China will ban all imports of solid waste from 1 January 2021, authorities have said.
With the first wave of export bans set to commence in July, Waste Management Review speaks with industry stakeholders about investment expectations and the globalised waste economy.
The National Waste & Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is calling on the Council of Australia Governments (COAG) to ensure clean, high grade paper and cardboard are exempt from waste export bans.
According to NWRIC CEO Rose Read, while industry supports banning waste glass, whole baled tyres, mixed plastic and mixed paper exports, the NWRIC does not support banning clean paper and cardboard exports.
“Australia currently exports close to 1.1 million tonnes of clean, high grade paper and cardboard every year, approximately one third of the material we use. This export market is estimated to be worth more than $230 million,” Ms Read said.
“Without the capacity to export clean paper and cardboard, recycling services could fail, including household kerbside collections.”
Ms Read added that Australia does not currently have the capacity to locally remanufacture all the paper and cardboard it generates.
“Australia’s domestic paper mills that process recycled paper are in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. These mills do not currently have sufficient capacity to take all of the recycled paper and cardboard generated on the east coast. Let alone that generated in SA, NT and WA, who rely on overseas markets,” she said.
“Recycled paper is only purchased by a small number of reprocessors, limiting competition.”
The NWRIC is inviting COAG to work with the waste and resource recovery industry to develop national scrap specifications for metals, plastics, paper, cardboard, e-waste and other recycled materials.
“These would give the waste management and recycling sector clarity and certainty on what can be exported, and manufacturers confidence in the recovered material being supplied,” Ms Read said.
The Indonesian Government has announced that it will ship 547 containers of contaminated waste back to their countries of origin, including 100 housing Australian material.
According to a Fairfax Media report, customs officers, police and environment department officials opened containers of contaminated Australian waste for the media on 18th Sept.
The containers contained mostly plastic, with some food waste and visible liquid.
Indonesian Customs Director General Heru Pambugi said three Australian companies had imported the contaminated plastic waste, including one that did not posses required import documents.
Nine containers have already been shipped, with the remainder to follow in separate shipments.
In response, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said WMRR acknowledges and agrees that Australia should be managing its own waste and resources.
Ms Sloan said while Australia does recycle millions of tonnes of waste on-shore, it needs to grow its demand and use of recovered resources.
“Global shifts have resulted in Australia needing to find homes domestically for our recyclables and this is certainly a positive aspiration,” Ms Sloan said.
“Industry does not want to export these materials, and we know that there are many good reasons to sell these materials right here in Australia and turn them back into packaging.”
Ms Sloan noted that contamination, which is a concern for international importers of recycled materials, is primarily a result of people using their household bins incorrectly.
“Of course, industry and government can and should do more, but so can every citizen by being more diligent about what they put into the yellow bin,” Ms Sloan said.
“What is still lacking in Australia, which is the fundamental reason material has been exported in the past, is greater certainty of remanufacturing pull.”
Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said media reports about Australian recyclate material being returned by Indonesian authorities inappropriately undermines recycling efforts
“Less than 1.5 million tonnes of material from kerbside recycling was exported to overseas companies to make into products. Of that, some 65,000 tonnes went to Indonesia because buyers there bought it as feedstock for their factories – and there’s a lack of local demand for it,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Some 500 containers marked to be sent back by Indonesia that apparently don’t meet technical specifications is not substantial in the successful scheme of Australians’ recycling efforts.”
Mr Shmigel said off-spec material occurs in every industry.
“It is totally wrong to suggest that Australian recyclate export material is ‘toxic’. It is more likely to be material from our households that’s been earnestly but mistakenly put in the yellow bin,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Moreover, under the Prime Minister’s leadership, COAG has very recently decided – and industry has strongly welcomed – that material should no longer be exported and that we should become fully responsible for and more sovereign with our recycling.”
MRA Consulting Group has welcomed the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) decision to address the many difficulties facing the recycling and waste management sector.
At its meeting of 9 August, COAG announced it would establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand.
MRA Managing Director Mike Ritchie said since China’s National Sword restrictions, the recycling industry has been calling for government intervention to support domestic recycling activities.
“According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Australians generate 54.5 million tonnes of waste per year and we successfully recycle over 31.7 million tonnes of that or 58 percent,” Mr Ritchie said.
“Of that, 4.3 million tonnes is exported, primarily fibre and plastic. This 4.3 million tonnes is now subject to greater import restrictions by the Asian manufacturing nations, as they grow their own domestic recycling industries.”
Mr Ritchie said Australian needs to rebuild its own on-shore reprocessing capacity to avoid fibre and plastic going to landfill.
“That means plastic reprocessing facilities to turn used bottles into plastic pellets, and reusing fibre in recycled paper here in Australia. We know how to do it but the economics have always favoured export,” M r Ritchie said.
“To close the loop in Australia we will need governments and businesses to preferentially purchase materials with recycled content.”
Mr Richie said government needs to introduce recycled content rules for domestic manufacturers, and have purchasing policies in place that require recycled content.
“The most obvious are converting glass bottles into sand for use in road base, and asphalt and reprocessing plastic bottles into asphalt, furniture and fuel. Governments also need to mandate the use of recycled paper” Mr Ritchie said.
“Recycling doesn’t stop at putting the bin out on the kerb, it stops when a product using recycled material is sold back into the economy. If we want to truly close the loop then we need to purchase and reuse products with recycled content.”
In 2018, The Australian Council of Recycling and MRA estimated that a one-off payment of $150 million could de-risk and on-shore Australia’s recycling sector through three actions.
Actions include $90 million to retrofit materials recovery facilities to improve sorting, a positive procurement policy to ensure products with recycled content are purchased in Australia and community education to reduce contamination in recycling systems.
The Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) has welcomed the Federal Government’s pledge to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.
The decision was made at the 9 August Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, with the intention of developing Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities.
VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith said the decision would help create market certainty among the private sector, which is the biggest investor in Victoria’s waste management system.
“For too long there’s been an air of uncertainty around Victoria’s recycling challenge, fuelled by finger pointing and short-sighted solutions, so it’s promising to see COAG agree on the urgent need for a new approach,” Mr Smith said.
“In order to successfully manage our waste needs, now and into the future, we need appropriate investment in the people, system, processes, education and engagement to drive sustainable change.”
According to Mr Smith, as the primary employer, purchasers and manager of waste and recycling assets across Victoria and Australia, business has an integral role to play in developing the sector.
Mr Smith said VWMA has long called for all levels of government to work together with the private sector and other key stakeholders on a sustainable solution to the state’s ongoing recycling challenge.
“The private sector supports more than 23,000 Victorian jobs and invests over $800 million into waste and recycling services and infrastructure annually,” Mr Smith said.
“COAG’s agreement to build the sector’s capacity to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste will be very welcome and serve as a catalyst for investment and innovation.”
Mr Smith said while it’s still early days, the COAG’s announcement is a step in the right direction.
“VWMA looks forward to continuing to work with local and state government, as well as councils and other expert bodies, to arrive at a solution that benefits all Australians,” Mr Smith said.
Federal, state and local government ministers have agreed to work on a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, to improve Australia’s recycling capacity.
The agreement was made at the 9 August Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison arguing more needed to be done to deal with rising amounts of recyclable waste.
Environment Ministers will advise a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.
COAG agreed the strategy should draw on the best science, research and commercial experience, including that of agencies like the CSIRO and the work of Cooperative Research Centres.
Australia exported roughly 4.5 million tonnes of waste last year, with the majority sent to Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
Indonesia, India and Malaysia have since begun to review their waste import policies.
“It’s our waste, and it’s our responsibility,” Mr Morrison said in a post-meeting press conference, according to an ABC report.
“That’s why I think setting a clear path forward as leaders — that we don’t want to see this going into the ocean, that we don’t want to see this go into waterways, and we’ll do everything in our remit to achieve that goal — is a very important outcome.”
Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said the COAG announcement aligned with domestic sustainability goals.
“The best route to COAG’s vision of recycling sovereignty and security is for governments to now match very big deeds and dollars to their discussions. This great leadership by COAG must be followed by great investment that matches industries own,” Mr Shmigel said.
“As part of the Environment Ministers’ upcoming plan, that means: major scale support for reprocessing and remanufacturing infrastructure; unprecedented public sector purchasing of recycled content products and other bold incentives for domestic use of recyclate, such as tax credits for manufacturers, removal of ridiculous regulatory barriers and indeed proposed bans for recycled content products in some states.”
Mr Shmigel said material export bans needed to be implemented over a clear timetable with consultation and care to avoid unintended consequences.
“If there are no new and sustainable markets established for the 4.5m tonnes of currently exported material, there will only be the option of domestic disposal – which is highly undesirable,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Ministers must also remain open to alternative waste treatment and waste to energy where Australia only uses some 2 per cent of its waste, which is massively below European countries, who also have much higher recycling rates.”
Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the meeting represents a step in the right direction towards building a sustainable domestic remanufacturing industry.
“Waste management and resource recovery were firmly on the table at the COAG meeting in Cairns, and leaders agreed to develop a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass, and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand,” Ms Sloan said.
“This is a significant and positive commitment – industry has always advocated that Australia should be processing our own waste and recyclables. Industry can, and is keen, to build capacity and the fact that we’re on the agenda and we have the Prime Minister’s and Premiers’ attention means we can finally move forward.”
Ms Sloan said WMRR support the task given to environment ministers to advise on a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.
“As part of this exercise, leaders agreed the strategy must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics, decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste,” Ms Sloan said.
“We also look forward to Meeting of Environment Ministers convening sooner rather than later to progress what we all know we need – and what is now clearly in everyone’s sights – market signals that will enable industry to invest and all stakeholders to support onshore remanufacturing and markets for domestic recycled products.”
The United Nations has announced amendments to the Basel Convention, including the characterisation of plastic as a hazardous material.
The Basel Convention controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another, and with 187 signatories is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on waste.
The amendment was approved by Australia and 186 other countries following a two week conference. Noticeably absent was the United States, the largest plastic waste exporter in the world.
The United States was one of two countries not to ratify the agreement.
UN Environment Executive Secretary Rolph Payet said plastic waste had reached epidemic proportions, with an estimated 100 million tonnes found in the world’s oceans.
“Governments this week amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework,” Mr Payet said.
“Which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, while also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.”
Mr Payet said a new Partnership on Plastic Waste will be established to assist with implementing the new measures.
“The partnership will provide a set of practical supports including tools, best practices, technical and financial assistance for this ground-breaking agreement,” Mr Payet said.
Break Free From Plastic Global Coordinator Von Hernandez, who attended the conference, said the amendment will require exporters to obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or un-recyclable plastic waste.
“After China banned imports of most plastic waste in 2018, developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, have received a huge influx of contaminated and mixed plastic wastes that are difficult or even impossible to recycle,” Mr Hernandez said.
“This decision provides an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country.”
BaliFokus Co-Founder Yuyun Ismawati, who also attended the conference, said the amendment would force higher standards of responsible plastic waste management.
Ms. Ismawati said Indonesia had received an additional 184,702 tons of plastic waste following China’s National Sword policy – with imports increasing by 141 per cent and exports decreasing by 48 per cent.
“Toxic plastics disposed by rich communities in other countries will no longer become the burden of poor communities,” Ms Ismawati said.
According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Indonesia is Australia’s second-largest waste destination, taking 19 per cent of total waste exports.
The amendment follows a recent Malaysian investigation into illegal plastic waste imports and an Indian ban on the material.
Lithium battery processing company Envirostream Australia has won the Regional Exporter Award in the 2018 Governor of Victoria Export Awards (GOVEA).
The awards are open to a range of industry sectors, including the waste and recycling industry and showcase some of the state’s most successful and innovative exporters.
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The company recovers 95 per cent of the materials contained in energy storage battery and sells the steel, copper and aluminium into national markets to be manufactured into new projects.
It began operating recycling facility in the Melbourne suburb of Campbellfield which is able to recover 40 tonnes of batteries per month on each processing line.
Envirostream has partnered with Planet Ark and other stakeholders to develop a battery collection and recycling program that uses battery recycling and high material recovery.
“We believe this model will challenge the status quo in the recycling industry by adding value in Australia before exporting. This model creates jobs, decreases the cost to recycle and increases the recycling rate of batteries,” Envirostream Australia Director Andrew Mackenzie said.
The GOVEA are open to all Victorian exporters, regardless of size or total export sales.
Winners of the awards are automatically placed as finalists in the national Australian Export Awards.
- Exporter of the Year – Leica Biosystems
- Export Award for Innovation Excellence – Sealite
- Emerging Exporter Award – FitMyCar
- Victorian Women in International Business Award – Dr Ewa Douroux, Business Services Manager from Leica Biosystems
- Agribusiness Award – Hussey and Company
- Business Services Award – OMC International
- Creative Industries Award – FanHubMedia
- eCommerce Award – DPP Pharmaceuticals
- Education and Training Award – IDP Education
- Environmental Solutions Award – GeoFabrics Australasia
- Digital Technologies Award – Catapult
- Health and Biotechnology Award – Leica Biosystems
- Manufacturing Award – Bosch Australia
- Minerals, Energy, and Related Services Award – Business For Millennium Development
- Regional Exporter Award – Envirostream Australia
- Small Business Award – Cornerstone Solutions
Pictured Left to Right: Victorian Trade Minister Philip Dalidakis, Envirostream National Development Manager John Polhill, Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau.
An estimated 111 million metric tonnes of plastic waste will be displaced by China’s National Sword policy by 2030 around the world, according to new research.
The Chinese import ban and its impact on global waste trade research paper published in the journal Science Advances reports that new global ideas are needed to reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials, including redesigning products and funding domestic plastic waste management.
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The report, authored by researchers at the University of Georgia, said China had imported 106 million tonnes of plastic waste since 1992, which makes up more than 45 per cent of total global plastic imports.
The National Sword Policy has implemented new restrictions on the contamination rate for imported waste, requiring a cleaner and more processed version of materials such as plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and textiles.
“The displaced plastic waste is equal to nearly half (47 per cent) of all plastic waste that has been imported globally since reporting began in 1988,” the report said.
“Only 9% of plastic waste has been recycled globally, with the overwhelming majority of global plastic waste being landfilled or ending up contaminating the environment (80 per cent).
“Plastic packaging and single-use items enter the waste stream immediately after use, contributing to a cumulative total of 6.3 billion MT of plastic waste generated worldwide.”
The report warns that if no adjustments are made in solid waste management, then much of the waste that would have been diverted from landfill by customers paying for a recycling service will be landfilled.
“Both the displaced plastic waste and future increases in plastic recycling must be addressed immediately. Initially, the countries exporting the most plastic waste can use this as an opportunity to develop and expand internal markets,” the report said.
“If domestic recycling of plastic waste is not possible, then this constraint reinforces the motivation to reduce use and redesign plastic packaging and products so that they retain their value and are more recyclable in domestic markets.”