Chemistry Australia joins CSIRO’s Plastics Mission

CSIRO is collaborating with Chemistry Australia’s Plastics Stewardship initiative to inform ways to more sustainably use, re-use and recycle plastic products.

Chemistry Australia Strategy Energy and Research Director Peter Bury said the association is proud to partner with CSIRO to progress science-based solutions to sustainably manage Australia’s valuable plastic resources.

“Chemistry Australia and its members from across the plastics raw material industry, packaging industry and broader supply chain welcome the opportunity for strategic, national collaboration on such an important issue,” he said.

“As an industry, we support the sustainable use and recovery of plastics and we are keen to contribute our capability in polymer science, engineering, manufacturing and market development to the solutions developed through CSIRO’s Plastics Mission.”

Bury added that by working with CSIRO, Chemistry Australian can use leading science to establish standards and technologies to ensure recovered plastics are transformed into safe and valuable products.

“Plastics will continue to play a vital role in meeting the demands of a growing global population and managing greenhouse gas emissions, so it’s important we find ways to maximise the value of this important resource throughout its lifecycle,” he said.

The Plastics Mission, one of 12 missions in development by CSIRO, is using science and technology to address Australia’s plastics waste issue.

Each year, 90 billion tonnes of primary materials are extracted and used globally for plastics. Only nine per cent is recycled, with economic, social, environmental and health impacts.

CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist Denise Hardesty said CSIRO was working with collaborators through the Plastics Mission to apply technological solutions to the entire plastics supply chain and prevent waste ending up in the environment.

“Our research is helping to understand the extent of plastic pollution in Australia and globally, and how to reduce it,” she said.

“Rethinking plastic packaging is just one way of reducing waste, through better design, materials and logistics. We can also transform the way we use, manufacture and recycle plastics by creating new products and more value for plastics.”

New solutions under development include plastics detection using artificial intelligence, implementing and optimising waste monitoring systems, and establishing recycling standards and best practices to reduce contamination.

In partnership with Microsoft, CSIRO is using machine learning and camera sensor technologies to identify where intervention is needed to stop plastic from entering waterways.

Microsoft Australia Chief Technology Officer Lee Hickin highlighted the importance of supporting efforts to aid development of a national baseline to measure litter accumulation in the environment, which was key for measuring and reacting to change.

“Microsoft artificial intelligence image recognition is underpinning the identification of plastic pollution,” he said.

“By using AI to accelerate the detection and classification of rubbish in our waterways, we can simply react more quickly and work to improve the quality of water faster than if done manually.”

Camera sensor technologies are also being applied to waste traps, commonly used by councils to prevent waste flowing through stormwater drains into the environment.

City of Hobart Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds explained that the city is working with CSIRO to develop an autonomous sensor network to provide real-time reporting on the amount of waste being captured.

“Gross pollutant traps capture waste that ends up in stormwater drains. But maintenance can be costly and time-consuming,” she said.

“By tapping into CSIRO’s modelling capabilities, we can optimise our operations to avoid the release of pollutants, while improving safety and reducing environmental harm.”

Image credit: Ocean Protect. 

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