Alex Fraser: recycling through the ages

As Alex Fraser celebrates its 140th anniversary, Waste Management Review details the company’s efforts to become one of Australia’s leading providers of recycled construction materials.

Not many Australian companies have 140 years of operation behind them. Such a milestone is even more extraordinary when you consider the enormous changes that have occurred over the past century – from two world wars to some of the most challenging economic recessions.

Alex Fraser is one organisation that recently hit that 140-year milestone, attributing its long history of success to investment in its people and its business. As a result, the company was able to swiftly respond to major shifts in material usage and keep pace with changing community expectations.

While the company is synonymous with building a sustainable construction sector, its humble beginnings were in the metals sector.

In 1879, Alex Fraser was a founding member of a metal broker firm, in Queen Street, Melbourne, run by the Melbourne Metal Exchange (MME).

With the price of metal fluctuating on an almost daily basis, Fraser and his fellow MME members controlled the entire output from Barrier Mines as well as other important mines throughout the country with silver, lead, zinc and tin the principle metals.

In the early 1920s, Fraser made the decision to retire and return to his country of birth, leaving the business to a clerk employed with the company – Archibald McKellar. McKellar’s 11 years with the business helped him grow the business throughout the Great Depression and eventually take over as owner.

With the passing of McKellar Snr, his son Archie took over after World War II in the 1950s. Margins were difficult at the time and with stiff competition in the tin and lead business, McKellar Jnr set looked for new opportunities, starting with the demolition and recycling of metal from returned fighter jets and tanks from the war.

Many of these initial opportunities saw Alex Fraser become a pioneer in commercial recycling, including plastics and dry nylon recycling. During the 60s and 70s, demolitions became a prominent activity for Alex Fraser and by the late 70s, its primary industry.

The early 80s marked the beginning of a new age in Alex Fraser’s recycling story as it embarked on one of its most ambitious projects yet. Led by Jamie McKellar and his brothers Robert and Peter, the family’s third generation began to transform large quantities of construction and demolition (C&D) waste, like concrete, asphalt, brick and stone, into new construction resources such as aggregates and roadbase.

With the establishment of its first concrete recycling site in Port Melbourne, Alex Fraser started to grow its employee base from an initial few to more than 260 across five recycling plants in Queensland and Victoria.

Alex Fraser Asphalt was launched in the 1990s. It quickly expanded to include two high-capacity asphalt plants on opposite ends of Melbourne’s metro area and five asphalt crews renowned for their quality workmanship and reliability.

Together, Alex Fraser’s recycling and asphalt operations work with local governments, contractors and asset owners to build greener roads throughout Melbourne and Brisbane, reducing the carbon footprint of construction by up to 65 per cent.

DEVELOPING A REPUTATION

One of its biggest milestones arose in 1992, when governments, councils and contractors began to recognise and support the use of recycled C&D. Alex Fraser worked closely with government to develop VicRoads specifications. These specifications have been periodically updated and set an outstanding example of government agencies supporting the use of recycled content.

Alex Fraser went from strength to strength, winning the Western Ring Road and Albert Park Grand Prix track projects and laying the foundations of Melbourne’s Crown Casino. As of 1987, it was responsible for almost half of Victoria’s C&D recycling effort.

By 2008, Alex Fraser became a major recycling enterprise, having produced 20 million tonnes of sustainable construction materials. Peter Murphy, who has been with Alex Fraser for more than 15 years, transitioned the company into its next phase of growth, stepping up to the role of Managing Director in 2011 after the company changed hands to John Swire & Sons.

Peter’s background in logistics drove Alex Fraser’s commitment to reliability, ensuring responsive delivery to its valued customers. He and his team consistently benchmark locally and internationally which has helped foster a culture of innovation and best practice at Alex Fraser.

Peter led the establishment of a network of world class recycling facilities, and spearheaded Alex Fraser’s innovative recycled glass projects.

Fast forward to 2019 and Alex Fraser’s notable achievements span turning glass into construction sand, converting historically landfilled concrete into recycled aggregates and roadbase, and using a wide variety of recyclables in its quality asphalt mixes, including recovered asphalt, glass and plastics.

It is now responsible for producing up to four million tonnes of sustainable construction material per annum, recovering millions of tonnes of demolition and glass waste and paving more than 1000 kilometres of green roads every year.

This year the company is in the midst of commissioning a world-first glass recycling plant and new high recycled technology asphalt plant, doubling the volume of recycled sand produced in Victoria while drastically increasing the volume of recycled materials incorporated in its asphalt mixes.

Peter credits the company’s innovation and agility to its people who are always looking for the next improvement, and to strengthen long-term relationships with customers and regulators.

“We work hard to provide reliable services, so our customers can get their projects done on time, on spec and on budget. On all our customer projects, supply timelines are integral to performance. If we can give them a high volume of consistent material, their project will be more efficient,” Peter explains.

He says that it was rewarding to see the efforts of Alex Fraser’s people recognised last year with the company winning the Waste and Recycling Award at the Victorian Transport Association Australian Freight Industry Awards.

“The prize commended our game-changing glass recycling operation that diverted hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste from landfill and provides resources that are badly needed to fulfil Victoria’s multi-billion-dollar infrastructure pipeline,” Peter says.

“It also substantially reduces heavy vehicle movements. There’s plenty of talk about recycling lately. We’ve been doing it for a long time on a large scale and have continued to innovate and invest.”

R&D CONTINUES

Of course, none of Alex Fraser’s achievements would be possible without its continued efforts to improve the end markets for recycled materials. The company conducts ongoing research and development with partners including CSIRO, Australian Road Research Board, Melbourne’s RMIT, Melbourne University and Swinburne University. Testing over an extended period on materials and pavements demonstrates that recycled aggregate matches, if not exceeds, the performance of the equivalent virgin material.

Part of its ongoing work is liaising with individual local government areas and businesses to educate them on the environmental and commercial benefits of using recycled material.

Peter says that as natural resources deplete and quarries move further afield, transport costs increase sharply.  Recycled materials are not only a sustainable option, but often the most economical.

Alex Fraser’s desire to benchmark recycled materials led to a decision to partner with RMIT Centre of Design and conduct a life-cycle analysis of its recycling operation compared with a quarrying operation.

In May 2008, the results of the RMIT research were released indicating the carbon footprint of recycled crushed concrete is 65 per cent less than equivalent quarried material. These findings have subsequently been independently verified in accordance with international standard ISO14040.

“Demand is increasing and the constant challenge is to ensure that all of these major projects happening across the country are aware of sustainable alternatives,” Peter says.

“The consistent quality, compaction, transport and density benefits of recycled construction materials are well recognised as presenting substantial savings to construction costs, so they are well supported across the sector.”

He says that Alex Fraser’s recycled road base and aggregates comply with road building authorities’ specifications, such as VicRoads and Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads, and the vast majority of local governments also support the use of recycled content.

“VicRoads has a strong track record of choosing recycled materials for some of its biggest projects, including the M1 and M80,” Peter says.

Last year, Alex Fraser developed PolyPave™ – a high-performing asphalt product containing recycled materials, including plastic, glass and RAP. Melbourne’s City of Yarra was the first of many councils to incorporate the new material in its roads through a resurfacing project in late 2018.

Peter says that Alex Fraser has been planning for the long term and sets a very high benchmark in operating standards for its sites.

“This includes ensuring our operations are ‘not seen and not heard’ through extraordinary measures to address air quality management, acoustics, traffic and visual amenity as well as constantly working to reduce the carbon footprint of our own operations and our customers’.”

Alex Fraser’s original Laverton site in the 1980s.

POSITIONED FOR GROWTH

Alex Fraser was last year acquired by construction and building material supplier Hanson Australia. Complementing Alex Fraser’s unique sustainability offering is Hanson’s technical expertise, sophisticated systems and large site network.

Peter says that Hanson’s ownership strengthens the viability of recycled materials, with great synergies between the two businesses.

“We are working together to improve efficiencies at Alex Fraser and Hanson, including recycling Hanson materials.”

As for the future of Alex Fraser? The company has continued to invest and aims to expand its capabilities with new materials and new locations.

“The new integrated facility at Laverton is a demonstration of a thriving circular economy at work. It has answered a long-standing question around how successfully waste materials can be recycled into quality resources for greener roads.”

Peter says that Alex Fraser will continue to be agile, evolving its business to align with community needs as it works towards another prosperous 140 years.

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NSW EPA opens $7 million recycling grants

Business, councils and not-for profits can access more than $7 million in grants to boost NSW recycling rates and encourage innovation in the waste industry, the NSW EPA has announced.

EPA Executive Director Waste Operations Carmen Dwyer said Product Improvement Program and Circulate grant programs are both open for applications.

“These grants can help reshape our waste and recycling industry in NSW, which is undergoing significant change,” Ms Dwyer said.

“Previous grant recipients have already diverted thousands of tonnes of waste from landfill, and are continuing to take major strides forward in reshaping the way we deal with waste.”

A total of $6.3 million is available under the Product Improvement Program, through grants up to $1 million each, to fund innovative projects and provide new recycling solutions via infrastructure or research and development.

In 2018, Unilever received $500,000 under the Product Improvement Program to install new infrastructure at its North Rocks Factory and include a minimum of 25 per cent recycled material in its personal and home care range.

Circulate grants are awarded to projects that prolong or give second life to resources and material via reuse in industrial or construction processes. $1.2 million is available under this program until 2021, with individual grants of up to $150,000.

Under the Circulate program, Cross Connections Consulting received $150,000 to reprocess soft-plastic waste from local businesses into park benches, garden beds, and fencing.

“These grants help to ensure NSW can continue to achieve strong results when it comes to reducing waste, reusing materials and recycling,” Ms Dwyer said.

“Investing in recycling is a no-brainer – it will stimulate local remanufacturing capacity and generate new industries and jobs.”

Both programs are funded through the NSW Government’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative, run by the NSW EPA.

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Queensland releases resource recovery roadmap

Queensland’s Resource Recovery Industries 10-Year Roadmap and Action Plan aims to support modernisation in current industries and advance product development in underdeveloped end markets.

State Development Minister Cameron Dick is encouraging all Queenslanders to read the newly released draft and provide feedback.

“The ongoing development of markets for recycled and repurposed material through investment in modern efficient facilities and processes will reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and assist Queensland to become a zero-waste society,” Mr Dick said.

“Working closely with industry and other stakeholders, we’ve developed a series of roadmaps focused on emerging priority sectors with global growth potential.”

The roadmap outlines four strategies to enable growth in the resource recovery industry – accelerate the project pipeline, develop market and supply chains, create responsive policy and legislative frameworks and develop applicable technology.

The draft outlines a number of proposed actions including delivery of the $100 million resource recovery industry development program and developing a comprehensive analysis of the resource recovery market sector, including the identification of supply chain efficiencies and the promotion of new market opportunities.

The state government will also work to provide facilitation services, ensure the availability of suitable industrial land and investigate opportunities for the inclusion of recycled products in government procurement policies.

According to the roadmap’s key date timeline, a waste and resource recovery infrastructure plan will be established by September and an energy-from-waste policy released shortly after.

Mr Dick said through these initiatives the state government hopes to see more material re-enter the production cycle.

“We’re actively looking for opportunities to support new resource recovery sector projects through programs such as the resource recovery strategy and industry development activities,” Mr Dick said.

“Government will support industry to overcome some of the typical barriers encountered by emerging or new technologies, including access to funding, business case development, commercialisation partnerships and the de-risking of projects.”

The Resource Recovery Industries 10-Year Roadmap and Action Plan complements the draft Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy released in February 2019.

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Proposed Adelaide MRF seeks funding

The Southern Region Waste Resource Authority (SRWRA) has developed a business case for a $21 million material recycling facility (MRF) in Adelaide’s south.

According to SRWRA Chairman Mark Booth, South Australia’s 2018 Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan specifically identified the need for an MRF to service southern Adelaide.

SRWRA, a joint subsidiary of Holdfast, Marion and Onkaparinga council, is seeking federal funding for the facility.

Mr Booth said government investment was necessary to minimise the use of landfill and improve recycling in the region.

“The operation of a MRF creates the opportunity to stimulate local economic growth through the creation of a new industry to re-use, re-purpose and recycle recovered resources,” Mr Booth said.

“I’ve written to the candidates of Boothby, Kingston and Mayo to help secure funding, including a five million contribution towards the construction of the plant.”

Mr Booth also requested an additional five million to develop an economic fund to support compatible circular economy industries in the region.

“This is about us becoming self-sufficient, creating a circular economy and reducing our reliance on recycling companies,” Mr Booth said.

“We’ll be able to utilise recycled materials in our own backyard, create up to 37 full time equivalent jobs at the new plant, process approximately 60,000 tonnes of product per annum and attract complementary businesses to our region.”

Mr Booth said the new facility would ease strains caused by China’s ban on contaminated recycling imports and the rising financial and environmental costs of disposal to landfill.

“A plant like this will reduce the financial impacts of the China Sword recycling ban – felt not only by our three councils but all councils and their ratepayers,” Mr Booth said.

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Organics regeneration: Australian Organics Recycling Association

To renew and regenerate is a fundamental and everyday principal to an industry dedicated to the recovery and beneficial reuse of organics, writes the Australian Organics Recycling Association’s Diana De Hulsters and Peter Wadewitz.

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Which Bin launches in South Australia

The South Australian government has launched a campaign urging residents to consider what they put in their household recycling and organics bins.

Environment Minister David Speirs said the Which Bin campaign was launched to raise awareness of kerbside recycling contamination and bin restrictions.

“South Australians are great recyclers and we have a proven history in waste management,” Mr Speirs said.

“However, we can all do much better when it comes to knowing what should, and should not go in the recycling and green organics bin.”

Mr Speirs said food and green organic waste represents roughly half the contents of the state’s general waste bins.

The campaign aims to divert this waste for landfill and drive traffic to the newly developed Which Bin website, according to Mr Speirs.

The Which Bin website provides residents with a definitive recycling guide irrespective of local council.

“Education is a vital tool in improving the way South Australians approach waste management, and we feel the new campaign will inform the community in an easy to understand way,” Mr Speirs said.

A suite of resources for local government has also been developed, including calendars, bin stickers, signage, posters and customisable social media assets.

“The more we can divert from landfill to recycling and composting the better, for both the environment and reducing costs for local councils while creating jobs,” Mr Speirs said.

“We can support the local recycling industry by ensuring the correct recyclable items are placed in the correct bin and that these are clean and contaminant free.”

Which Bin is funded through the state government’s $12.4 million support package for the recycling industry.

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NWRIC welcomes Coalition waste policy

The National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has issued a statement of support for the Coalition’s proposed waste and recycling policy.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the Coalition’s recent policy announcement would help facilitate a cleaner environment for all Australians.

“The announcement reveals a federal election which has seen the biggest tri-partisan commitment to waste and recycling in Australian history,” Ms Read said.

“The Coalition’s promises follow equally welcome commitments by the Labor Party and the Greens.”

Ms Read highlighted the Coalition’s $100 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund, Product Stewardship Investment Fund, $20 million investment in new and innovative solutions to plastic recycling and commitment to continue working with state, territory and local governments on opportunities to get more recycled content into road construction.

Ms Read said while party commitments vary in focus and values, the lead up to the election has seen a recognition of the waste and recycling challenges facing Australia.

“This is welcome news for all Australians because irrespective of who they vote for, they all put their bins out,” Ms Read said.

“Furthermore industry’s priorities are clear, more jobs, better services and less pollution – there is really nothing to disagree with about delivering this essential community service.”

NWRIC is concerned however about the lack of targets for government procurement of recycled goods, incentives to producers to increase recycled content in their products and packaging or willingness to drive state harmonisation of waste regulations and levies.

“Having six states and two territories enforcing different laws, levies and standards limits industry investment in innovative waste management and resource recovery infrastructure and services essential to building a circular economy,” Ms Read said.

“Good policy combined with funding is the key to effective outcomes and greater certainty for industry investment.”

Ms Read said for the proposed Product Stewardship investment to achieve meaningful outcomes, it must be underpinned by smart, simple regulations that create a level playing field and ensure full producer engagement.

“The National Waste Recycling Industry Council is calling for the appointment of a National Waste Commissioner to drive these necessary reforms and a tri-partisan approach to harmonising the regulations framing our industry,” Ms Read said.

“This process has been a clear success for work health and safety and heavy vehicle laws.”

Ms Read said every household and business in Australia purchases waste services and most purchase recycling services.

“The Commonwealth can cut costs for all Australians and stimulate industry investment by driving collaboration between states, industry and producers and essential regulatory reforms,” Ms Read said.

“It is critical that whichever party wins the upcoming federal election that they work proactively with industry to create jobs, serve communities, protect workers and reduce pollution.”

Earlier in the election cycle NWRIC similarly praised Labor’s policy commitments, specifically noting the development of a national container deposit scheme, National Waste Commissioner and the $60 million investment in a National Recycling Fund.

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The City of Yarra to trial kerbside glass collection

The City of Yarra in Melbourne has announced plans to trial a fourth kerbside glass bin in 1300 Abbotsford households.

According to the City of Yarra website, starting in June the city will provide residents with a purple-lidded bin for glass waste in addition to the current garbage, recycling and food and garden waste bins.

“We need to change how we recycle as individuals, as a community and as a municipality,” the website reads.

“Our current model of consumption and waste is not working for the planet, environment or our community. We’re all part of the waste system and together must all be part of the solution.”

The trial is estimated to run for 12 months and builds on a successful food and garden waste collection (FOGO) trial conducted last year.

Results from the FOGO trial saw a 40 per cent diversion of waste from landfill, with current FOGO contamination rates now averaging less than one per cent.

“Currently the glass in the kerbside recycling bin is creating contamination,” the website reads.

“Broken glass damages the quality of other materials, by removing it recycling will be better quality and more valuable to processors.”

The website highlights that a lack of available landfill space in Victoria, particularly in metropolitan Melbourne, is creating additional pressure on the waste and recycling industry.

“For years we’ve ignored the potential of locally processing our recycled materials like glass,” the website reads.

“We are being proactive and exploring new ways to collect and manage your recycling to help fix the recycling industry, create local jobs and use waste as a resource instead of sending it to landfill.”

Following the trial period the city will consider expanding the service through Yarra.

The trial will be run with support from the State Government, Sustainability Victoria, RMIT University, Australian Paper Recovery, Four Seasons Waste and Alex Fraser Group.

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Plastic Forests releases product made entirely from recycled plastic film

In an attempt to address the issue of plastic waste, Plastic Forests have developed the Mini Wheel Stop – Australia’s first recycled product for inside the home made entirely from mixed plastic film.

Plastic Forests Managing Director David Hodge said Australia generates an estimated 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, but currently only has the capacity to recycle 12 per cent.

According to Mr Hodge, the situation is worse for contaminated plastic film, with less than one per cent being recycled.

Mr Hodge said wide spread manufacturing of the Mini Wheel Stop could enable the diversion of 8.8 million kilograms of plastic film waste from landfill – 12 per cent of the total plastic waste exported to Malaysia last year.

For the past 20 years Australia has sent its plastic waste to cheap reprocessing operations in China, Vietnam, Malaysia and India.

“With thousands of poor backyard operations using basic technology, the unusable plastic was simply buried, burned or washed into rivers causing widespread environmental pollution,” Mr Hodge said.

“In January 2018 China effectively banned the importation of the world’s plastic waste, imposing strict contamination regulations. Now much of Australia’s plastic waste has nowhere to go other than landfill.”

Although there is some capacity in Australia for recycling PET, HDPE and cartons, there is little built capacity for recycling plastic film such as plastic bags and packaging.

The Mini Wheel Stop is designed as a parking marker for the garage floor, enabling car owners to stop guessing whether they are parking in the right spot, and preventing damage to the car, walls and belongings.

Each Mini Wheel Stop is made in Australia with the equivalent of 155 plastic bags, thereby locally recycling the mixed plastic film waste previously exported to China, Vietnam, Malaysia and India.

“It’s important that people realise recycling doesn’t end when we put out our recycling bin, it’s a complex issue, but at the end of the day, recycling only works when someone buys a recycled product,” Mr Hodge said.

“Our hope is that some big retailers will support us by stocking our new Mini Wheel Stop, it could even be made from their own plastic waste and branded – enabling us to divert more plastic from landfill and create a circular economy.”

Mr Hodge said while plastic is creating devastating effects for oceans and the environment, it also enables the 21st century lifestyle.

“As a society, we need to think smarter about how we use plastic through its whole life cycle, creating circular economies and reducing our plastic use wherever possible,” Mr Hodge said.

“In a world of limited resources plastic recycling is an important part of the story. We need individuals, corporates and government to buy Australian products made with recycled content.”

Plastic Forests have recently invested in a new site in Albury NSW, which Mr Hodge said will significantly ramp up the company’s reprocessing capabilities.

“Our new five acre industrial facility will allow us to further expand our recycling capabilities and manufacture additional products, keeping ‘plastic as plastic’ and out of landfill,” Mr Hodge said.

Plastic Forests was the recipient of a grant from the NSW EPA’s ‘Waste Less Recycle More’ $802 million initiative in 2016.

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Industry associations respond to 60 Minutes recycling report

Waste management industry associations have released a statement contesting claims made in the 60 Minutes Sunday night program, Plastic not so fantastic.

Liam Bartlett’s 60 Minutes report claims much of Australian plastic waste is not being reused or recycled, but rather dumped, buried or burned in illegal processing locations in South-East Asia.

The program refers to Australia’s recycling industry as a ‘con,’ which according to industry associations doesn’t paint a full picture of the Australian recycling industry or its capacity, and includes a false claim that much of Australia’s plastic waste is being disposed of incorrectly.

Recycling groups including the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), the Australian Organics Recycling Association, Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW and National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) contributed to the statement — urging greater investment, regulatory reform and policy support from governments.

According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Australia generated 67 million tonnes of waste last year, 37 million tonnes of which was recycled.

The report also shows 33 million tonnes of that recycling was undertaken within Australia, with plastic exports decreasing by 25 per cent.

It is estimated in the report that between 10 and 15 per cent of kerbside recycling cannot be recycled because it is contaminated with nappies, soft plastics, garden hoses, bricks and batteries.

ACOR CEO Peter Shmigel said the program should not discourage the vast majority of Australians who regularly recycle.

“Australian recycling is highly successful despite some ill-conceived claims in the broadcast, in fact up to 90 per cent of material collected for recycling is made into new products,” Mr Shmigel said.

Plastic not so fantastic claims 71,000 tonnes of Australian recyclable plastic has been exported to Malaysia.

In response, Mr Shmigel said 71,000 tonnes represents less than two per cent of the 4 million tonnes that is actually exported and less than 0.2 per cent of the 37 million collected for recycling.

“If the claim that all these materials are not being properly processed is accurate, this is very concerning, as there are also legitimate processors in Malaysia,” Mr Shmigel said.

According to the statement, in response to the impacts of restrictions across Asia, the local recycling industry which employs more than 50,000 Australians and generates up to $15 billion in value, is currently making some of the most advanced recycling investments in the world.

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said the industry is investing in high-tech infrastructure to improve sorting and processing in order to produce high quality materials from recovered waste.

Ms Sloan is also advocating for a stronger domestic recycling system through a new labelling scheme to build community confidence.

“We need a Made with Australian Recycled Content label which will do two key things – empower the community to take action and ownership of the materials they consume, and incentivise manufacturers and brand owners to include recycled content in their packaging and products,” Ms Sloan said.

“This will create new markets for recycled materials and ensure a sustainable future for kerbside recycling, local resource recovery, and remanufacturing.”

Ms Sloan said the local industry is investing heavily and working collaboratively to upgrade local processing capacities which in the past were, to some extent, built to meet China’s previous specifications.

A recent Reachtel survey commissioned by ACOR found that almost 93 per cent of people said reducing waste and recycling products into new products was important to them and 87 per cent supported increasing recycling and reducing landfill by processing food and garden material from rubbish bins into useful products.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the community continuously votes in favour of recycling through its strong participation.

“We encourage householders to continue to separate and sort their recycling correctly to reduce contamination and realise the environmental and economic benefits of recycling,” Ms Read said.

Prime Creative Media has contacted 60 Minutes for comment.

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