Material specifications a stepping stone to increasing recycled content

Developing and promoting a set of publicly available national recovered material specifications to enable greater uptake of recycled materials in domestic manufacturing and construction has become a priority project for NWRIC, writes CEO Rose Read.

The development and promotion of up-to-date specifications for recovered materials along the supply chain is key to providing certainty and confidence to both recyclers and manufacturers, as they look to increase recycled content in Australia’s domestic construction and manufacturing sectors in the wake of the waste export bans.

The export bans of waste plastic, paper, tyres and glass sent a clear message that Australia needs to increase the quality of recycled materials and take responsibility for its own waste through greater domestic reuse.

There was also the outcome of last year’s National Plastics Summit, where the Federal Government committed to the procurement of recycled materials and recycling market development as a priority.

These two critical activities impacting the waste and resource recovery sector, along with direction in the National Waste Policy Action Plan to “establish nationally consistent definitions and specifications for waste and recycled commodities to define the scope of export bans” and, “build industry capacity and infrastructure to collect, separate, recycle and remanufacture recycled materials”, were key drivers in the need to update existing and develop new national recovered material specifications.

NWRIC is committed to making available a clear set of recovered material specifications that will assist Australian recyclers in meeting market demands for recovered materials locally and overseas, as well as give manufacturers and construction companies greater confidence in the quality of recovered materials being put on to the market.

We also consider that to stimulate domestic reuse of recovered materials we need to improve the information available about the physical and chemical characteristics of recycled materials, and encourage independent certification or quality assurance of these secondary raw materials against mutually recognised specifications.

Effectively, through these specifications, we are taking steps for industry to become a reliable provider of quality secondary raw materials for manufacturing and construction rather than just a manager of waste.

To undertake this project NWRIC is working collaboratively across the supply chain, bringing together primary sorters and secondary processors with manufacturers to build on existing and develop new specifications for masonry materials, metals, organics, paper and cardboard, plastics, glass, tyres, ash and oil.

Material specifications for these nine material types will cover approximately 90 per cent of all the waste materials generated in the Australian economy, and more than 95 per cent of the embodied energy of production captured. Medical waste, liquids, hazardous waste and contaminated ash are excluded due to the complexity of these material steams.

NWRIC is also keen to see sorters and secondary processors getting their material outputs independently certified or assessed against these specifications so that buyers have confidence in the material they are receiving, and customers have certainty the waste is being converted into a resource for reuse.

The collaborative approach NWRIC is taking with industry across the supply chain to develop and enhance existing material specifications is an effective way to start the conversation between suppliers and buyers on how to get more recycled content into products and developing those markets.

NWRIC has been working closely with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation on specifications for plastic polymer bales from sorters (e.g. MRFs) and flakes from secondary plastic processors so they are input ready for plastic converters.

So far, specifications have been developed for seven material types, for both MRFs, sorters and secondary processors for PET, HDPE, PP and PE.

NWRIC is also working with the CSIRO End Plastics Waste Mission team and the Vinyl Council of Australia on material specifications for plasticised and non-plasticised PVCs coming out of the commercial and industrial, and construction and demolition waste streams.

This project includes undertaking stakeholder interviews across the supply chain to ensure the specifications and associated testing and auditing regimes developed for recycled PVC meet the manufacturers requirements.

One project that demonstrates the importance of developing material specifications and auditing systems with all stakeholders along the supply change is Western Australia’s Roads to Reuse program, where industry and government are working together to drive greater reuse of recycled materials in civil construction works.

The Roads to Reuse program is a WA state government initiative administered by the Waste Authority. Its objective is to encourage state government organisations, local governments, regional councils, and the private sector to use recycled C&D products in civil applications, such as road construction. It does this by supporting the supply of recycled C&D products to market that meet a product specification, to protect human health and the environment.

By having agreed material specifications and a strong quality assurance process in place, recyclers know what quality materials they must deliver, and the construction industry has confidence and certainty in both the quality of the material and its timely supply.

To date, more than 62,000 tonnes of Roads to Reuse material has been used as road base under full depth asphalt in Western Australian roads.

NWRIC hopes to achieve this level of collaboration and success across all nine material types.

A list of current national and international specifications identified can be found online at the NWRIC website,

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