World first e-waste recycling microfactory launches at UNSW

A world first microfactory capable of transforming components from e-waste which may reduce the amount sent to landfill has been launched at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The microfactory uses technology developed after extensive research at UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT Centre) and is able to reduce the issue of e-waste from discarded phones and laptops causing environmental harm when sent to landfill.

NSW Minister for the Environment Gabrielle Upton said it was exciting to see new technological innovations that could transform waste management and recycling.

“I am very pleased to launch the UNSW e-waste microfactory today, a NSW home-grown solution to the waste challenges facing communities all over the world,” Ms Upton said.

“It is exciting to see innovations such as this prototype microfactory and the potential they have to reduce waste and provide a boost to both the waste management and manufacturing industries in NSW,” Ms Upton said.

The micro factory is able to operate on a site as small as 50 square metres and can be located at anywhere waste is stockpiled. It functions as a series of machines and devices that use technology to perform one or more functions in the reforming of waste products.

The UNSW microfactory is able to reform computers, mobile phones and printers, and has a number of modules for the process. The devices are first broken down, then a robot identifies useful parts, which sends them to a small furnace which transforms them into valuable resources using precise temperatures and processes developed by extensive research.

SMaRT Centre Director Professor Veena Sahajwalla said the e-waste microfactory was the first of a series of microfactories under development and in testing at UNSW that can also turn many types of consumer waste streams such as glass, plastic and timber into commercial materials and products.

An example of this is turning computer circuit boards into valuable metal allows such as copper and tine. Glass from devices can also be converted into micrometrical used in industrial grade ceramics and plastic filaments for 3D printing.

“Our e-waste microfactory and another under development for other consumer waste types offer a cost-effective solution to one of the greatest environmental challenges of our age, while delivering new job opportunities to our cities but importantly to our rural and regional areas, too,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“Using our green manufacturing technologies, these microfactories can transform waste where it is stockpiled and created, enabling local businesses and communities to not only tackle local waste problems but to develop a commercial opportunity from the valuable materials that are created.”

Dr Sahajwalla said microfactories presented a solution to burning and burying waste items that contain materials which can be transformed into value-added substances and products to meet existing and new industry and consumer demands. This was a truly sustainable solution to our growing waste problem which also offers economic benefits available to local communities, she said.

“We have proven you can transform just about anything at the micro-level and transform waste streams into value-added products. For example, instead of looking at plastics as just a nuisance, we’ve shown scientifically that you can generate materials from that waste stream to create smart filaments for 3D printing,” she said.

“These microfactories can transform the manufacturing landscape, especially in remote locations where typically the logistics of having waste transported or processed are prohibitively expensive. This is especially beneficial for the island markets and the remote and regional regions of the country.”

The technology was developed with support from the Australian Research Council and is now in partnership with a number of businesses including e-waste recycler TES, mining manufacturer Moly-cop and spectacle company Dresden.

The SMaRT Centre is expanding its partnerships with industry, investors and local councils. The centre aims to commercialise and create incentives for the industry to use this technology and to encourage sustainable behaviours.

Tyre Stewardship Australia host second Tyre Industry Conversation

Tyre Stewardship Australia is hosting the second tyre industry conversation to focus on international factors that influence Australian markets.

In particular, the event will discuss how the Australian resource and recovery and recycling industry has been affected by recent change and disruption.

It will also provide an update on the international state of play from European and New Zealand end-of-life tyre markets, which aim to provide insight for the Australian tyre recycling industry.

The event will include presentations from international speakers from the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Secretary General of the UK Tyre Recovery Association Peter Taylor will be a keynote speaker, who will bring experience from the largest market-based best practice program in Europe for scrap tyres. He was also awarded an OBE by the Queen for his services to the tyre industry.

Senior Policy Analyst at the Ministry for the Environment Meg Larken will also provide a keynote presentation, bringing her experience from four years at the Ministry and from the recent policy for end-of-life tyres.

The Tyre Industry Conversation will take place on 11 April at 9am – 1pm. It will be hosted at The Mint, 10 Macquarie St, Sydney. Attendees are asked to RSVP by 29 March.

First Global Recycling Day launches

The first Global Recycling Day has taken place on Sunday, March 18, which saw cities around the world run events to encourage people to rethink recycling.

The event is designed to raise recycling awareness and aims to petition the United Nations to officially recognise the day.

Related stories:

A “Seventh Resource Manifest” aims to encourage people to start thinking about recyclable material as an additional primary resource to water, air, coal, natural gas, oil, and minerals.

Events took place in Delhi, Dubai, London, Paris, Washington DC, Johannesburg and Sydney.

“We need to see waste for what it really is – a wasted resource. There is no place on our planet anymore for products that are used only briefly and thrown away,” said Head of United Nations Environment Erik Solheim.

“We need to ensure planned obsolescence is a thing of the past. It’s time for countries in the world to dramatically step-up recycling rates if we are to save this planet,” Mr Solheim said.

Bureau for International Recycling Ranjit Baxi said the event was a vitally important new date in the global calendar.

“To truly harness the power of recycling we must adopt a global approach to its collection, processing and use. It is time we put the planet first and all commit to spend 10 more minutes a day ensuring that materials are disposed of properly,” Mr Baxi said.

“Global Recycling Day is also a wakeup call to all of us, wherever we live.  We must unite with those involved in the industry – from workers in waste collection to the world’s largest businesses – to help them make the best use of what we dispose of and make recycling easier, inherent even in the design of products,” he said.

Population boom could lead to more recycled drinking water

Sydney’s population is set to increase by an estimated 1.74 million residents in the next 18 years which could lead to growing pains when it comes to waste water.

Dr Ian Wright, from the Western Sydney University’s School of Science and Health, said many people do not realise that Sydney already relies on recycled sewage to top up its water supplies.

“Drinking recycled sewage is a very confronting topic. But even in Australia’s biggest city – Sydney – it is an important part of the water supply,” said Dr Wright.

“The large settlements of Goulburn, Lithgow, Moss Vale, Mittagong and Bowral all discharge their treated sewage into the catchment rivers of Sydney’s Warragamba Dam,” said Dr Wright.

“There are also sewage treatment plants located in the Blue Mountains, Penrith, Wallacia and West Camden, all of which discharge their treated sewage into the Hawkesbury-Nepean River,” he said.

“The North Richmond Water Filtration Plant extracts and treats this water to supply some parts of north-western Sydney.”

Dr Wright says this method of ‘indirect potable reuse’ of treated sewage is common, and the water is highly treated to ensure it meets Australian drinking water guidelines.

He says no Australian urban water supply currently uses ‘direct potable reuse’ of treated sewage – which involves the water being transferred from a sewage treatment facility directly into a city’s water source, without it first being mixed into a dam, river or reservoir.

But if Sydney’s population grows at the rate expected, the concept will need to be seriously considered.

“Available data is limited, but in the recent dry summer I estimate that treated sewage comprised about 20% of the Hawkesbury-Nepean flow in the North Richmond area,” says Dr Wright.

“Much of Sydney’s population growth will be in western Sydney, one of the most rapidly growing urban populations in Australia. And this will result in more treated sewage, and urban runoff, contributing to the Hawkesbury-Nepean River flow.”

Organics market development grants open: EPA NSW

The Tasmanian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is considering a proposal for an organics processing facility at Mowbray in Launceston.

NSW businesses, councils, agricultural associations and project communicators can now apply for the second round of grants to promote the benefits of compost into new markets.

Grants worth up to $300,000 are available to provide funding for projects that will build markets for compost made from household food and garden waste, including material collected from kerbside bins.

Example projects that are eligible for funding include showcasing compost benefits to farmers, demonstrating benefits to soil health, or improving market confidence by promoting the high standard of modern compost quality.

Previous rounds of grants have already funded projects that have demonstrated how compost builds resilient turf on sporting fields and improves soil health on farms in Sydney and the Riverina.

EPA Unit Head Organics Amanda Kane said the grants gave business, councils and agricultural associations the chance to deliver projects that could make a real difference when it came to organic waste.

“From saving good food from being wasted and addressing food insecurity in our state, to increasing NSW capacity to process more collected green waste, we’re tackling organics waste from every angle,” Ms Kane said.

“This funding is helping to build strong, viable markets for a quality recycled product and supports other programs to increase supply through more collections and infrastructure to build the capacity of the industry in NSW to process more.”

The grants are being delivered through the NSW EPA’s Waste Less Recycle More initiative.

Applications close 28 March, 2018.