Packaging MFA reveals recycling challenges and opportunities

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) this week launched a Packaging Materials Flow Analysis (MFA), a new report developed in partnership with the Institute of Sustainable Futures (ISF) mapping the current state of post-consumer packaging in Australia.

Commissioned on behalf of APCO, the report highlights a compelling need to improve packaging recovery and recycling rates across all material streams.

In 2017/18 Australians generated an estimated 4.4 million tonnes of total packaging waste, with 68 per cent of this collected, and 56 per cent of the collection total recovered by recycling efforts. This ranged from 32 per cent for plastics and up to 72 per cent for paper streams – highlighting a significant opportunity to improve waste management practices to achieve higher recovery rates.

Of the 4.4 million tonnes, the report shows 44 per cent was landfilled, 33 per cent went to local secondary material utilisation, 19 per cent exported, four per cent stockpiled and more than 0.5 per cent to energy recovery.

The MFA Report is one of several APCO initiatives being conducted during the foundation phase of the targets (2019-2020) – the groundwork stage that focuses on research, engaging stakeholders and setting baselines and frameworks.

APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly said that to achieve the 2025 National Packaging Targets, we need to first understand the journey materials take along the entire supply chain and establish a baseline of data to measure change and interventions. She said that the MFA is first step in this process.

As a critical first step in achieving the 2025 national packaging targets for all material to be reusable, recyclable or compostable, the report outlines the current journey of Australia’s packaging waste from bin to landfill or reprocessing, identifies significant data and infrastructure challenges in the system and models five potential solutions for the future.

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One of the challenges is the major losses to landfill to recoverable materials occurring before waste is collected for sorting at materials recycling facilitates (MRFs) or container deposit scheme collections. The report attributes this to incorrect disposal of packaging wastes by households and businesses.

“Better management of this waste at the source, through improved source separation, is important. Critically, consumer education and awareness raising around appropriate disposal and collection channels, as well as smarter design of packaging for recycling, are also key strategies. These are already supported by the new Australasian Recycling label (ARL) and the Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal (PREP),” the report says.

Additionally, the report shows the opportunity to increase sorting efficiency by diverting materials, especially glass, from kerbside to the expanding container deposit scheme collections. It finds better sorting equipment will also support improvements in contaminant removal. The report shows there are about 100 MRFs in operation across Australia, with throughput capacities ranging from 5000 to 250,000 tonnes per annum. Around 45 per cent of the total packaging waste stream for 2017/17 gets directed to MRFs and their capabilities for efficiently sorting co-mingled and highly contaminated waste is indicated to be a major factor limiting packaging sorting efficiency in Australia.

“Upgrading existing MRF capabilities is difficult and expensive owing to market uncertainties (e.g., caused by Chinese waste import restrictions), making the case for improving up-stream source separation and collection stronger,” the report says.

Future modelling shows potential to achieve an overall packaging waste recovery rate of 77 per cent, assuming a range of strategies are adopted to address losses across the whole chain, from collection to processing.

With glass packaging, the estimated recovery rate is just over 50 per cent and 23 per cent of glass waste disposed to the residual stream. About 80,000 tonnes of glass is collected and sorted through container deposit collection systems.

The investigation in particular highlights the importance of improving source separation, particularly for plastics to address residuals, a priority for paper in reducing contamination (embedded glass fines) that could be achieved with separated paper or glass separation and diverting glass to CDS to improve the quality of the stream to be suitable for bottle to bottle recycling.

Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS) Research Director and co-author of the report Dr Nick Florin said that there is great potential to step-up material recovery from the current overall recovery rate of 56 per cent and at the same time increase demand for recycled materials to drive the transition to a circular economy for packaging.

“APCO, as the central product stewardship organisation, is well placed to support this coordinated transition that involves cooperation between consumers, designers, recyclers and packaging manufactures,” Dr Florin said.

The MFA also highlighted significant data and infrastructure gaps that need to be addressed before the 2025 targets can be achieved. These findings will be used to inform additional packaging and recycling research to develop a complete picture of the current system.

Ms Donnelly said we can’t implement effective and meaningful changes to the system if we don’t first have a complete and accurate picture.

“A collaborative approach will be critical to building this. The challenge ahead of us requires a complete transformation of the current system. Over the next 12 months, APCO will be leading an ambitious agenda of projects to build on the findings of the MFA. We look forward to working closely with all stakeholders as we transition to a circular model for packaging in Australia,” she said.

Throughout 2018 APCO also facilitated a series of five, year-long industry working groups attended by more than 80 industry members from across the value chain and government to explore solutions to problematic packaging types (including glass, polymer coated paperboard (PCPB), soft plastics, biodegradable and compostable packaging, and expanded polystyrene).

In 2019, APCO will be co-ordinating 22 new projects to build on the findings of the MFA and the 2018 working groups. These will include further detailed research into packaging consumption and recycling to establish baselines for the 2025 targets, developing targeted design resources to improve packaging recyclability, and developing strategies to address problematic packaging, including plastics.

To read the full APCO Packaging Material Flow Analysis 2018, visit the APCO website.

City of Fremantle uses recycled glass in road resurfacing

The City of Fremantle has used recycled glass equivalent to around 2640 glass bottles to resurface the car park at the North Fremantle Post Office.

The City of Fremantle has used recycled glass equivalent to around 2640 glass bottles to resurface the car park at the North Fremantle Post Office.

A warm asphalt mix used 10 per cent crushed glass as a substitute for traditional crushed granite aggregate, alongside recycled road base.

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City of Fremantle Infrastructure Engineering Manager David Janssens said while recycled glass asphalt had been used on roads in the United States and Canada for many years, it’s not widely used in Australia.

“Extensive testing was undertaken by our supplier to ensure the material complied with our requirements and the glass would not come loose when cars drove over it,” Mr Janssens said.

“We also had to make sure the glass being used had no sharp edges so it was safe for people to walk on and wouldn’t damage car tyres.

“Once we get an idea of how it performs in North Fremantle we’ll consider using recycled glass in other road projects, and our suppliers are exploring the possibility of using recycled plastic and rubber in asphalt as well.”

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said the move was part of the city’s One Planet strategy, which focuses on reducing waste and increasing recycling.

“Using recycled glass in asphalt for our roads and car parks could help to create an important local market,” Cr Pettitt said.

“And because the glass asphalt is made at a much lower temperature it also means using a lot less energy and producing less greenhouse emissions.”

First SA road built with plastic bags and glass

The first South Australian road built with soft plastics and glass at Happy Valley in the City of Onkaparinga will utilise plastic from approximately 139,000 plastic bags and packaging and 39,750 glass bottle equivalents.

Downer and City of Onkaparinga have partnered with resource recovery and recycling companies Close the Loop and RED Group for the project, following similar projects in NSW and Victoria.

Along with soft plastics and glass, toner from about 3200 used printer cartridges and more than 50 tonnes of recycled asphalt were also repurposed to create 265 tonnes of asphalt used to construct the road along Caribbean Crescent in Happy Valley.

Downer Executive General Manager Road Services Dante Cremasco said the milestone event demonstrated the importance of partnerships with other thought leaders to create economic, social and environmental value for products that would more than likely end up in landfill, stockpiled, or as a pollutant in natural environments.

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“Together with City of Onkaparinga and our partners, we have proven that with thought leadership and the tenacity to make a positive difference, we have set a new benchmark in the state when it comes to sustainability by creating new avenues to recycle and repurpose waste materials into new streams of use. It’s all about pulling products, not pushing waste,” Mr Cremasco said.

“Further to the direct sustainability benefits, this cost competitive road product called Reconophalt has enhanced properties of improved strength and resistance to deformation making the road last longer, andallowing it to better handle heavy vehicle traffic,” Mr Cremasco added.

City of Onkaparinga Mayor Erin Thompson said this is an exciting South Australian first and demonstrates council’s commitment to working with industry on innovative and cost-effective solutions to a changing operating environment.

“The City of Onkaparinga manages and maintains over 1350 kilometres of sealed roads and works hard to ensure they’re well maintained as cost effectively as possible and in line with leading asset management principles,” Mayor Thompson said.

“We also collect approximately 14,000 tonnes of recyclables every year. Major disruptions in international markets for recyclables over the last 12 months present significant challenges, as well as emerging opportunities.”

“Creating local demand for recyclables products is one such opportunity and this is a fantastic example of what can be achieved by government working with industry.”

Downer partnered closely with Close the Loop to tailor waste products such as soft plastics to suit a road construction application.

“Our close partnership with Downer, along with our collaborative partnership with RED Group has allowed us to design, develop and manufacture sustainable products using problematic waste streams. We are very pleased to see soft plastics used for the first time in a SA road,” said Nerida Mortlock, General Manager of Close the Loop Australia.

Nestlé pledges to improve recycled content in EU packaging

Nestlé has pledged to increase the amount of recycled plastics the company uses in some of its packaging in the European Union by 2025.

The company aims to include 25 to 50 per cent recycled materials in PET layer in laminates, caps on glass jars and tines, trays for meat products and shrink films for display trays.

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It follows Nestlé’s pledge in April to make all of its packaging recyclable or re-useable by 2025.

The announcement is part of the voluntary pledging exercise on recycled content by the European Commission. Nestlé CEO for Zone Europe, Middle East and North Africa Marco Settembri delivered the pledge in person to the European Commission.

Mr Settembri said the company is taking the first concrete steps to achieve its packaging ambitions.

“Nestlé supports the Plastics Strategy of the European Union. We share the vision that no plastic packaging ends up in the environment. Recyclable packaging, good recycling infrastructure and more use of recycled material will help us close the loop,” he said.

City of Yarra uses recycled glass and plastic in road resurfacing

Around 100 tonnes of recycled glass and plastic have been used in a road resurfacing project in Melbourne’s City of Yarra.

A road resurfacing trial took place in the suburb of Richmond, with Stanley and Margaret Street repaved with an asphalt product containing recycled glass, asphalt and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic.

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The project repurposed around 7300 two litres plastic bottles and 55,000 glass bottles, which is equivalent to the annual kerbside recycling collection for every household on Stanley Street.

The City of Yarra engaged recycling company Alex Fraser for the project and has called on the company to repair and repave more streets in the coming weeks, which will use an additional 1000 tonnes of sustainable asphalt.

Alex Fraser Managing Director Peter Murphy said this was a prime example of how a circular economy can be achieved – with government, industry and community working together to recycle problem waste streams, and invest in recycled materials to build new, sustainable infrastructure.

“The City of Yarra’s progressive approach to the use of sustainable material is an excellent illustration of how local councils can proactively reuse the waste generated in their communities to build and maintain their cities while reducing the carbon footprint of their projects by up to 65 per cent,” Mr Murphy said.

City of Yarra Mayor Daniel Nguyen said the City of Yarra had worked with Alex Fraser to incorporate sustainable materials like glass and recycled concrete into its road works.

“As a council with a strong focus on sustainability we are excited about using recycled plastics in our latest roadworks for the wide range of environmental benefits it delivers,” said Cr Nguyen.

Victorian recycling research and development grants now open

Sustainability Victoria has opened applications for Research, Development and Demonstration Grants of up to $200,000 for projects that can increase the quality of recycled products sold in Victoria.

Businesses, local governments and researchers can apply for grants between $50,000 and $200,000 to help stimulate markets for products made from recovered resources.

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Projects that investigate one or more materials which have specific supply or demand side barriers which could be overcome with support from the government are encouraged to apply.

Concrete and brick, electronic waste, glass, organic material, paper and cardboard, plastics, rubber and textiles have all been identified as targeted materials for the grant.

The grants have been designed to support the industry in commercialising new products and processing approaches and to increase the end market uptake and demand for the targeted materials.

Successful applicants will have their projects matched dollar for dollar by the state government.

Previous research projects included alternative uses for glass fines and flexible plastics in construction and manufactured products, such as railway sleepers, plastics in concrete footpaths, glass in non-load bearing concrete and roof tiles made from glass waste.

Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan said the grants would increase job creation, develop quality products for end markets and increase investment in products made from recovered resources.

“Recent shifts in the current international recycling in gives Victoria greater impetus to develop local markets for the products we can recycle,” Mr Krpan said.

“It is crucial such markets are developed so the value of recovered resources is realised.

“This funding provides industry the opportunity to develop and trial new or existing products and specifications that use significant and reliable quantities of targeted materials,” he said.

The program will also inform the industry of the possible opportunities to use recovered materials in manufacturing to support using products made from recycled content.

“Recycling is an increasingly important community issue, and we are committed to maximising the opportunities to support new markets that use significant and reliable volumes of priority materials,” Mr Krpan said.

“It’s also an opportunity for universities and industry to work together to develop practical solutions to an important, and costly, community issue, which will benefit us all.

For more information about applying for the grant, click here.

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.”