National Sword could displace 111M tonnes of plastic waste by 2030

An estimated 111 million metric tonnes of plastic waste will be displaced by China’s National Sword policy by 2030 around the world, according to new research.

The Chinese import ban and its impact on global waste trade research paper published in the journal Science Advances reports that new global ideas are needed to reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials, including redesigning products and funding domestic plastic waste management.

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The report, authored by researchers at the University of Georgia, said China had imported 106 million tonnes of plastic waste since 1992, which makes up more than 45 per cent of total global plastic imports.

The National Sword Policy has implemented new restrictions on the contamination rate for imported waste, requiring a cleaner and more processed version of materials such as plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and textiles.

“The displaced plastic waste is equal to nearly half (47 per cent) of all plastic waste that has been imported globally since reporting began in 1988,” the report said.

“Only 9% of plastic waste has been recycled globally, with the overwhelming majority of global plastic waste being landfilled or ending up contaminating the environment (80 per cent).

“Plastic packaging and single-use items enter the waste stream immediately after use, contributing to a cumulative total of 6.3 billion MT of plastic waste generated worldwide.”

The report warns that if no adjustments are made in solid waste management, then much of the waste that would have been diverted from landfill by customers paying for a recycling service will be landfilled.

“Both the displaced plastic waste and future increases in plastic recycling must be addressed immediately. Initially, the countries exporting the most plastic waste can use this as an opportunity to develop and expand internal markets,” the report said.

“If domestic recycling of plastic waste is not possible, then this constraint reinforces the motivation to reduce use and redesign plastic packaging and products so that they retain their value and are more recyclable in domestic markets.”

EPA TAS opens waste minimisation for Sustainability Award

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Tasmania has opened nominations to the 2018 Community Achievement awards.

The EPA Sustainability Award acknowledges businesses from any industry sector who have developed and implemented initiative that minimise waste, maximise resource efficiency, reduce pollution and conserve water and energy.

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Submissions should be a for a project that provides measurable improvements in waste minimisation, resource efficiency, water conservation or energy efficiency and results in wider community or flow on benefits for the sector.

Nominations are now open for the following categories:

  • EPA Sustainability Award
  • University of Tasmania Teaching Excellence Award
  • Ricoh Business Centre Hobart Community Group of the Year Award
  • Prime Super Business Achievement Award
  • Prime Super Employer Excellence in Aged Care Award
  • MAIB Disability Achievement Award
  • Get Moving Tasmania Physical Activity Award
  • Fonterra Australia Agriculture Award
  • Betta Milk ‘Make It Betta’ Health Achievement Award
  • Rural Health Tasmania Innovation in Mental, Social and Emotional Wellbeing Award

Nominations can be submitted here, and close on Thursday 23 August.

Unilever Australia on track for sustainablity targets

Unilever Australia has announced it is on track to meet 80 per cent of its Sustainable Living Plan commitments, which include improving the health and wellbeing for 1 billion people and reducing the company’s environmental impact by half.

The plan originally launched in 2010 and aimed to decouple the company’s growth from its environmental impact, while increasing the company’s positive social impact.

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Some key commitments include sourcing 100 per cent of all grid electricity used in manufacturing with renewable sources by 2020, becoming carbon positive in its manufacturing operations by 2030 and making 100 per cent of its plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable while increasing the recycled plastic content in its packaging by 25 per cent by 2025.

Unilever Australia and New Zealand CEO Clive Stiff said the company has made good progress towards the targets in Australia and globally and that consumers were increasingly aware of the impact the products they purchase have on the environment.

“We also want to be transparent about how much more work there is still to do. This is critical when we are witnessing a crisis of trust in institutions in Australia and across the world. We believe business must play a leading role in restoring trust, and that at the heart of trust lies transparency,” Mr Stiff said.

“We also know that the biggest challenges facing our nation and our world can’t be addressed on our own. There is an ever-increasing need for us to work in partnership to drive transformational change across our value chain. To do so will require a new level of transparency across the board and business must be part of the solution.”

Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Awards now open

Entries are now open for the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Awards, which recognise individuals, communities, organisations and businesses leading the way to a sustainable future.

Example entries from 2017 included a small business that uses new technology to clean without chemicals, a hospital soap recycling program for disadvantaged communities, a new type of energy efficient residential development and a program to rebuild Port Phillip Bay’s oyster reefs.

The 2018 Premier’s Sustainability Awards categories are:

  • Built Environment
  • Community
  • Education
  • Environmental Justice
  • Environmental Protection
  • Government
  • Health
  • Innovative Products or Services
  • Small and Medium Enterprises
  • Large Business

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the awards are an opportunity to recognise Victorians who are leading the way in sustainable practices across all sectors.

“We know that more and more Victorian businesses, not-for-profit organisations, community groups and government programs are implementing sustainable practices,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

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“Many Victorian organisations are nation leading in their sustainable practices and I encourage them to enter the Premier’s Sustainability Awards this year to inspire others to think more creatively about the work that they do.”

Sustainability Victoria CEO, Stan Krpan, said the awards celebrated sustainability not for its own sake, but the flow on effects that are felt right throughout the community.

“We have an incredible depth of sustainability talent in Victoria – they’re saving energy and resources, developing and applying new technology reducing and re-purposing waste, regenerating natural and man-made environments, and saving threatened species.

“This work leads not only to environmental good, but to other tangible benefits in terms of increased productivity, reduced costs, many community benefits and enhanced reputation,” he said.

As well as awards in each of these categories, the Premier will personally select two overall winners for the Premier’s Regional Recognition Award and the Premier’s Recognition Award.

Entries close on Thursday, June 7.

For more information on the awards criteria, registering for updates and free information sessions, and to read about past finalists and winners, visit the Premier’s Sustainability Awards website.

Pictured: Lily D’Ambrosio

Glass and plastics could be used to help build footpaths

End-of-life plastics and glass fines could soon be used in the construction of footpaths instead of going to landfill, according to a new study from the Swinburne University of Technology.

The research found plastics and glass fines could be incorporated into concrete footpaths while still meeting the standard requirements, and without compromising the mechanical properties.

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It is estimated that approximately 100,000 tonnes of flexible plastics end up in landfill each year, and only 48 per cent of glass waste is recovered for recycling, according to Sustainability Victoria.

The next step for this project is to include local governments and industries to increase the amount of recycled content in footpath construction.

“The use of recovered plastics and glass fines in concrete footpaths will divert significant quantities of these materials from landfill, while reducing the demand for virgin construction materials,” said Swinburne University of Technology’s Dr Yat Choy Wong.

This research project is one of seven projects that investigate new ways to increase the use of recovered class and flexible plastics.

National Plan for PFAS released to protect environment and health

The heads of all state and territory EPAs and the Federal Government have released a National Environment Management Plan for PFAS (per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) to help protect the environment and human health.

PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals which have historically been used in firefighting foams and other industrial and consumer products for decades, according to EPA Victoria. PFAS can also be found in soil, surface water and groundwater in urban areas, and some PFAS are being phased out around the world as they may pose a risk to human health and the environment.

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The National Environment Management Plan for PFAS describes how to properly deal with and clean up contaminated sites, how to best treat soil and waste, and methods for safely destroying the chemicals.

PFAS can make products heat resistant, non-stick, water repellent, and weather and stain resistant.

Prior to the plan, there was no consistent guidance or direction for communities that had been affected by PFAS.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s Executive Director Assessments, Tim Eaton, said PFAS chemicals have been used in a range of products in the past, including pesticides, stain repellents and fire-fighting foams.

“PFAS compounds have had a wide range of uses because they resist heat, chemical and biological degradation, and are very stable,” Mr Eaton said.

“There is now growing concern worldwide about the effects of PFAS on our health and on animals and plants, because of that chemical stability and the fact that they easily enter the environment, moving into soil, creeks, rivers and lakes. We know there are sites with PFAS contamination, so we are working collectively to manage them.”

The plan can be read here.

New recycling technology processes tyres into resources

Tyre processing company Pearl Global has begun commissioning its first production plant to recycle tyres into valuable secondary products.

The technology uses an applied heating process called thermal desorption, which converts waste tyres into liquid hydrocarbon, high tensile steel and carbon char, and can be sold separately or processed further.

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Pearl has constructed its first production plant, with two thermal desorption units (TDUs) in Stapylton, Queensland and initial commissioning under way. The second TDU is owned by Pearl’s intellectual property licensor and contracting partner Keshi, and will be purchased by Pearl as soon as practical.

Each TDU can process approximately 5000 tons (4536 tonnes) of shredded rubber at full production, equivalent to 50,000 car tyres. On average, this equates to a weekly output 1.5 million litres of raw fuel.

“This is the first plant of its type in Australia and we expect to be ramping up to full production over the coming months,” Pearl Executive Chairman Gary Foster said.

The materials are being developed into potential commercial products, including a degreaser product.

With assistance from The Centre for Energy at the University of Western Australia, Pearl’s degreaser products have been tested and compared to existing commercial degreasers and have surpassed the standards required for commercial degreasers, with one of them showing the best performance of all the degreaser products, according to the company.

Over 51 million used tyres get discarded in Australia a year, but only five per cent are recycled. Pearl’s technology focuses on extracting the resources from tyres instead of using them for constructing children’s playgrounds or exporting. Pearl (formerly Citation Resources Limited) in February rejoined the ASX following a reconstruction and a $5 million capital raising.

Pearl recently received planning approval from the Gold Coast City Council and has approval from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage. It already holds an environmental licence from the Western Australian Government Department of Environment Regulation.

“This is a turning point for used tyre processing in Australia. We are the first company in Australia to receive licenses for the thermal treatment of rubber, to reclaim and recover valuable products for resale,” Mr Foster said.

“Our technology is a significant advancement on other methods of processing waste tyres because it has low emissions, no hazardous by-products, requires no chemical intervention and is the only process that meets the standard emissions criteria set by the Australian regulators for this type of technology,” he said.

Mr Foster said the technology will help Australia handle a serious global environmental problem.

“We believe there is great potential in Australia to immediately deploy our technology at sites close to where tyres have been stockpiled,” Mr Foster said.

“With governments seeking or mandating solutions for waste, Pearl is well placed to offer a solution that is both environmentally sound and commercially viable.”

Pearl has applied to be an accredited member of Tyre Stewardship Australia.

Deakin project uses plastic dialysis waste to produce durable concrete

Dialysis patients could inadvertently improve sustainability in the construction industry, thanks to an innovative Deakin University recycling project that’s turning hospital waste into longer-lasting concrete.

A team at Deakin’s School of Engineering is behind the new project, which could ultimately save from the scrap heap the thousands of tonnes of plastic waste created in Australia each year through dialysis treatment.

Project leader Dr Riyadh Al-Ameri, a senior lecturer in structural engineering, said the project could solve two problems in one, with corrosion of steel bars used in concrete construction a major issue for the industry.

The project is a collaboration between Dr Al-Ameri and nephrologists Dr Katherine Barraclough from the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Professor John Agar from Barwon Health’s University Hospital Geelong, and came about when the specialists approached Deakin to find a practical solution to their waste issue.

Dr Al-Ameri said his project team was hoping to use the shredded plastic waste to help better protect structural concrete from corrosion.

“Concrete can crack and damage the internal bond, which can then lead to water penetration and corrosion of the steel bars, critical for providing the strength and integrity of concrete structures.

“If we are able to facilitate production of new types of concrete that will offer better protection, give structures longer life and better performance, as well as help recycle plastic waste, that will be a great achievement.”

Dr Barraclough said each dialysis treatment created between one and three kilograms of plastic waste, and with more than 12,000 Australians on dialysis, that added up to about 5,100 tonnes of plastic waste per year.

“Haemodialysis (the most common type of dialysis) involves making a circuit where blood is pumped from a patient’s bloodstream through a machine then back to the patient. This removes toxins and excess water and is life sustaining for patients with kidney failure,” she said.

“For safety reasons, both the tubes that carry the blood and the dialyser (the part of the machine that cleans the blood) are made of plastic designed for single use only. The result is large amounts of plastic waste generated from each dialysis treatment.

“Because the waste is potentially infectious, it must be either burnt or sterilised before being thrown away. This not only costs a lot of money, but also causes significant harm to the environment.”

As part of some initial testing, Dr Al-Ameri’s team added the shredded plastic waste to a concrete mix at concentrations of 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent by weight of concrete, with results showing this made a product that was more durable and significantly more water-proof.

Going forward, Dr Al-Ameri and his team hope to conduct more rigorous testing to see if this new concrete mix can stand up to harsh conditions.

“We will use our accelerated weather corrosion tanks in the concrete lab to simulate a marine environment,” Dr Al-Ameri said.

“One month in the lab is equivalent to approximately one year outside, so we can observe the behaviour of the material quickly and efficiently.

“Wet and dry cycles can have a big impact on the durability of the concrete, and sea water has chloride, which is very harmful to both concrete and steel reinforcement.

“So we’re looking for innovations that will help concrete construction of off shore rigs for oil and gas, observation towers, concrete buildings in coastal areas that are exposed to humidity, and marine structures such as retaining walls that are in contact with water.”

Pictured: Deakin University School of Engineering PhD candidate Aifang Wei and project leader Dr Riyadh Al-Ameri.

Photo credit: Donna Squire

ACT’s smart program boosts business recycling

From training for cleaners to awards recognition, the ACT Government’s Actsmart Business Recycling program is making 
a big impact on the territory’s sustainability performance. Organisations from across Australia are now being invited to use Actsmart’s tools to improve their recycling rates.

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