China to eliminate solid waste imports

China has announced plans to completely eliminate solid waste imports by 2020, according to a recent Reuters report.

Starting in July, China will no longer accept imports of scrap steel, copper or aluminium, with the veto extended to scrap stainless steel and titanium by the end of 2019.

Director of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s solid waste division Qiu Qiwen reportedly said at a briefing that the ban aims to block the import of waste products that can be sourced domestically.

According to Reuters, since the 1980’s China has taken in hundreds of millions of tonnes of foreign paper, plastic, electronic waste and scrap metal for recycling.

Beijing began restricting deliveries last year, with customs authorities launching a series of crackdowns on waste smuggling, leading to hundreds of arrests.

Earlier this year India similarly announced a ban on solid plastic imports, after the country saw a drastic increase in waste imports as a result of the market vacuum generated by China’s National Sword policy.

China faces a solid waste treatment backlog of an estimated 60-70 billion tonnes, placing the country under significant pressure to boost its domestic recycling capacity.

Mr Qiwen said China imported 22.6 million tonnes of solid waste last year— down 47 per cent from the previous year.

“If solid waste meets the requirements of China’s import standards and doesn’t contain any hazards, then it can be treated as common commodities, not waste,” Mr Qiwen said.

The announcement follows the January launch of the “waste-free cities” scheme, which aims to boost recycling and encourage the development of alternatives to landfill.

Under the scheme 10 cities will be selected for the first phase, with measures to include better sorting of solid waste, improvements in urban planning and the construction of new treatment facilities.

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Plant waste to power planes

Plant waste from agriculture and timber harvesting could be converted into high-density aviation fuel according to the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China.

The research, published in scientific journal Joule, comes at a time when international bodies and governments begin to invest more resources into the issue of organic waste streams, and provides an interesting case study for the future of the industry.

Scientists at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics have converted cellulose, a polymer formed on plant cell walls, into a high density fuel that can be used as a wholesale replacement or an additive to improve the efficiency of other jet fuels.

While chain alkanes derived from cellulose such as branched octane, dodecane, and hexadecane have previously used for jet-fuel, researchers believe this is the first study to produce more complex polycycloalkane compounds that can be used as high-density aviation fuel.

Author of the study research scientist Ning Li said the new biofuel could be instrumental in helping aviation “go green.”

“Our biofuel is important for mitigating CO2 emissions because it is derived from biomass and has higher density (or volumetric heat values) compared with conventional aviation fuels.

“As we know, the utilisation of high-density aviation fuel can significantly increase the range and payload of aircraft without changing the volume of oil in the tank,” Li said.

Li and his team said the process’ cheap, abundant cellulose feedstock, fewer production steps, and lower energy cost and consumption mean it will soon be ready for commercial use applications.

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National Waste Report 2018 released

Blue Environment has released the 2018 National Waste Report, showing China still remained Australia’s biggest destination for exports of recyclables in 2017-18 despite tightening restrictions.

The latest report is the culmination of two years of work by Blue Environment in obtaining data from the states and territories.

A chart in the latest report shows significant declines in scrap metal (23 per cent), plastics (79 per cent) and paper and cardboard (39 per cent) in 2017-18.

The report shows Australians generated 67 million tonnes of waste in 2016-17 with 37 million recycled.

The numbers are largely similar to the 66 million tonnes generated in 2014-15 and 36 million recycled.

Prepared for the Department of the Environment and Energy, the report looks at the waste management method, including the infrastructure that treats it (landfill, compost, alternative waste treatment) and waste fate (disposal, recycling, energy recovery and long-term storage.

In terms of waste stream data, hazardous waste comprised 6.3 million tonnes generated in 2016-17, with 27 per cent recycled, 59 per cent landfilled and 13 per cent sent to a treatment facility. From 2006-07 to 2016-17, hazardous waste generation increased by about 26 per cent, while the recycling rate decreased from 34 to 27 per cent. More than half of this increase is attributed to greater quantities of materials, including contaminated soil.

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It also shows 30 million tonnes of organic waste was generated in 2016-17, remaining fairly stable over an 11-year period while Australia’s population increased. The recycling rate over this time increased from 39 to 52 per cent.

The report details data and information on numerous industry issues, including National Sword and waste stockpiling.

“Waste stockpiling is a significant concern and has resulted in several recent major fires. Substantial stockpiling of C&D waste and glass is understood to occur,” the report says.

“Reporting on stockpiles is limited by lack of data. Ideally, this report would account for additions to and removals from stockpiles in the reporting year.”

“Unrecorded waste in stockpiles leads to underestimates of waste generation. Recorded waste in stockpiles (e.g. at a glass recycling plant) leads to overestimates of recycling.”

The report also displays exports of waste materials for recycling during the 12 years to 2017-18 and shows a long-term increase in exports, except for a decline between 2013-14 and 2015-16 which it attributes to a scrap metals decline.

It shows two charts that suggest that exports of waste materials for recycling were strongly affected by the Chinese restrictions, but the displaced materials mostly found new export destinations. The breakdown shows this occurred for paper and plastics and in both cases increased to Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.

“Despite its restrictions and reduced Australian imports, in 2017-18 China remained Australia’s biggest destination for exports of waste materials for recycling.”

In a later section on China’s restrictions, the report acknowledges many companies have been forced to absorb financial losses and remain financially stricken, with local governments and ratepayers facing higher costs.

“The Chinese restrictions have been closely watched by other major importers of waste materials, and this year Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have each announced tighter controls over imports of waste materials.

“It is likely that export markets for waste materials for recycling will become more constrained globally, and Australia will need to increase on-shore recycling of the major export commodities of metals, paper and cardboard and plastics.”

You can read the full National Waste Report here. 

 

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.

Read moreScrunching the issue of soft plastics

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.

Read moreBuilding a more resilient sector: Sustainability Victoria

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.

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