European Bioplastics rejects biodegradable study

European Bioplastics released a statement rejecting claims made in a University of Plymouth study titled Environmental deterioration of biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable, compostable and conventional plastic carrier bags.

The Australian Organics Recycling Association and the Australasian Bioplastics Association have endorsed the statements.

European Bioplastic Chairman Francois de Bie said the findings were misleading as most bags used for study were not biodegradable according to European Union definitions.

“According to European Bioplastic, the bag defined as biodegradable was labelled as such according to the standard ISO 14855, which is not a standard on biodegradation, but merely specifies a method for the determination of the ultimate aerobic biodegradability of plastics, based on organic compounds, under controlled conditions,” Mr Bie said.

“The study actually highlights the importance of correct labelling and certification.”

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Malaysia issues warning to plastic smugglers

Malaysian Government Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin has announced a government investigation into illegal plastic waste imports.

According to Ms Yin, the investigation follows a two-week inspection period where 111 shipping containers full of plastic were found disguised as other goods.

Ms Yin has warned smugglers that Malaysia will not hesitate to send falsely declared plastic waste back to its country of origin.

Ms Yin’s announcement follows a 60 Minutes report that claimed 71,000 tonnes of Australian recyclable plastic had been exported to Malaysia and processed at illegal facilities.

While the Australian waste management industry rejected many of the claims made by 60 Minutes, the glut of specific kinds of plastic waste with no end destination is a global hot button issue.

Malaysia saw an influx of plastic imports after China’s 2018 crackdown on contamination, with data from UK HM Revenue and Customs, a non-ministerial department responsible for tax collection, showing UK plastic waste exports to Malaysia tripled in the four months following the contamination ban.

Earlier this year, India similarly issued a total ban on solid plastic imports.

Ms Yin said Malaysia would need the support of international government’s to stop the trade of illegal plastics.

“This operation is to avoid Malaysia becoming full of dirty plastic waste from other countries especially developed countries,” Ms Yin said.

“The Department of Environment, in collaboration with other government agencies, will continue to enforce the interests of the environment and the wellbeing of the people of Malaysia.”

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Plastic not so fantastic

Consistent labelling and increased industry capacity would help councils identify the correct pathways for recyclable plastics, writes Australian Local Government Association President David O’Loughlin.

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Coca-Cola announce major increase in recycled plastic

Coca-Cola Australia and Coca-Cola Amatil have announced that by the end of 2019, 70 per cent of the companies’ plastic bottles will be made entirely from recycled plastic.

The announcement forms part of the Coca-Cola group’s global commitment to helping the world’s packaging problem.

The world’s largest beverage company said the change will involve products 600 millilitre and under from brands such as Coca-Cola, Fanta, Fuze Tea as well as 750 millilitre Pump.

Coca-Cola Australia president Vamsi Mohan Thati said the company has a responsibility to help solve the plastic waste crisis.

“This is a big commitment to recycled plastic – the largest of its kind by a beverage company in Australia – and will significantly reduce the impact of our business on the environment.”

Mr Thati said Coca-Cola have a long history of supporting environmental partners in Australia, and over the past two years have invested more than $1 million towards cleaning up marine debris, improving access to recycling in public places, and developing innovative solutions to recycle plastic waste.

The company also has a 40-year history operating South Australia’s container deposit scheme, which pays 10 cents for all eligible beverage containers returned for recycling.

Coca-Cola also operates the container scheme in the Northern Territory, and is involved in the programs in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Coca-Cola Amatil Managing Director of Australian Beverages Peter West said the increase in the use of recycled plastic means the company will avoid using 16,000 tonnes of virgin plastic each year.

“We’ve heard the community message loud and clear – that unnecessary packaging is unacceptable and we need to do our part to reduce it nationwide,” Mr West said.

“It’s the single largest increase in recycled plastic use in our history, and our strongest step forward in reducing packaging waste and the environmental impact of our operations.”

Mr West said Amatil’s increased use of recycled plastic follows initiatives such as the elimination of plastic straws, support for cost-effective well-run container deposit schemes and the company’s support for the 2025 national packaging targets.

“Our landmark transition to use 100 per cent recycled plastic in bottles began with Mount Franklin Still Pure Australian Spring Water in 2018. Following extensive research and development, this will now roll out across other brands in bottles 600 millilitre and under, across Coca-Cola’s soft drink, water and juice products,” Mr West said.

Coca-Cola Australia and Coca-Cola Amatil support a number of grassroots initiatives to help collect and recycle beverage containers including CitizenBlue, Keep Australia Beautiful, and Eco Barge Clean Seas.

Both companies also support The Coca-Cola Company’s 2020 global goal of reducing waste by collecting and recycling as many cans and bottles as it sells each year.

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Veolia and Nestlé partner to tackle plastic waste

Veolia and Nestlé have announced a partnership to work on waste collection and sorting, and recycling plastic material with an emphasis on flexible plastic packaging.

Projects will focus on eleven priority countries across Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

The collaboration will explore technologies to establish viable models of recycling in different countries, including chemical recycling technologies like pyrolysis which is capable of producing virgin quality plastic.

These potential technologies will help Nestlé increase the recycled content of its bottled water packaging to 35 per cent and its overall product packaging to 15 per cent by 2025.

Nestlé Executive Vice President, Head of Operations Magdi Batato said plastic waste is a challenge that requires an ecosystem of solutions that work simultaneously.

“This partnership is another specific step to accelerate our efforts in addressing the critical issue of plastic waste.

“Leveraging on Veolia’s technology and expertise, we will start with pilot projects in multiple countries with the intention of scaling these up globally,” he said.

In late 2018 Nestlé committed to making 100 per cent of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.

Veolia Senior Executive Vice-President for Development, Innovation and Markets Laurent Auguste said the company welcomed the partnership as part of Veolia’s quest for a more circular economy of plastics.

“Our expertise in resource recovery and recycling has positioned us to tackle this issue with global brands and other value-chain actors across all continents.

“We believe it is time to move towards more recycling of materials, and we are happy to help our clients be ever more inventive so they can keep improving our quality of life, whilst protecting our planet and its resources,” he said.

The partnership follows a series of initiative’s taken by both companies to accelerate action to reduce plastic waste.

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Engineers develop technology to transform plastic waste

Engineers at Purdue University have developed a new chemical conversion process that can transform polyolefin waste, a form of plastic, into useful products such as fuel, pure polymers and naphtha, a mixture of hydro-carbon.

Leading researcher Professor Linda Wang said the technology has potential to boost profits in the recycling industry and shrink the worlds plastic waste stock.

Ms Wang was inspired to develop the technology after reading only 9 per cent of the 8.3 billion tones of plastic produced globally over the last 65 years had been recycled, with the remaining 79 per cent ending up in landfills and oceans.

“Plastic waste disposal, whether recycled or thrown away, does not mean the end of the story.

“These plastics degrade slowly and release toxic microplastics and chemicals into the land and the water.

“This is a catastrophe because once these pollutants are in the ocean they are impossible to retrieve completely,” she said.

The chemical conversion process incorporates selective extraction and hydrothermal liquefaction and can convert more than 90 per cent of polyolefin waste.

If the plastic is converted into naphtha it can be used as a feedstock for other chemicals or further separated into specialty solvents.

Purdue’s School of Engineering Technology is hoping to optimise the conversion process to produce high quality gasoline and diesel fuels saying fuel derived from polyolefin waste could each year satisfy four per cent of annual demand for gasoline and diesel fuel.

A February 2019 University of Technology Sydney study that revealed Australia only recycles a third of its plastic packaging waste suggests Wang’s technology has application potential in Australia.

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Footpath trial of recycled plastics in Lake Macquarie

Lake Macquarie City Council has used glass sand and recycled plastics on 30 metres of footpath as part of a project trialing the use of environmentally sustainable material.

‘Greencrete’ contains crushed glass sand and polypropylene strips made from 100 per cent recycled plastic which helps reinforce the concrete in place of steel mesh.

Manager of Lake Macquarie Asset Management Helen Plummer said 50 per cent of the fine aggregate used in the concrete was manufactured with glass sand rather than virgin material.

More than 5000 tonnes of glass is collected from Lake Macquarie homes each year, with a portion being sent to a Central Coast processing plant where it is washed and crushed into sand.

“We conducted extensive testing on the concrete prior to it being poured and it is a case of so far, so good.

“We will continue to monitor the footpath in coming months to see how it holds up to everyday wear and tear, and whether it cracks or wears differently to normal concrete,” Ms Plummer said.

Lake Macquarie council began trialling the use of recycled glass sand in civil works projects last June using the material in underground drainage pits.

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NSW Labor’s waste election pledges

New South Wales Labor leader Michael Daley has announced that if elected his government will ban single-use plastic bags and invest $140 million into local recycling initiatives.

Mr Daley said the NSW waste system is struggling to keep up with rapidly declining sites for landfill, China’s National Sword policy and a collapsing market for recycled material.

NSW is the second highest per capita waste producer in the world with every person in the state generating an average of two tonnes of waste each year.

Mr Daley said that within the first 100 days of taking office Labor would introduce legislation to ban plastic bags as part of a longterm plan to phase out single-use plastic.

The proposed $140 million Circular Economy and Job Creation Investment Fund aims to support the resource recovery and recycling industry by investing in recycling and processing facilities, increasing community-based waste reduction and providing seed funding for innovative solutions for dealing with waste.

Mr Daley said the fund would use unallocated waste levy revenue to support recycling and environmental programs.

Labor also plan to establish a recycling, resource recovery and waste council comprised of key industry stakeholders that will provide advice to the Environment Minister.

“It is a fact that recycling waste generates more jobs than sending waste to landfill, Labor’s war on waste will seize this opportunity and at the same time reduce waste and pollution. It’s a win-win,” he said.

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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.

Qantas Group to cut 75 per cent of waste to landfill by 2021

The Qantas Group has announced a plan to become the world’s first airline to reuse, recycle and compost at least three-quarters of its general waste by the end of 2021.

As part of this, more than 100 million single-use plastic items per annum will be removed from flights and lounges by the end of 2020.

Qantas and Jetstar generate more than 30,000 tonnes of waste annually. A new Frequent Flyer initiative has also been announced to increase voluntary carbon offsetting.

Announcing the plan as part of the national carrier’s half-year results, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said that business had a responsibility to lead on environmental issues.

“It is quite literally a waste and we have a responsibility to our customers, shareholders and the community to reduce it,” he said.

“We’ve already removed plastic wrapping on our pyjamas and headsets, as well as plastic straws. Even plastic Frequent Flyer cards are going digital. It adds up to millions of items a year because of our scale and there’s a lot more we can do.”

Some examples of changes to be implemented across Qantas, QantasLink and Jetstar from later this year include:

  • Introducing coffee cups that can be recycled or composted.
  • Effectively eliminating single-use plastics by switching to alternative packaging.
  • Removing unnecessary paper, such as boarding passes and operational manuals, by going digital.
  • Increasing donation or composting of food.
  • Recycling of old uniforms.

In targeting the removal of 100 million single use plastic items per annum, the group will replace 45 million plastic cups, 30 million cutlery sets, 21 million coffee cups and four million headrest covers with sustainable alternatives by end-2020.

The group has an existing target to reduce waste to landfill by 30 per cent by 2020, which it’s on track to reach through recycling and other programs. The 75 per cent goal now takes its place. Separate targets exist for fuel, water and electricity consumption, and Qantas has the largest carbon offset scheme of any airline in the world.

Airlines are legally required to dispose of some materials permanently, such as quarantined food from international flights and hazardous materials. With support from industry and regulators, the group believes it can ultimately reduce the volume of this regulated waste as well.

Similarly, there are some single-use plastics used by airlines (such as wrapping for hygiene purposes and some heat resistant containers for meal preparation) that don’t currently have a practical alternative. Qantas and Jetstar are working with manufacturers and other airlines to innovate in this space to further reduce waste to landfill.

“Few industries can eradicate waste completely, but with this program we’re saying that avoidable waste should no longer be an acceptable by-product of how we do business,” Mr Joyce said.

“This isn’t just the right thing to do, it is good for business and will put us ahead of legislative requirements in the various countries we operate in, where there is an end-date on various single use plastics.”