Indonesia sends back waste containers

The Indonesian Government has announced that it will ship 547 containers of contaminated waste back to countries of origin, including 100 housing Australian material.

According to a Fairfax Media report, customs officers, police and environment department officials opened containers of contaminated Australian waste for the media on 18th Sept.

The containers contained mostly plastic, with some food waste and visible liquid.

Indonesian Customs Director General Heru Pambugi said three Australian companies had imported the contaminated plastic waste, including one that did not posses required import documents.

Nine containers have already been shipped, with the remainder to follow in separate shipments.

In response, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said WMRR acknowledges and agrees that Australia should be managing its own waste and resources.

Ms Sloan said while Australia does recycle millions of tonnes of waste on-shore, it needs to grow its demand and use of recovered resources.

“Global shifts have resulted in Australia needing to find homes domestically for our recyclables and this is certainly a positive aspiration,” Ms Sloan said.

“Industry does not want to export these materials, and we know that there are many good reasons to sell these materials right here in Australia and turn them back into packaging.”

Ms Sloan noted that contamination, which is a concern for international importers of recycled materials, is primarily a result of people using their household bins incorrectly.

“Of course, industry and government can and should do more, but so can every citizen by being more diligent about what they put into the yellow bin,” Ms Sloan said.

“What is still lacking in Australia, which is the fundamental reason material has been exported in the past, is greater certainty of remanufacturing pull.”

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said media reports about Australian recyclate material being returned by Indonesian authorities inappropriately undermines recycling efforts

“Less than 1.5 million tonnes of material from kerbside recycling was exported to overseas companies to make into products. Of that, some 65,000 tonnes went to Indonesia because buyers there bought it as feedstock for their factories – and there’s a lack of local demand for it,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Some 500 containers marked to be sent back by Indonesia that apparently don’t meet technical specifications is not substantial in the successful scheme of Australians’ recycling efforts.”

Mr Shmigel said off-spec material occurs in every industry.

“It is totally wrong to suggest that Australian recyclate export material is ‘toxic’. It is more likely to be material from our households that’s been earnestly but mistakenly put in the yellow bin,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Moreover, under the Prime Minister’s leadership, COAG has very recently decided – and industry has strongly welcomed – that material should no longer be exported and that we should become fully responsible for and more sovereign with our recycling.”

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Balancing the good and the bad of plastics

There is a raft of potential changes and interventions that can be made to better position plastics as the remarkable material that it is, writes Matt Genever, Director Resource Recovery, Sustainability Victoria.

I recall not too long ago seeing a 1950s TV advertisement from the United States promoting the virtues of disposable plastics. A typical American family seated around the dinner table, enjoying a meal on plastic tableware – off the plaid orange and brown tablecloth (classic 50s!) – and sweeping the whole lot into the bin when they’re done…plates, bowls, knives, forks…all of it.  Selling the dream of a “hassle-free” life.

Thankfully things have changed, somewhat, since then. We saw the first global plastic waste revolution in the 80s – then in the 90s, with the move away from traditional glass packaging spurring the creation of the first kerbside recycling programs. More recently, the focus has been on the significant impact of poorly managed plastic entering our marine environment and the accumulation of microplastics.   

It is fair to say that the balance isn’t quite right yet. This useful, flexible, malleable and now ubiquitous material can play an infinitely useful role in our world, from lightweight prosthetic limbs to 3D models printed seemingly from mid-air. On the flipside, its use has also become a pervasive vehicle to feed our throwaway culture.

In Australia, we generate around 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, that’s around 100 kilograms of plastic waste for every person in the country. Despite the options for reuse and recycling, almost 2.2 million tonnes (87 per cent) are sent to landfill (National Waste Report 2018). However, recently shoots of new growth have emerged, signalling a dramatic change in the way we use, recover and, ultimately recycle plastic globally.

There is a raft of potential changes and interventions that can be made to better position plastics as the remarkable material that it is.

Demand and supply both need a kick start

There has been a good deal of talk on the role of government procurement in stimulating growth in the recycling sector, and rightly so. This is a fundamental step we need to get right in order to grow a healthy recycling ecosystem.

One of the things that strikes me is the fragmented nature of our current secondary manufacturing market for recyclables. On one side, there are materials that have well developed markets that need little or no intervention at all – like the use of recycled aggregates in roadbase and other civil construction. On the other side, there are markets that, even if government sent a strong procurement signal, would not necessarily be ready to respond immediately.

Plastic is a great example of this. The emerging opportunities are endless, from compressed plastic railway sleepers to companies like Advanced Circular Polymers who are producing food-grade recycled rPET and rHDPE. But in reality, there are only a handful of companies currently producing domestic, market-ready recycled products at scale in Australia.

So, it is important for government and industry to work together to make sure that the supply side is getting the support it needs to scale up as the demand grows through procurement mechanisms.

Industry has the momentum in its supply chain

One of the key factors that helped the United Kingdom to turn around its recycling system was a shift in the supply chain.

Specifically, the major supermarket chains like Tesco and Sainsbury’s moved to control more of the waste and recycling flows in and out of their businesses, in some cases becoming quasi-recyclers in their own right.

In recent months, reflecting on the meetings I’ve had around investment in plastic recycling, it’s encouraging to see how many of these are from the packaging industry and food and beverage supply chain itself rather than from traditional recycling businesses. The convergence of public attitude toward plastic, new national packaging targets and the diminishing export market for mixed plastics is generating huge momentum.

You can’t spell circular economy without “jobs”

It is equal parts frustrating and astonishing that collectively we have not made a stronger link between recycling and the creation of new “advanced manufacturing” jobs in Australia. With a minimum wage of almost $19 and hour and wholesale energy prices sitting around 300 per cent higher than the US, it’s unlikely that we’re going to be a country that goes back to low margin mass-producing widgets. There is a huge opportunity for high-margin, bespoke plastic products to be made locally from recycled materials and exported internationally.

In its Advanced Manufacturing Roadmap, CSIRO notes that Australia could position itself as a sustainable manufacturing hub, focusing on high-value advanced materials and applications. At the core of these materials and products will be polymers, both natural and synthetic.  The options are there for us to either feed from energy-intensive virgin materials or plug in directly from a well-developed, domestic Australia recycling sector.

This paradigm isn’t new. Ten years ago, it was concrete. Five years ago, it was glass. We’ve built businesses, infrastructure and end-uses for these materials and we’ll do the same for plastics.

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Pacific Environment Ministers meet in Samoa

Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Assistant Minister Trevor Evans has meet with representatives from 21 Pacific Island Nations, New Zealand, the United States, France and the United Kingdom, to discuss key environmental issues facing the region.

Mr Evans attended the Talanoa Dialogue in Samoa, which is designed to facilitate participatory conversations about complex issues, as part of the 29th Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

SPREP Ministers called for urgent action to support the Pacific Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter 2018-2025, and urged members to accelerate policies and actions that embrace sustainable materials management and drive sustainable practices to reduce plastic pollution.

“A healthy and clean Pacific Ocean is essential to the quality of life and economic security of all Pacific Island Nations, and Australia is working with our Pacific family to make this happen, including investing $16 million to fund the Pacific Ocean Litter Project to tackle plastics polluting the region’s marine environment,” Mr Evans said.

“There are some tough and critical issues and no easy answers. But reaching shared solutions means having the conversation and mapping out agreed practical actions.”

According to Mr Evans, an Australia minister has not attended the biennial meeting in over a decade.

“Australia’s presence here builds on the outcomes of the recent Pacific Islands Forum, and reinforces Prime Minister Morrison’s message that Australia appreciates the issues faced by the Pacific are real and immediate,” Mr Evans said.

“Australia is fully engaged and strongly committed to working through these shared challenges in our region.”

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Applications open for $20M CRC grants

The Federal Government has committed $20 million to innovative projects designed to grow Australia’s domestic recycling industry.

Funds are available through round eight of the Cooperative Research Centre grants program, which opened 13 August.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the funding was part of government’s commitment to work with the states and establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

“We are committed to protecting our nation’s environment while also building our capacity to turn recycling into products that people want and need,” Mr Morrison said.

“By engaging industry and researchers, we can make sure we’re seeing these changes introduced in a way that cuts costs for businesses and ultimately even creates jobs.”

Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews said the funding would help create Australian jobs, while also reducing global plastic pollution.

According to Ms Andrews, recent figures suggest only 12 per cent of the 103 kilograms of plastic waste generated per person in Australia is recycled each year.

“This funding will strengthen Australia’s recycling industry and help us achieve higher recycling rates,” Ms Andrews said.

“Boosting our onshore plastic recycling industry has the potential to create over three times as many jobs as exporting our plastic waste, ensuring a more sustainable and prosperous future.”

Applications close 24 September 2019.

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Registrations launched for Waste Expo Australia

The future of waste management and resource recovery is high on the agenda at all levels of government as Australia’s largest and most comprehensive conference and exhibition, Waste Expo Australia launches registrations.

Hosting more than 120 brands and over 100 speakers across three conference stages, Waste Expo Australia will return to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on October 23 and 24.

Waste Expo Australia will offer free-to-attend conference content across the Waste and Wastewater Summits, attracting the largest gathering of waste management and resource professionals in Australia.

The Waste Summit Conference brought to you by Oceania Clean Energy Solutions will cover six targeted streams from resource recovery, waste-to-energy, collections, landfill and transfer stations, construction and demolition waste as well as commercial and industrial waste.

Key speakers will include Victoria’s Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio, Victorian EPA CEO Cathy Wilkinson and Acting Executive Director for Waste Strategy and Policy at the NSW EPA Kar Mel Tang.

Other national and state-based bodies will be represented, along with case study presentations from local governments including Campaspe Shire Council, City of Holdfast Bay, Yarra City Council and Albury City Council.

Leading off day one of the Waste Summit, a panel will discuss the pressing issues surrounding Australia’s waste-to-energy (WtE) sector.

One of the panel members, Director of Enhar Consulting Demian Natakhan, will discuss the status of landfill solar generation and propose that the final resting place for municipal waste may be the beginning of new energy generation.

“Solar farming on former landfill sites offers a way to put otherwise unproductive land to a valuable use,” Mr Natakhan suggested.

“Where landfill gas is already collected in sufficient quantities to firepower generation, solar can be added onto existing grid infrastructure. In sites with lower landfill gas volumes, new solar generation with grid upgrades can unlock significant solar generation, avoiding the competition between solar farming and productive agricultural or industrial land.”

Confronting the challenges and opportunities in wastewater treatment will also be tackled at the Wastewater Summit brought to you by EnviroConcepts.

Waste Expo Australia Event Director Cory McCarrick said the event continues to grow with more speakers and suppliers on board this year than ever before.

“We have seen an increase in the total number of exhibitors this year to 120 and around 50 of these are exhibiting for the first time at Waste Expo Australia,” Mr McCarrick said.

Key exhibitors this year include Bost Group, Cleanaway, Caterpillar, HSR Southern Cross, Tricon Equipment, Applied Machinery and Hitachi.

“Add to this list our impressive line-up of speakers, there is no other waste event in Australia that gives you access to such thought-provoking content that address the major issues facing the industry coupled with the opportunities to be immersed among the key players and products for free,” Mr McCarrick said.

Waste Expo Australia is co-location with All-Energy Australia, Energy Efficiency Expo and ISSA Cleaning and Hygiene Expo — forming a significant showcase for the waste, recycling, wastewater, renewable energy, energy efficiency and cleaning industries.

Across the two days attendees will have access to industry speakers and suppliers across waste management, wastewater treatment, energy generation, energy efficiency and cleaning and hygiene.

Registration gives you access to all four events on Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24 October 2019.

To register visit www.wasteexpoaustralia.com.au

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Applied Machinery’s plastic washing systems

Applied Machinery’s plastic washing systems are designed for high performance recovery of rigid or flexible plastics derived from a variety of sources.

The modular systems tackle HDPE bottles, PE films, PP woven bags and PET bottles.

Depending on the application, the plants may comprise a bale breaker, infeed conveyor belt, pre-shredder for wet or dry size reduction, pre-washer to remove sands and dirt and screw washer.

Other features may include a hot washing tank with alkaline (caustic) soda to remove glues and oils, a sink float separation tank to remove non-contaminants and granulator for wet granulation and washing. For high speed washing or material scrubbing, a horizontal friction washer can be applied. In addition, centrifugal dryers, screw presses, thermal drying systems, zig zag classifiers and bag stations are also plant features.

The correct combination, sizing and equipment configuration of the equipment results in a reliable, efficient plastic recycling system producing high-quality materials ideal for sale.

Typical designs cover a PE washing system for recycling materials to high purity and low moisture, such as post-consumer HDPE bottles (with labels), drums and containers and LDPE and LLDPE products.

A PP woven bag recycling line offers a system that minimises the quantities of fines created and keeps material loss to a minimum.

The PET bottle washing system recovers labels and caps from soft drinks and water bottles and produces a clean, uniform-sized PET flake with low moisture levels.

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Indonesia rejects Australian plastic waste

The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) have confirmed, following a review, that the shipping container in Indonesia at the centre of recent media reports is from an Australian recycling company.

The container consists of approximately 13 tonnes of mixed plastic material derived from household kerbside recycling from suburban Melbourne.

According to a Fairfax Media report, the entire container is considered toxic by the Indonesian Environment department and is not acceptable for import.

In total, 65 containers from France, Germany, Hong Kong, the United States and Australia have been seized.

ACOR’s review was advised the material was not “toxic” however, and contained waste from council recycling bins, such as plastic containers for motor oil and food products.

In the statement, ACOR argued one shipping container should not define any specific company, or the wider Australian recycling system.

“It does though reflect the reality of what is collected from Australian ratepayers via councils’ kerbside recycling programs, and our industry’s subsequent attempts to do something useful with very heterogeneous material,” the statement reads.

“Similar container loads of exported mixed plastic have long met all expected requirements under both Australian and Indonesian law and policy. However, across Asia, authorities are changing their approaches in line with their own domestic circumstances.”

Of the 37 million total tonnes of waste annually diverted from landfill in Australia, four million tonnes are exported.

“Approximately 415,000 tonnes of plastic is recycled by Australia every year or some 11 per cent of our society’s total consumption,” the statement reads.

“Of that, some 235,000 tonnes are exported overall, and some 60,000 tonnes have been exported to Indonesia in the last twelve months or so, according to Federal Government figures.”

According to the statement, plastic exported to Indonesia represents approximately 1.5 per cent of total material exported for recycling.

“Material has historically been exported because overseas buyers pay for it as inputs to make useful products. In the case of mixed plastics in particular, there has historically been under capacity of domestic infrastructure and robust markets in Australia,” the statement reads.

“In Europe, unlike here, there are specific policies in place to promote domestic recycled content manufacturing. Without export, our recycling rate for plastics could fall to as low as five per cent.”

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Australia’s largest plastics recycling plant opens

Australia’s largest plastics recycling plant, with a processing capacity of 70,000 tonnes a year, has opened in Victoria.

Advanced Circular Polymers’ $20 million facility will recycle large quantities of low-value contaminated mixed plastic into material suitable for manufacturing new products

Advanced Circular Polymers Founder Harry Wang said the plant’s 70,000 tonne capacity is equivalent to almost half the plastics currently recovered in Victoria.

“Previously, Australia relied heavily on China to process recovered plastics. This new advancement provides a local solution, right here in Victoria, to the challenges posed by China’s import restrictions imposed last year,” Mr Wang said.

“Rather than plastic being collected, sent overseas, reprocessed then sent back to Australia, we saw an opportunity to close the loop and find a sustainable solution.”

The plant, which has been part-funded by the Victorian Government and a $500,000 Sustainability Victoria grant, will be powered by renewable energy produced from Goldwind Australia’s wind farm near Ballarat.

The facility will use advanced technology to sort and clean plastic by polymer type and to specific customer requirements.

Mr Wang said the resulting plastic flake would be sold and repurposed into new plastic products such as packaging.

“We are big supporters of reducing plastic pollution as a first step, but while there is still plastic to be recycled we should be doing our best to capture what we can,” Mr Wang said.

“We should treat plastic like gold. It is a precious resource that can be used in production again and again.”

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Coca-Cola produces first recycled carbonated soft drink bottle

Coca-Cola Amatil has produced Australia’s first carbonated soft drink bottles made from 100 per cent recycled plastic.

Following this development, the company announced all single-serve plastic bottles in Australia would switch to fully recycled material by the end of 2019.

Group Managing Director Alison Watkins said while 100 per cent recycled plastic had previously been used in still beverages, it had never been successfully used for carbonated drinks.

According to Ms Watkins, the pressure in a soft drink bottle is three times that of a car tyre, as such, bottles for carbonated drinks require stronger material than those for still beverages.

“That’s been an obstacle in using 100 per cent recycled materials for these types of drinks,” Ms Watkins said.

“I’m pleased to say we’ve overcome this challenge through innovation and design, and we are now the first in Australia to make 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles for carbonated beverages.”

Ms Watkins said the change to 100 per cent recycled plastic would reduce Coca-Cola’s use of virgin plastic by roughly 10,000 tonnes a year.

“Community and commercial pressure is driving a rapid take-up of recycled materials in bottling,” Ms Watkins said.

“The new 100 per cent recycled plastic bottle range supports the Coca-Cola Company’s aspiration for a world without waste, an ambition to help collect and recycle one bottle or can for each one it produces.”

The company’s Mount Franklin Still range was switched to 100% recycled plastic bottles in 2018.

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ALDI announces new packaging commitments

ALDI Australia has announced it will cut a quarter of all plastic packaging from its range by 2025, as part of a wide range of new packaging commitments.

ALDI Australia Managing Director Buying Oliver Bongardt made the announcement in front of 100 ALDI business partners at a supplier forum this week.

“In an act of transparency and authenticity, ALDI has committed to annually report on its progress towards this goal,” Mr Bongardt said.

“It’s our ambition to reduce the amount of plastic in our stores, while in parallel stimulating Australia’s circular economy and ensuring our business partners have commercially viable packaging options to reduce their reliance on virgin materials.”

Mr Bongardt said all single use plastics, such as cotton buds and plastic plates, will also be removed from ALDI stores by the end of 2020.

“Despite our desire, and that of our customers, to remove plastics immediately, this process will take years not weeks,” Mr Bongardt said.

“Today’s announcement is to clearly demonstrate that we are completely invested in the important journey of reducing waste, and we stand committed to quantify our progress over the coming years.”

Additionally, Mr Bongardt announced that ALDI had diverted six billion single-use plastic bags from entering the environment, the equivalent of 40,000 tonnes of soft plastic, since opening 18 years ago.

Mr Bongardt said ALDI acknowledged the pressure these commitments would place on their businesses and has resourced a team to support the transition.

In response to the announcement, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation CEO Brooke Donnelly said ALDI was demonstrating that sustainable packaging could drive a range of positive commercial benefits.

“I’d like to acknowledge ALDI on their new sustainability commitments, which represent a significant contribution to sustainable packaging in Australia and an important milestone in our work to reach the 2025 National Packaging Targets,” Ms Donnelly said.

“It’s particularly impressive to see the process ALDI has undertaken to involve their suppliers, effectively bringing a range of businesses along on their sustainable packaging journey and delivering an efficient, cost effective approach to the entire supply chain.”

ALDI’s packaging commitments:

— Reduce plastic packaging by 25 per cent by 2025.

— Actively reduce the amount of plastic packaging in the fresh produce range and transition to more sustainable alternatives where possible, producing no increase in food waste.

— Phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics by the end of 2020.

— Prioritise the reduction or replacement of difficult to recycle black plastic packaging.

— Make ALDI’s exclusive range packaging 100 per cent recyclable, reusable or compostable by the end of 2025.

— By the end of 2020, all paper and pulp-based packaging in ALDI’s everyday range will be either Forest Stewardship Council certified, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest certified or 70 per cent recycled.

— Include, at minimum, 30 per cent recycled materials in plastic packaging by the end of 2025.

— Use the Australasian Recycling Label on all ALDI branded products by the end of 2022.

— Further educate customers on the importance of packaging waste reduction.

— Publicly report against all goals from 2020.

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