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The Federal Government’s new $190M Recycling Modernisation Fund will generate $600 million of recycling investment and drive a billion-dollar transformation of Australia’s waste and recycling capacity.

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Survey shows level of recycling confidence: ACOR

The Australian Council of Recycling commissioned Prime Creative Media before and after COVID-19 to get an updated measure of industry confidence.

In the wake of COVID-19, some organisations have identified the potential for new business over the next six months, but it comes against a broader backdrop of concern about public policy settings for recycling, a new report by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has shown.

ACOR which represents dozens of people contributing to the $15 billion resource recover industry, commissioned Prime Creative Media through its title Waste Management Review to undertake a measure of industry confidence of Australia’s recycling sector.

From January to March 2020, Prime Creative Media surveyed more than 500 respondents working in municipal waste (MSW), commercial and industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste.

The trends have shown that while almost half of all organisations across MSW, C&I and C&D are positive about their organisation’s performance, more than a third of respondents across all streams are very negative about the public policy and government setting.

Respondents ranked issues most important to them and the top three issues across employees working in MSW, C&D and C&I.

Key issues highlighted by respondents were a need for greater reinvestment of state waste disposal activities into resource recovery, grants/loans for resource recovery and pro-active purchasing of recycled content by the public sector.

In ACOR’s second follow-up – COVID-19 Industry Pulse Check – 41 per cent of just under 100 participants indicated they were somewhat impacted by COVID-19, 35 per cent very impacted and 16 per cent unsure of the impact.

Businesses are also somewhat confident about identifying new business opportunities over the next three to six months, with 35 per cent indicating some level of positivity.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said that with the Council of Australian Government’s ban on the export of unprocessed materials, re-investment into the sector is critical now more than ever.

“If we want to optimise recycling’s environmental and economic benefits….we need to better line up industry interests and their social outcomes and public policy,” he said.

“Implementation of the National Waste Policy with all stakeholders around one table is an opportunity in that way.”

Key findings: 

 

You can read the full results of the survey here.

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Increase of household waste during isolation affects recycling

During current lockdown measures, Australian households have thrown out more than 10 per cent more rubbish and recyclables via kerbside bins.

ACOR said urgent action is needed to manage the additional volumes of plastic waste as the increase in household waste is affecting Australia’s recycling and resource recovery system.  

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said over the past two months, the recycling and waste industries have experienced unprecedented levels of kerbside recycling, especially from soft plastics.

The impact of more people staying at home has raised concerns with ACOR on Australia’s ability to meet national packaging recycling targets by 2025, which were agreed by federal and state governments in 2018.

Mr Schmigel said before COVID-19 emerged, the nationally adopted target for plastic packaging being recycled was set at 70 per cent of plastic packaging being recycled or composted.

“A commitment was made to the phase-out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging,” he said.

“With these new and unexpected trends, these targets will be even harder to hit by 2025.”

Mr Schmigel said there are exceptionally high levels of soft plastic going through the system, including fresh food packaging, packaged food wrappers, the wrapping around paper towels and toilet paper, postal and delivery sacks, and plastic shopping bags.

“Regretfully, too much of this soft plastic is ending up where it does not belong – the kerbside recycling bin – and that spoils our good recycling efforts as a country,” he said.

“As per local Councils’ instructions, soft plastics do not belong in kerbside recycling bins.”

However, return of soft plastic by consumers to supermarkets has stayed steady, which means extra material being consumed is not being fully captured for recycling. 

Mr Schmigel said also due to people working from home, recycling from business sites is down by over 20 per cent, which is impacting on the overall viability of the industry.

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction Trevor Evans launched a report by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) this month tracking the progress of the national 2025 packaging targets.

It found only 16 per of Australia’s plastic packaging was recycled or composted in 2017-18.

“We need change at both the supply and demand ends: behavioural changes from Australians to get it right at the kerbside and to return soft plastics to supermarkets, and policy changes from governments,” he said.

ACOR is calling on the Federal and state Governments to help consumers by making  labels mandatory rather than voluntary for brand owner companies and purchase recycled content products such as plastic roads and noise barriers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced export bans on waste plastic last year, to tackle the amount of rubbish including paper, glass and tyres in the world’s oceans.

“If no action is taken to address the plastics issue, other than to implement the proposed export bans and the current system is maintained, the recovery rate for plastic packaging will drop from the current 16 per cent to 13 per cent in 2025,” the 2019 report stated.

“Upcoming communications campaigns to help consumers reduce kerbside recycling contamination from the Governments of South Australia and Victoria are very welcome in this context, and their example should be followed by the other States,” he said.

“These campaigns go a long way to help inform Australians on what to recycle where, but it is ultimately all our responsibility to actively learn correct methods.”

Mr Schmigel said ACOR’s suggested low-cost initiatives are necessary and will keep hi-viz recycling jobs in cities and regions going during this challenging time.

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Recyclers confident about performance in face of crisis

Although it is early days for COVID-19, some organisations have already identified the potential for new business and innovation over the next six months. The finding comes against a broader backdrop of concern about public policy settings for recycling, a breaking report commissioned by Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has shown.

ACOR, which represents the $15 billion strong resource recovery industry, commissioned Prime Creative Media to undertake a measure of industry confidence of Australia’s recycling sector.

From January to March 2020, Prime Creative Media surveyed more than 500 respondents working in municipal waste (MSW), commercial and industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste. This included an updated survey conducted in the past two weeks.

The research reports found that, while almost half of all organisations across MSW, C&I and C&D streams are positive about their organisation’s own performance and prospects, more than a third of industry respondents across all streams are not positive about public policy and government settings for resource recovery.

Respondents ranked issues most important to them and the top three issues across organisations working in MSW, C&D and C&I.

Keys issues highlighted by respondents were a need for greater reinvestment of State-based waste disposal levy funding into activities in resource recovery; grants/loans for resource recovery especially infrastructure and technology; and pro-active purchasing of recycled content products by the public sector.

In ACOR’s second follow-up – COVID-19 Industry Pulse Check – 41 per cent of just under 100 participants indicated they were somewhat impacted by COVID-19, 35 per cent very impacted and 16 per cent unsure of the impact.

Several respondents indicated they would like clarifications on what the meaning of waste as an essential service is. Respondents called for waste levy relief by pausing waste levy increases over the next six months to 12 months.

Businesses are also somewhat confident about identifying new business opportunities over the next three to six months, with 35 per cent indicating some level of positivity.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said that with the Council of Australian Government’s ban on the export of unprocessed materials, re-investment into the sector is critical now more than ever.

“It’s hoped that governments take the findings of these reports under consideration as part of the ongoing response to COVID-19 and more broadly.

The overall picture is one of an industry that believes in its own capability, and was planning significant capital investments, but that is not as confident about the policies, regulations and government frameworks under which it operates. The latter are key to industry development,” Shmigel said.

“If we want to optimise recycling’s environmental and economic benefits, including during COVID19 when we really need those hi-viz jobs, we need to better line up industry interests and their social outcomes and public policy.

Implementation of the National Waste Policy with all stakeholders around one table is an opportunity in that way. It’s time for an era of better partnership, including around infrastructure, procurement, planning, and economic signals like waste disposal levies,” he added.

You can read the full results of the survey here.

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No more empty promises: ACOR

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel provides a four-point plan for an Australian recycled content product reboot.

Promises and keeping them are important. Really important. In the form of norms and laws, kept promises are what keep our society glued together and functioning.

The same is true of Australian recycling. Every time someone participates in recycling – from presenting material at the kerbside or the city office building, to collecting and sorting and reprocessing and remanufacturing that material – we’re basically part of a promise. It’s a promise that that material will be made into a new product – a recycled content product (RCP).

In recent times, as Asian societies have changed their material import rules and some virulent mainstream media reports have followed, there have been many in Australian society who have been testing the promise. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Anyone involved in recycling – whether you’re running a company, a council waste educator or a one armed bandit – has heard the same question many times over: “So, is it really being recycled?”

This is evidence that regular punters, including those who make decisions about whether to hire recycling contractors at their businesses, are questioning the social licence of our industry to operate. It’s serious stuff – even if it’s based on perceptions and emotions than data and rationality. Narrative matters.

Those of us closer to the real numbers and the real facilities know the empirical reality. The vast majority of what’s collected, is in fact, recycled. Whether you run a material recovery facility (MRF), scrap metal site, glass beneficiation plant or a paper mill, you know the truth. More than 35 million tonnes is recycled, with only four million of that heading overseas.

At MRFs themselves, due to community-generated contamination and “wish-cycling”, loss rates generally don’t exceed 10 to 15 per cent as a result of good technology and good operators. Moreover, 50,000 recycling sector jobs and some $15 billion of GDP value just didn’t magically appear.

But ultimately, at the same time that waste awareness is very high, community confidence in recycling outcomes ain’t in great shape. Our industry needs that goodwill for business health and for the ongoing support of public policy decision-makers, especially as we make the tough but inevitable transition to domestically sustainable recycling.

Therefore, it’s time for us to get much more serious about RCPs – both as a method to meet our public promise and as a key part of domestic transformation. Fortunately, there are some good “green shoots” like Coca-Cola’s commitment to recycled content PET bottles (and let’s hope they’re Australia-sourced), and similar RCP initiatives from PACT, Asahi, Nestle, Unilever and others.

These are all good news, but the risk remains that without an overarching strategy, RCPs won’t become the norm they need to be. Us grey beards remember the demise, for example, of the Buy Recycled Business Alliance, and local government-based RCP purchasing initiatives like Eco-Buy in the early 2000’s.

An overall plan is especially necessary as we have to increase plastics take-up by 400 per cent, according to the SRU report for the Federal Government. Without this, the report found we won’t meet APCO targets and policy parameters such as the environment ministers’ directive to the packaging supply chain to get 20 per cent recycled content in PET and HDPE.

So, here’s a quick four-point plan for the “Australian RCP reboot”:

ONE: Results not rhetoric: The nice words from the Federal Government and the states, including at the last two meeting of environment minister meetings, need to become done deeds in developing RCPs and measurable targets. Councils, in fact, are probably doing better than the other tiers of government in areas such as secondary glass and mixed plastics into roads.

TWO: Follow the money: The economics of virgin material use compared to recyclate use – when using standard rationalist metrics – is not in favour of recycled products in some material categories. That’s partly a result of structural factors, including Australia’s comparatively high labour and energy costs, as well as increased amounts of historically inexpensive fossil fuel for virgin plastics resin manufacture. Therefore, if we want RCPs made here and all the social and environmental benefits that come with that, we have to pull economic levers here.

Options include UK- and France-style GST discounts for RCP manufacturers, European-style EPR schemes (if consumer costs can be contained) and energy rebates based on the energy-efficient nature of RCPs. Or, perhaps, given that secondhand goods such as those going through Vinnies and Lifeline are GST exempt, what’s so different about a “secondhand” plastic bottle?

THREE: Rules of the road: Agreed and recognised specs and standards around RCPs – be they for recycling collection, sorting, remanufacture or export – create confidence. There’s been a failure of leadership and communication in this area – and we’re all to blame. As Equilibrium’s recent report for the Commonwealth spells out, we need real standards and now. And we shouldn’t let any development processes drag on and become a delaying tactic by some self-interested players. It’s great to see industry innovators using RCPs including in roads using existing information; all it takes is normal risk mitigation and initiative.

FOUR: “Once you think you’ve communicated enough, communicate again”: RCPs become more viable when the supply chain is humming. For it to do that, there’s a case for better “vertically integrated” communication and education. For ratepayers that’s “recycling right” and helping them understand the RCPs their efforts help make. For procurement managers, civil engineers and other product specifiers, that’s on RCP availability and performance. For the community, it’s what brands are making RCP commitments and merit support at the cash register.

Or as one of my colleagues says: “If you’re not buying recycled, you’re a recycling bystander.” It’s time for those in a position to buy recycled – governments, councils, consumers, corporates – to get off the sidelines. And it’s time for our industry to strive for the best possible processes and RCPs that beat virgin on performance and confidence. That’s the promise we need to keep.

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Federal Govt commits to dollar for dollar infrastructure investment

In a speech to the first ever National Plastics Summit in Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to match industry investment in recycling infrastructure dollar for dollar.

With Australia’s recycling facilities “under severe strain”, the Prime Minister said the Federal Government would invest in technological innovation to maximise the value of recycled products.

“I will have more to say on this closer to the up-coming budget, but the Commonwealth stands ready to work with the states, to co-invest in these critical infrastructure facilities, and with industry,” Mr Morrison said.

“We are working with state and territory governments to identify and unlock the critical upgrades that will lead to a step-change in their recycling capacity. And we will invest in these facilities with governments and with industry on a one-to-one-to-one basis.”

Furthermore, Mr Morrison announced plans to strengthen the Commonwealth Procurement Guideline, to ensure “every procurement undertaken by a Commonwealth agency considers environmental sustainability and the use of recycled content as a factor in determining value for money.”

In his address, Mr Morrison highlighted demand as central to long-term industry sustainability.

“We know that banning the export of waste plastics will keep more of the raw stock here for use, and lifting industry capacity will increase our ability to use these materials constructively. But to make the system really hum, we need to build the market,” he said.

“The global recycled plastics market is expected to grow at 7.9 per cent annually over the next decade, they are phenomenal figures, and be worth almost $67 billion in 2025. Industry is not blind to the incredible potential here.”

Of the summit, Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the Federal Government was creating an unprecedented opportunity to reduce Australia’s plastics and greenhouse gas footprint.

“Prime Minister Morrison and his Ministerial colleagues have acted with total clarity and fast pace to put plastic waste minimisation near the top of their agenda,” he said.

“A summit that puts substance before stylistics is what we need to deal with the plastics problem, including our comparatively very low recycling rate of some 12 per cent and our lack of domestic recycling capacity.”

According to Mr Shmigel, improved plastic recycling is an affordable and accessible way to take practical and positive climate action.

“Support for putting recycled content plastic into irrigation pipes, channel lining and rainwater tanks would be a great way to assist drought-proofing while supporting Australian manufacturers,” he said.

“From all players involved in plastics management, from the government to brand owners to recyclers to the community, it’s time for real action not rhetoric, and that’s what the summit will be judged by.”

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ACOR reveals only eight per cent of waste levy revenue is reinvested

Only eight per cent of the $2.6 billion collected in waste levies over the last two years has been reinvested in recycling infrastructure and technology, according to new analysis by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

An ACOR statement reveals that in 2018 and 2019, a total of $446,093,088 in waste and resource recovery grants funding was given or pledged by state and federal governments.

According to the statement, this expenditure compares to $2.67 billion collected in waste levies by mainland state governments over the 18/19 and 19/20 financial years, representing 16.7 per cent.

“Of the $446.1 million given or pledged in funding, 50.5 per cent was allocated to infrastructure-related initiatives and reprocessing-related initiatives. This represents around 8 per cent of the collected waste levies. Less than $100m of the $225m has actually been given to recipients to date,” the statement reads.

ACOR CEO Peter Shmigel said governments set waste levies up with the explicit aim of incentivising waste reduction.

“But more than 80 per cent of these state-based levies are ending up in consolidated revenue or other purposes,” he said.

“This is problematic because recycling rates have plateaued and Australia will no longer be allowed to export a great deal of material to Asia for recycling.”

Mr Shmigel said that without substantial investment soon, current kerbside recycling services may be put at risk. He added that with the export ban set to begin in less than six months, stockpiling might occur.

“Those who decided on the ban need to realise that without reinvestment in domestically sustainable recycling, and its necessary infrastructure, more material that Australians expect to be recycled – especially plastic – will need to go to landfill,” Mr Shmigel said.

“On independent modelling by MRA Consulting, some $300 million in one-off investment is needed to be able to process and remanufacture the types of paper and plastic we have been exporting.”

While Mr Shmigel said industry is prepared for matching arrangements and low-interest loans, he noted that there has been nowhere near that level of expenditure in 2018 and 2019.

“Australian recycling can be domestically sustainable and a world leader, and it requires waste levies to be expended on what they were set up for: support recycling,” he said.

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How confident are you in recycling?

The Australian Council of Recycling has launched a new industry survey to provide an up-to-date measure of confidence in the sector and support better decision making. 

The recycling sector employs around 50,000 people. While this is indicative of the sector’s success to date, an unrivalled opportunity exists to increase that number exponentially.

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world per capita and with that affluence comes increased waste generation. Currently, the sector accounts for 0.5 per cent total employment, with Australia ranked 17th in the world in recycling.

But as a vital part of the economy, recycling can punch above its weight with the right support. The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has been supporting the businesses that collect, sort and remanufacture materials into value-added products.

These are the businesses getting their hands dirty to beneficially manage materials from the residential, commercial, industrial and infrastructure sectors.

The Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) ban on select waste exports, in addition the upcoming NSW Government’s 20-year waste strategy, national container deposit schemes and updated infrastructure recyclate specifications, highlight the regulators’ appetite for reform. Nevertheless, quality data is a barrier to understanding.

It’s why ACOR has explored the gaps and discovered that the missing piece of the data puzzle – an understanding of business confidence. While organisations such as NAB run monthly business confidence surveys, there has not in recent times been a measure of confidence for Australia’s recycling sector.

Such datasets would prove useful for federal, state and territory and local government regulators, and help inform decision-making to supercharge the recycling sector, instead of it being stymied by outdated regulation.

According to ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel, understanding the recycling sector’s place in the overall economy is vital.

“We don’t do enough to gauge our own performance and trends and share that information with the public and decision-makers. Hopefully, the survey helps claim that opportunity,” Pete says.

He says the survey is a first of its kind.

“There’s lots of work about where the industry is at in terms of environmental performance, especially in ‘tonnage’ terms, for example how much we manage and various recycling rates. There’s less information about the economic side, such as business confidence going forward. That’s a key difference for this survey.”

Pete says that a schism between communications surrounding the so-called “waste crisis” and industry’s perceptions of the sector has created confusion.

“In all the media hype of the last few years, there’s been a fair bit of ‘blurring’ of different recycling markets. The reality is that while kerbside has its issues, we’ve been powering along in C&I and C&D with more than $500 million in investment in the last two years,” Pete says.

He says that interestingly, some businesses are integrated across these streams and have therefore been successfully hedging.

“Good decision-making requires a detailed understanding of the differences in our streams of activity.”

With COAG’s ban on waste exports and kerbside recycling undergoing dramatic changes, Pete says it’s important more now than ever that industry has the confidence to invest at scale and the right market signals.

“Domestic sustainability will require significant investment from many players, and that is assisted by industry insights.

“We’re literally only months away from the COAG ban being in place – on top of existing Asian pressures and in addition to further moves the Asians are likely to make. I’m hopeful that the survey gives us a better sense about how affected businesses and their supply chains are feeling about these very significant structural changes about to come down the pipe.”

The survey is broken down into MSW, C&I and C&D and allows respondents to answer various questions about whether they feel confident in their operations. Likewise, the survey covers government support and allows users to rank the issues most important to them.

To participate in this leading industry survey click here

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ACOR launches NSW recycling app

The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) and the NSW Government have launched a recycling app to help the state improve resource recovery rates.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said Recycle Mate identifies what suburb a user is in and provides tailored information to each council’s recycling collection system.

“It’s like having a huge recycling guidebook in your pocket – it’s the most comprehensive recycling app of its kind,” Mr Shmigel said.

“The app’s database is constantly being updated – more items are added every day as users photograph their waste and recycling. That means that everyone who downloads and uses the app is helping us to make it even better.”

Environment Minister Matt Kean said the app will simplify the recycling process.

“NSW has been recycling for more than 30 years, but with a changing landscape we need to be even more careful with what goes in our recycling bins, and this app will help us achieve that,” Mr Kean said.

“This app will make recycling easier, and more importantly, it will help sort our waste, which ultimately means more items can be recovered and reused, as we move closer to closing the loop and creating a circular economy.”

Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock said the NSW Government is committed to helping the state’s 128 councils increase recycling rates.

“This app will keep recycling front of mind for residents across the state and help make local communities cleaner and greener,” Ms Hancock said.

“The government will continue to work closely with local councils to reduce waste and strengthen recycling.”

The project was supported with a $350,000 grant from the NSW EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative.

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Fuelling the market

Waste Management Review speaks with key industry stakeholders about the potential tyre-derived fuel flow-on effects of the Council of Australian Governments’ proposed export ban.

In early August, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) released a communique detailing its decision to ban the export of waste materials including plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

Specifics of the ban have not yet been released, with government stating that it would develop a ban timeline and action plan in due course. Despite this, industry responses have been swift and overwhelmingly positive, with particular focus given to the potential waste-to-energy flow-on effects of a ban on tyre exports.

Gayle Sloan, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO, says Australia has a robust and sustainable non-baling tyre recycling industry, which processes roughly 23 million used tyre units per annum.

“A ban on the export of whole-baled tyres will further drive the industry, which will create Australian jobs while ensuring human and environmental health are protected,” she says.

Pete Smigel, Australian Council of Recycling CEO, says consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable end-of-life disposal and recycling of products that offer sustainable environmental and human health outcomes.

“Australia has a great opportunity to develop a strong, sustainable and profitable tyre recycling industry that delivers significant environmental benefits and as well as job creation across the new manufacturing industry,” Pete says.

“It’s imperative this is supported by responsible government policy, and the COAG communique is a great step towards that.”

Tyrecycle, one of Australia’s largest collectors and recyclers of end-of-life tyres, operates numerous collection and processing facilities across the country, including Australia’s largest crumbing plant based at Somerton in Melbourne. It also has full chain-of-custody reporting.

Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle CEO, says COAG’s signalled intention to ban the export of waste tyres is a win for the environment and the circular economy.

“The proposed ban presents the best opportunity to turn all end-of-life waste tyres in Australia into value-added commodities such as rubber crumb, rubber granule, tyre-derived fuel (TDF) and high-tensile steel, creating more sustainable jobs in Australia,” he says.

“A ban on the export of waste tyres should include both whole-baled tyres, which are sent unprocessed to countries such as India and Malaysia, as well as casings from old truck tyres sent into overseas markets for use as seconds or in retreading.”

Jim says these elements go hand-in-hand, given the ban on whole-baled tyres will require the establishment and growth of new markets for re-purposed tyre-derived products.   

Australia currently exports approximately 70,000 tonnes of whole-baled tyres per annum, which are then used in open burning as a fuel to heat drying kilns and in low-grade pyrolysis plants.

Rob Kelman, Australian Tyre Recyclers Association (ATRA) Executive Officer, says operations like this are controversial, do not comply with environmental, health and worker regulations and are associated with high levels of pollution.

ATRA members agreed to ban the practice of exporting whole-baled tyres in 2014, due to poor environmental outcomes and a direct association with water borne diseases.

“The World Health Organization specifically identifies international movement of whole tyres as a key factor in the increase in Dengue incidence,” Rob says.

Australia’s tyre recycling sector is largely dominated by traditional recycling methods, which use a series of shredders, screens and granulators to separate waste tyres into commodities.

Jim says these commodities, which are valued commensurate with their level of refinement, are used as raw material in the manufacture of new products such as soft fall surfaces and asphalt, as well as civil work applications such as roads and infrastructure.

“Waste tyres are also used in TDF – a globally traded commodity, which fuels sophisticated, high-energy manufacturing environments and power generation plants overseas,” Jim explains.

“The technology is proven, and TDF has excellent environmental credentials that include a reduction in landfill, improved emissions and reduced use of fossil fuels.”

Jim adds that for every tonne of TDF used, one tonne of CO2 is displaced.

“It burns cleaner than coal and has twice the energy value of brown coal,” he explains.

“The global TDF market, which includes South Korea and Japan, is hungry for more and could easily consume all of Australia’s waste tyres as TDF, but there should also be a gradual push to increase the domestic uptake of TDF, most likely in cement kilns.”

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