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NWRIC calls for national standards to enhance recovery

NWRIC resource recovery rates

Australia can substantially increase resource recovery rates and better meet end user demand by adopting best practice standards, says NWRIC Chief Executive Officer, Rick Ralph.

In April, the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) delivered a National Recovered Material Specifications for Sorting and Processing Facilities Report to the Australian Government. This report provides information intended to assist Australian recyclers enhance the volume and value of tradable products in domestic and overseas markets and stimulate domestic reuse of recovered materials.

NWRIC, with assistance from MRA Consulting, was engaged by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to consider and recommend national performance standards for primary sorting facilities and secondary processing facilities handling glass, plastics, metals, paper and cardboard, and organics collected through the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) stream.

Rick Ralph, NWRIC Chief Executive Officer, says by adopting a number of affordable and relatively straightforward measures it is possible to substantially increase resource recovery rates and better meet end user demand. 

“While both minimum and best practice standards are essential, best practice specifications are key to growing resource recovery rates and increasing the quality and commercial value of resources and should be used wherever possible,” Rick says.  

The recommendations in the report are informed by a thorough literature review and audit of recovered resource specifications both locally and internationally, material flow mapping, and a comprehensive stakeholder consultation process.

NWRIC resource recovery
NWRIC Chief Executive Officer, Rick Ralph

“The review also found that key international markets are increasingly demanding higher standards for recycled products. The proper framework must be in place and easy to access in Australia to allow industry to respond,” Rick says. 

“Countries such as China and Malaysia are setting higher quality import specifications which are impacting what Australian sorters and processors can export. We need to protect our trading capacity by having these minimum and best practice standards in place.” 

The review identified 65 national and international recovered resource specifications for materials collected through the MSW stream: 14 glass, 25 plastic, eight metal, 10 paper and eight organics. 

Of these specifications, 38 are national standards or regulations developed by different national or state governments and bodies. The other 27 are international standards developed by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) or other international bodies.

NWRIC has recommended a total of 49 existing sorting and processing specifications for each material type and stage of the recovery process, along with indicative time frames, responsibilities and practical actions necessary both upstream and downstream to achieve each specification.

“Change doesn’t mean a massive overhaul though. We can achieve this while also ensuring the recommended actions are practical to implement, commercially sound, deliver added value back to the resource recovery chain, actually increase resource recovery, and can also adapt to changing technology and market conditions,” Rick says. 

“These recommended upstream and downstream actions have the added advantage of contributing to the implementation of the 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan.”

The recommendations include amendments to 11 of the recommended specifications to improve the quality of the resources being recovered; and development of seven new specifications to cover unprocessed glass fines, glass sand for filtration and insulation applications, liquid paperboard bale, shredded mixed flexible plastic, advanced recycling feedstock, advanced recycling output (oil) and pulp.

“Critically, the Report recommends several upstream actions, including changes to packaging design, what should be accepted in yellow bins, expansion of container deposit schemes (CDS), that will significantly improve the quality and quantity of resources recovered,” Rick says.

Packaging design should encourage the production of mono-material packaging, ensure caps and rings can easily be removed, avoid pressure-sensitised labels and coloured PET, limit tin content, reduce the use of metal closures on glass products, as well as phase out the use of PVC and PS in packaging where possible.

Producers and brands should clearly label aerosol cans, especially those containing flammable substances with safe disposal instructions to mitigate potential risk of explosion in compaction trucks and sorting facilities. The Australian Recycling Label should also indicate the appropriate recycling categorisation for packaging made from PVC or PS.

Federal, state, territory and local governments should consider national bin input standards to reduce inconsistencies between local government areas, including community education campaigns on key bin contaminant issues.

State, territory and local governments should consider expanding the type of glass and plastic containers collected through CDS, and, where possible, align end of waste and resource recovery orders for organics with food and organic collection and processing contracts.

AORA and the agricultural sector should consider developing an organic product certification scheme, driven by end user consultation to create higher value products for agriculture and incentivise product innovation.

To increase confidence and reduce confusion, a joint industry online portal (e.g. NWRIC, ACOR, AORA, APCO, Chemistry Australia) should be developed that provides sorters, processors and end users with a free single point of access to all relevant recovered material specifications.

Finally, consideration should be given to assisting sorters and processors gain independent certification of processed outputs against the recommended specifications to give domestic and international end users greater confidence in the quality of material being supplied. If deemed appropriate, certification could also help streamline the export permit process.

“The quality of the resource recovery value chain dictates negotiations between individual seller-buyer contracts. These specifications are about increasing the value and volume of recovered resources and making it easier for sorters and processors to produce high quality recycled outputs,” Rick says.  

The full report is available at:

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