighted to be in Ballarat and looks forward to working closely with the City of Ballarat and the wider community on providing a world class facility,” Mr Salim said.

New information on Tasmanian Container Refund Scheme released

A Tasmanian round table discussion has seen local government and the waste industry agree to the creation of a Waste Action Plan, amid the release of a report on the potential framework for a Container Refund Scheme.

Consulting firm Marsden Jacob Associates (MJA) has detailed the model framework for a Tasmanian Container Refund Scheme (CRS).

The report concluded the scheme should include common features with similar schemes, such as the eligible containers and price.

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It has allocated 18 months to set up the scheme and found the total funding requirement over 20 years would be $239 million, of which $138 million are refunded deposits. The costs of running the scheme were found to be around $101 million, or 4 cents per eligible container.

A redemption rate of at least 80 per cent was outlined, with a target of at least 60 refund points. Graduated sanctions were recommended for failing to meet these targets, with a verifiable auditing and tracking system required to ensure the objectives are met.

Potential cost savings for local councils were found, with beverage container litter estimated to fall by half, with an 80 per cent redemption rate.

MJA said in the report that the market should be allowed to determine the operational details of the system. The firm estimates nominal price impacts on consumers who don’t redeem the containers would start at around 10 cents per container and rise over time to 16 cents, with cost impacts on redeemers being around 10 cents lower.

Another finding from the report said the CRS should be run by a single co-ordinator and operator, set up as a product stewardship organisation (PSO). This PSO would be overseen by a board of directors that is representative of the industry and ensures access to relevant expertise.

The Action Plan will aim to consider initiatives like the CRS as part of the broader context across Tasmania. It will be further developed following China’s increased restriction on solid waste imports.

With the implementation of stricter contamination levels for imported waste, the amount of recyclate and waste that it will accept has decreased significantly, affecting Australia’s waste industry.

Tasmanian Minister for the Environment Elise Archer said the government will continue to consider the views of local government, industry, business and the community regarding a CRS and a range of other initiatives in developing the Waste Action Plan.

Local Government Association of Tasmania President Doug Chipman said that local government has welcomed the round table.

“The impacts of China’s restrictions are being felt deeply by councils and the community’s interest in waste management in general has risen significantly,” Cr Chipman said.

“We have five motions on waste at our upcoming LGAT General Meeting and I look forward to collaborating with the State Government in addressing these issues.”

Building a more resilient sector: Sustainability Victoria

Waste Management Review speaks to Stan Krpan, Chief Executive Officer at Sustainability Victoria, about the organisation’s future approach to data capture, Victoria’s e-waste ban to landfill and the health of the waste sector.

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Experts react to single-use plastic ban

Plastic bottles dumped

A senate inquiry into Australia’s recycling industry has recommended that all single-use plastics should be banned by 2023.

The decision could potentially include products like takeaway coffee cups, chip packets and takeaway containers.

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Professor Sankar Bhattacharya from Monash University’s Department of Chemical Engineering said time is of the essence to find a new home for recyclate stockpiles.

“Now that China has stopped taking our trash, we’re scrambling to figure out how to keep all those good intentions out of the landfill,” he said.

“The majority of the plastics we use in our daily life – different grades of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and even polyvinyl chloride, to some extent – can be processed into liquid fuel.

“That’s what China was doing with the plastic recyclables it bought from us. They’re now realising that their domestic production of waste products is so large that they cannot process any more by bringing in waste plastics from other countries,” he said.

Katherine Gaschk, a Research Masters from Murdoch University said she was pleased with the Senate inquiry’s findings.

“The sooner we accept the need to stop using plastics and change from our current mode as a throw-away society, the better for the future health of our planet,” she said.

“Ultimately it is human behaviour that is responsible for plastic pollution. Removing the plastics will certainly help to reduce pollution, but there is also a need to educate retailers, consumers and manufacturers about the impacts of plastic pollution and how we can reduce our dependence on plastics.”

Simon Lockrey, a Research Fellow from RMIT University’s School of Design warns that while the ban would be great in theory, there may be rebound effects.

“For instance in food systems, packaging can save food waste in the supply chain, from farm to plate,” he said.

“Without acknowledging other changes to that system when taking away single-use packaging, we may move the waste burden, sometimes to more impactful levels. For example, packaging can be a low impact compared to food waste impacts.

“Therefore, it would be good with this senate initiative to see the complimentary strategies for industries using single-use packaging to make sure we are in a waste reduction winner all around,” Mr Lockrey said.

Thavamani Palanisami, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle’s Global Centre for Environmental Remediation said what should be the next step.

“Tags such as ‘biodegradable’, ‘bio-based’, ‘100 per cent degradable’ need to be regulated,” he said.

“We need to create public awareness about types of plastic and their individual behaviour.

“We need to set standard testing methods to verify the biodegradability of the plastic items tagged as ‘biodegradable’,” Dr Palanisami said.

National Sword could displace 111M tonnes of plastic waste by 2030

An estimated 111 million metric tonnes of plastic waste will be displaced by China’s National Sword policy by 2030 around the world, according to new research.

The Chinese import ban and its impact on global waste trade research paper published in the journal Science Advances reports that new global ideas are needed to reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials, including redesigning products and funding domestic plastic waste management.

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The report, authored by researchers at the University of Georgia, said China had imported 106 million tonnes of plastic waste since 1992, which makes up more than 45 per cent of total global plastic imports.

The National Sword Policy has implemented new restrictions on the contamination rate for imported waste, requiring a cleaner and more processed version of materials such as plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and textiles.

“The displaced plastic waste is equal to nearly half (47 per cent) of all plastic waste that has been imported globally since reporting began in 1988,” the report said.

“Only 9% of plastic waste has been recycled globally, with the overwhelming majority of global plastic waste being landfilled or ending up contaminating the environment (80 per cent).

“Plastic packaging and single-use items enter the waste stream immediately after use, contributing to a cumulative total of 6.3 billion MT of plastic waste generated worldwide.”

The report warns that if no adjustments are made in solid waste management, then much of the waste that would have been diverted from landfill by customers paying for a recycling service will be landfilled.

“Both the displaced plastic waste and future increases in plastic recycling must be addressed immediately. Initially, the countries exporting the most plastic waste can use this as an opportunity to develop and expand internal markets,” the report said.

“If domestic recycling of plastic waste is not possible, then this constraint reinforces the motivation to reduce use and redesign plastic packaging and products so that they retain their value and are more recyclable in domestic markets.”

China approves greener lithium extraction method

China has approved a new method of extracting lithium in a more efficient and environmentally friendly way, according to Xinhua News.

Professor of the institute of environmental science and engineering in Nanchang University Qiu Zumin told Xinhua News the lithium extraction technology has passed the national scientific and technological achievements appraisal. It is expected to replace China’s current methods of extracting lithium, which have been blamed for creating significant amounts of waste with low profitability.

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Lithium batteries are used in most electronics, from mobile phones to computers, to electronic cars. Currently, China imports 80 per cent of its lithium carbonate.

Xinhua News says China’s traditional methods produce 30 to 40 tonnes of waste to produce one tonne of lithium carbonate, while also being expensive to treat.

The new methods has been jointly developed by the Jiangxi Haohai Lithium Energy, Nanchang University and other institutions to separate all the elements in lithium micas.

Chair of Haohai Peng Guiyong told Xinhua News the company plans to invest one billion yuan ($205 million AUD) to build a production line with an annual capacity of 40,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate.

ACOR call for $150M into regional recycling

The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) is urging the federal government to grow regional Australia’s recycling industry with a one-off investment of $150 million.

The investment would go towards better sorting, increased reprocessing, community education and government procurement of recycled content product.

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ACOR Chief Executive Officer Peter Shmigel said recycling has a good base in regional Australia, which can be grown for more jobs and economic value in country areas.

“It’s one of the readily accessible ways to diversify regional economies and make them more resilient against droughts and global market forces,” he said.

“Our industry already has a good place in the bush including lube oil recycling, battery recycling, tyre recycling, industrial plastics recycling and consumer packaging recycling in country areas.”

Mr Shmigel said an independent report from MRA Consulting showed investment in local recycling could lead to the creation of 500 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We can use waste plastics and glass that can’t go back into bottles as part of asphalt in government-funded road projects,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Roads are the biggest asset in country areas and they can be recycled content rather than virgin materials at competitive cost and quality – if governments positively procure for that,” he said.

Mr Shmigel said using recycled content materials in the Snowy 2.0 scheme alone would massively contribute to more jobs and deliver on the community’s recycling expectations.

ACOR members with operations in regional areas include Southern Oil Refinery, Kurrajong Recycling, Re-Group, Visy, Envirostream, Tomra, SIMS Metal Management, ResourceCo, O-I and Downer Group.