Transport’s macroeconomic headwind

When the world’s biggest consumer of raw materials decided it would no longer accept imports of 24 categories of solid waste, it sent a shock through Australia’s transport and waste industry. 

In July of this year, China notified the World Trade Organization that it plans to ban the import of 24 different types of solid waste from Japan, USA, Australia and other source countries, in a bid to reduce pollution. The ban is expected to take full effect by the end of 2017.

When looking at plastic waste alone, in 2016, China imported 7.3 million metric tons of plastic waste worldwide worth $3.7 billion, accounting for more than half of global imports, according to figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The Economist reported that China imported 45 million tonnes of scrap metal, waste paper and plastic from overseas countries in 2016, which together is worth more than $18 billion. Locally, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found in its 2013 Waste Account data that China received 32 per cent of the total value of Australia’s waste exports in 2011-12. That same financial year, Australia’s main export to China was metal, which account for 31 per cent of all materials, while China received 64 per cent of its Australian from paper and cardboard.

The decision to ban the 24 categories sparked concern from the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA), which is still grappling with the consequences as it collaborates with the federal government on trade issues. A report by the Freight & Trade Alliance indicates that the list of some of the affected products in Australia includes plastic waste from living sources, unsorted waste paper, vanadium and waste textile raw materials. China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has indicated it will still allow some kinds of steel and non-ferrous scrap, while items to be completely banned include tyres, textiles, plastic, glass and old medicines.

ASPA Secretariat Travis Brooks-Garrett says that although the ban does not extend to all waste products, it is the most severe move to date under China’s anti-foreign garbage campaign. He says the ban could have significant consequences for the way Australia treats waste domestically, in increasing our landfill task, but may also signal further bans on imported waste products. Travis says that any such move would need to be closely scrutinised against China’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.

He says APSA has been working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in response to the announcement, alongside the major waste industry bodies. Travis says that the Federal Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade held a roundtable with industry representatives in August and will follow up with the relevant Chinese authorities to seek further information regarding the many questions raised.

“The response from both the office of Steve Ciobo (the Federal Minister for Trade) and from the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, was immediate and reflected the concerns of industry, and for that they should be commended,” he notes.

Industry consultant, Mike Haywood, says he was able to foresee the ban. The writing was on the wall, he says, with previous crackdowns on plastic waste through policies such as National Sword 2017. The policy was launched earlier this year, as China’s General Administration of Customs announced an intention to reduce and eliminate the illegal smuggling of foreign waste. For years, China had already been clamping down on its inspection of secondary commodities. From February 2013 to November 2013, the national custom agency launched Operation Green Fence, a plan to prohibit the import of unwashed and contaminated materials from entering China.

“We are pushing down the track of a circular economy and while we’re doing that the main market for our commodities is slowly but surely closing up,” Mike says.

Read the full story on page 59 of Issue 14. 

Managing the future

Although the smart waste collection technology industry is still in an early phase, Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled smart bins and sensors are slowly gaining traction globally.

According to a new report by US research company Navigant, the market is expected to grow from US$57.6 million (A$77 million) in 2016 to more than US$223 million (A$300 million) in 2025, with a 16.3 per cent compound annual growth rate.

“Currently, most municipal waste collection operations focus on emptying containers according to predefined schedules,” explains Christina Jung, a Research Associate with Navigant. “This is inevitably inefficient, with half-full bins being emptied, poor use of city assets and unnecessary fleet fuel consumption.”

Jung says the smart waste collection solutions of the future will be able to track waste levels and provide route optimisation as well as operational analytics – providing new opportunities to optimise waste management: “More and more municipalities and waste service managers are realising that
these solutions can help them meet sustainability goals, improve services for residents and reduce operational costs [at the same time].”

She adds, “There is a growing awareness among city leaders of the potential benefits of multi-application approaches to the deployment of smart city infrastructure. At the heart of this transformation is IoT technology that connects a range of intelligent sensors and devices to monitor and automate city operations. Areas where technology is having the greatest impact include street lighting, public safety, traffic systems and waste collection.”

Jung’s observation comes on the back of TDC, Denmark’s largest telecoms company, and Cisco forming a partnership agreement in June 2016 to deploy a digital IoT city platform in Denmark. As part of the initiative, Dublin company SmartBin deployed its sensors to a range of waste and recycling containers that were integrated with the city’s digital platform. In addition, lamp posts and traffic lights were equipped with sensors that are able to send data to a control console at the town hall and allow real time monitoring of waste production.

A similar project took place locally in Australia 2014, when the Sunshine Coast Council partnered with Cisco and Telstra to develop the so-called Smart City Framework, a portfolio of 13 municipal service areas including waste management. Here, Enevo and its Brisbane-based partner, Smarter Technology Solutions, saw the successful initial deployment of Enevo’s smart fill- level sensors.

“Another example of an integrated smart waste collection solutions are solar-powered waste bins equipped with Wi-Fi units,” Jung says. “While many smart city initiatives propose to provide public Wi-Fi hotspots, it can be expensive to lease areas to host the equipment. However, with Wi-Fi- enabled smart bins, cities can run access points by using the solar energy already collected by the bins.”

According to Jung, the town of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates installed ten solar-powered Bigbelly bins with Wi-Fi as early as June 2016 and is planning to deploy several hundreds more of them.

“Yet, despite the successful [early] deployments, there is still limited demand for smart waste collection solutions due to the lack of awareness about cost [recovery] and the effectiveness of the technology.”