CSIRO and Microsoft partner to tackle plastic waste

Artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital technologies will be harnessed to tackle global challenges including plastic waste and illegal fishing, as part of a new partnership between CSIRO and Microsoft.

The agreement, signed by CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall and Microsoft Australia Managing Director Steven Worrall, is designed to accelerate critical research that will use AI and machine learning.

“By partnering with a world-leading scientific organisation like CSIRO, we believe we will be able to bring deep and lasting impact to Australian organisations, communities and the environment by accelerating progress in critically important areas such as managing plastic waste,” Worrall said.

Marine debris will be targeted by analysing videos of rivers and stormwater drains to identify and track waste flows into waterways.

According to a CSIRO statement, the research will be used to inform intervention efforts, such as placement of river rubbish traps and reverse vending machines where the public can recycle bottles and cans in return for a fee.

The partnership will also work towards tackling illegal fishing by analysing information gathered from high resolution cameras and underwater microphones, to assist fishing management in Australian marine reserves like the Great Barrier Reef.

Additionally, CSIRO and Microsoft will equip farmers with custom, digital insights from a diverse range of data sources, including sensors, satellites and deep domain knowledge integrated with analytics and modelling.

This will be used to provide insights on tactical and strategic decision making including soil condition, crop growth and farm management.

“The partnership will also contribute towards CSIRO’s managed data ecosystem and digital academy, projects that are transforming CSIRO’s digital landscape with new technologies, data capabilities and skill sets, and bring Microsoft’s latest digital technology to CSIRO’s wide portfolio of research,” the CSIRO statement reads.

Marshall said the partnership brings decades of scientific expertise in solving real-world challenges together with the latest breakthroughs in AI.

“This partnership is turning science and technology into real-world solutions for real people, from the Great Barrier Reef, to suburban waterways, to farms and environments around the country,” he said.

“Everything CSIRO does is through partnerships across Australia and around the world, so it’s great to share such a broad vision for making the world a better place with a visionary partner like Microsoft.”

Worrall added that Microsoft’s research and investments in data-driven tools such as cloud and AI are designed to tackle global challenges.

“We’re pleased to be forging a deep strategic partnership with CSIRO as part of Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more,” he said.

“This partnership also aligns with Microsoft’s sustainability commitments and pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030, carbon negative by 2050.”

The partnership follows previous initiatives like the Healthy Country Partnership, announced in November, which combines responsible AI and modern science with Indigenous knowledge to solve complex environmental management problems.

Related stories: 

First major retailer to use 100 per cent recycled satchels

One of Australia’s largest online fashion retailers has announced it will start transitioning to delivery satchels made from 100 per cent post-consumer plastic waste.

In a social media post on Tuesday 26 May, THE ICONIC stated that it’s the first major Australian and New Zealand retailer to make the move to 100 per cent recycled plastic satchels.

Via REDcycle, a Melbourne-based consulting and recycling organisation who has developed and implemented a recovery initiative for post-consumer soft plastic, THE ICONIC will minimise its environmental impact.

From today we’re transitioning to more sustainable satchels. This means your next order sent by THE ICONIC warehouse will be delivered in a satchel made of 100 per cent post-consumer plastic waste – recycled plastic that has had a previous life and can be recycled again,” the company said in an online statement.

“Achieving 100 per cent recycled content wasn’t easy in our usual black design, so we’ve made the switch to white! Bringing this project to life has been an incredible journey and involved many cross-functional teams.”

Since 2018, THE ICONIC has been a signatory of the Australian Packaging Covenant (APCO). 

“A huge congratulations to APCO Member, THE ICONIC, for the launch of its new delivery satchels, made from 100 per cent recycled plastic and fully recyclable via REDcycle bins in Coles and Woolworths supermarkets,” APCO said in a social media post on Tuesday.

“This is a significant commitment and is a perfect example of the work being undertaken across the industry to avoid the use of virgin plastics and create end markets for recycled materials.”

The satchels are certified by the GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia) Recycled Products Standard to verify their recycled content and ensure they meet specific social and environmental criteria. 

“It’s a bold move, but it’s a testament to our sustainability commitments. In the same way, because we are committed to avoiding unnecessary waste, our transition from our former black packaging to new white packaging will take a few months,” the company said in an online statement.

“This is a huge milestone for us on our journey towards meeting our 2022 Sustainable Packaging Targets.”

THE ICONIC set five sustainable packaging targets to meet by 2022, including 100 per cent of THE ICONIC’s shipping packaging made of recycled content and private label primary packaging materials will be fully recyclable in Australia, 80 per cent of THE ICONIC’s private label paper and cardboard packaging will be made from verified recycled pulp and have on-package communication about their sustainability or recyclability and lastly, 70 per cent more of THE ICONIC’s private label poly bags made of recycled plastic.

During THE ICONIC’s search for a more sustainable alternative, its sustainability team and Packaging Working Group investigated multiple materials and even tested a home-compostable satchel. 

“Despite being one of our best performers, most customers in Australia and New Zealand don’t have access to composting at home nor access to commercial compost services,” THE ICONIC stated.

“It means packaging would likely end up in landfill or in the soft plastics recycling stream, compromising its potential for recycling. That’s why we landed on our 100 per cent recycled post-consumer plastic satchels,

“To align with this framework, we are working on packaging sustainability holistically: our in-house sustainability team developed a dedicated packaging strategy, reviewed over 80 per cent of the packaging we are directly responsible for, and developed THE ICONIC Supplier Sustainable Packaging Guidelines and Private Label Sustainable Packaging Requirements to tackle our non-customer facing packaging strategy,” the company stated on its website.

THE ICONIC said that packaging plays an essential product-protection role in ensuring that its customers’ items arrive in pristine condition. 

“This way, your new purchase can have a long life in your wardrobe and warrant the original investment of natural resources in production. The cost of not protecting these items can be more detrimental than if they weren’t packaged sufficiently,” THE ICONIC stated.

Related stories:

Final weeks for public feedback on the future of waste in NSW

Over 10,000 people have already provided a submission on the NSW Government’s plan to tackle the use of plastics, reduce waste and pollution and increase recycling across the state.

There are currently two papers open for consultation until Friday, May 8.

The issues paper Cleaning Up Our Act: The Future for Waste and Resource Recovery in NSW was released for public consultation last month, to help shape the development of the NSW 20-Year Waste Strategy.

The NSW Plastics Plan discussion paper outlines actions to reduce single-use plastics in NSW and help the shift towards a circular economy. 

For more information on the policy proposals click here.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said in a statement that the plan is crucial considering in 2018-19, 60 per cent of all littered items were made from plastic and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish. 

The second paper open for public submissions is the Cleaning Up Our Act: The Future for Waste and Resource Recovery in NSW issues paper.

The Cleaning Up Our Act plan outlines options to reduce waste and increase recycling, guides the opportunities and strategic direction for future waste and recycling infrastructure, and for growing sustainable end markets for recycled materials. 

A NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment spokesperson said there has been a fantastic response to the consultations on the 20 Year Waste Strategy and Plastics Plan.

“We have received thousands of submissions and encourage more people to have their say, with consultation running until 8 May,” the Department spokesperson said.

The Department spokesperson said to adapt during COVID-19, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has moved planned face to face engagement, to hold online forums and a webinar. 

“The online forums allowed participants to take an in-depth look at the issues and opportunities presented by the 20 Year Waste Strategy and Plastics Plan papers, with a strong level of engagement from industry, councils, peak bodies and government agencies,” they said.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will analyse all submissions following the closure of the consultation period next month.

“Submissions will be analysed and taken into consideration when developing the 20 Year Waste Draft Strategy and there will be an opportunity to provide feedback on the draft strategy in late 2020,” the Department spokesperson said.

“The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is looking forward to analysing the submissions and developing an innovative and impactful 20 Year Waste Draft Strategy in late 2020.”

Related stories: 

QLD opens consultation on single-use plastics ban legislation

Queensland is taking the next step in removing single-use plastics from the environment, opening consultation on a state-wide ban that will initially focus on straws, drink stirrers, cutlery and plates.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said single-use plastic was an increasing problem, damaging the state’s environment and marine life.

“It’s time to decide the future of single-use plastics in Queensland. Plastic pollution in our environment affects every aspect of our lives – from the water we drink and the food we consume, to the plants, animals and outdoor places we all love and enjoy,” she said.

“We are looking to limit and, where necessary, ban the supply of most single-use plastic products starting with straws, stirrers, plates, cutlery and cups.”

Ms Enoch said the state government’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Plan, released in 2019, committed to introducing enabling legislation in 2020, subject to consultation, to ban the supply of specific plastic products.

“In the future we’ll also consider other forms of single-use items such as coffee cups, heavyweight plastic shopping bags and polystyrene containers, but right now we’re focused on straws, stirrers, plates and cutlery,” she said.

According to Ms Enoch, the state government wants to hear as many perspectives as possible. She added that the needs of people with disability and the age care sector would be taken into account.

“Over 75 per cent of rubbish that is removed from Australian beaches is made of plastic. Our government has already taken steps to reduce plastic with the ban on single-use plastics bags and the introduction of Containers for Change,” she said.

“Those initiatives have seen hundreds of millions of individual plastic products kept from entering the environment, and now we’re looking ahead. We want to hear from Queenslanders as we take this next step.”

Related stories:

Study highlights greater pollution than previously estimated

Plastic waste in the ocean is making its way back to land and increasing pollution on Australia’s beaches, according to new research from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.

According to a CSIRO statement, the research explains why estimates of waste entering the ocean each year are 100 times larger than the amount of plastic observed floating on the surface, and suggests waste management strategies on land need to accommodate larger volumes of pollution than previously estimated.

“These findings highlight the importance of including the entire width of coastal areas in studies to understand how much – and where – debris gets trapped,” the statement reads.

“This is critical for developing targeted waste management policies, particularly in areas with large regional populations, to reduce litter ending up in our oceans and along our coasts.”

CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Denise Hardesty said researchers collected data on the amount and location of plastic pollution every 100 kilometres around the entire coast of Australia between 2011 and 2016.

“The highest concentrations of marine debris were found along the coastal backshores, where the vegetation begins,” Dr Hardesty said.

Utrecht University’s Arianna Olivelli, who led the analysis, said findings indicate that coasts are a major sink for marine debris, particularly for larger debris items.

“The debris recorded along the coasts was found to be a mix of littering and deposition from the ocean,” she said.

“The results suggest that plastic is moving from urban areas into the ocean, and then being transported back onshore and pushed onto land, where it remains.”

Ms Olivelli said onshore wind and waves, together with more densely populated areas, influences the amount and distribution of marine debris.

“The further back we went from the water’s edge, the more debris we found,” she said.

Related stories:

Washing billions of bottles: Applied Machinery

With onshore plastic processing set to grow, Daniel Fisher, Applied Machinery, details the streamlining ability of high-energy washing.

The onshore consequences of the upcoming waste export ban could see the domestic resource recovery industry swamped by mountains of plastic.

To fully capitalise on this, Daniel Fisher, Applied Machinery Project Manager, says plastic recycling operators need to invest in efficient and high-capacity washing systems.

“The significance of washing is often understated, with importance placed on seemingly more complex processes such as sorting and granulating,” Daniel says.

“But, given the nature of most plastic waste, and the fact it often takes the form of packaging, removing contaminants and impurities efficiently is critical to sustained operations.”

According to Daniel, Applied Machinery’s range of plastic-washing systems are designed for high-performance recovery of rigid and flexible plastics derived from a variety of sources.

“We’re able to facilitate modular systems to tackle HDPE and PET bottles, and depending on application requirements, can provide bale breakers, infeed conveyor belts, pre-shredders for wet or dry size reductions, pre-washers and screw washers,” he says.

In particular, Daniel says Applied Machinery’s HDPE Bottle/Container Washing System is well suited to operators hoping to take advantage of the upcoming domestic plastic processing boom.

Developed by Guangzhou-based equipment manufacturer Genox, the HDPE washing line is designed for rigid plastics.

Daniel says the washing system’s wear-resistant design works to maximise operating time and throughput via consistent processing.

“The high-speed washing system works to liberate plastic flakes from contaminants,” Daniel says.

“The washing tank’s under-water force-washing paddles then work to amplify washing efficiency, while mechanical and thermal drying systems reduce end product moisture.”

Shredding and washing are set at calculated intensities, Daniel says, to avoid over friction and material loss.

“Label separation can also be achieved through advanced wind separation,” he adds.

The system features an inclined friction washer, float-sink washing tank and vertical dewatering machine, before material passes through a zig-zag classifier.

In the current economic and political waste climate, Daniel says investing in a Genox HDPE Bottle/Container Washing System can deliver significant returns on investment.

“The Australian resource recovery industry will see major opportunities over the next few years, so the time is right for facilities to upscale their operations and capitalise on the next generation of plastic processing.”

Related stories:

NSW proposes levy amendments and mandated govt procurement

The NSW Government will investigate waste levy amendments to ensure regulatory settings remain fit for purpose, according to the state’s newly released 20-Year Waste Strategy consultation paper.

According to the paper, the state government will review waste levy boundaries, levy exemption for problem wastes, national levy harmonisation and complementary price-based instruments such as pay-as-you-throw initiatives.

The paper also proposes standardised collection systems for households and businesses, place-based infrastructure development, waste benchmarks for the commercial sector and potential government procurement targets.

The announcement comes as the state government opens consultation on two draft strategies: the 20-Year Waste Strategy and Cleaning Up Our Act: Redirecting the Future of Plastic in NSW.

Citing 2018 waste generation figures, Environment Minister Matt Kean said the state’s waste industry needs to be more sustainable, reliable and affordable.

“We need a smarter approach that makes use of all the levers available to us. We need to drive sustainable product design and waste reduction, and maximise the amount of used material that is recirculated safely back into the productive economy,” he said.

According to Mr Kean, the 20-Year Waste Strategy canvasses options to reduce waste and increase recycling, outlines opportunities and strategic direction for future waste and recycling infrastructure and seeks to grow sustainable end markets for recycled materials.

“The 20-Year Waste Strategy will be a vehicle that not only enables the state, businesses and the community to improve our approach to waste. It is also intended to generate new economic opportunities, reduce costs to citizens and businesses through a smarter approach, and increase our resilience to external shocks,” he said.

The NSW Plastics Plan, Mr Kean said, outlines a clear pathway to reduce single-use, unnecessary and problematic plastics.

According to the discussion paper, potential priority directions include making plastic producers more responsible for collection and recycling, and mandating 30 per cent minimum recycled content in plastic packing by 2025.

“It sets the stage for the phase-out of priority single-use plastics, tripling the proportion of plastic recycled by 2030, reducing plastic litter by a quarter and making our state a leader in plastics research and development,” Mr Kean said.

“Lightweight plastic bags are proposed to be phased out six months from the passage of legislation, with other timelines to be determined after feedback from the public consultation process.”

Local Government NSW President Linda Scott said the proposals were far-ranging and far-sighted, offering smart and innovative state-based solutions to Australia’s growing “waste and recycling crisis.”

“Together, NSW local governments have been campaigning to save recycling since 2018 – and it is clear Environment Minister Matt Kean and the Premier have not only listened, but heard our call,” she said.

“For two years councils have been asking for the waste levy to be reinvested for the purpose it is collected, and the Premier’s announcement that this levy will now be reviewed is very welcome news.”

According to Ms Scott, steps to reduce waste, including banning plastic bags in 2021, will play a critical role in helping to create a circular economy.

“Joining with the Commonwealth to fund council-led waste and recycling infrastructure proposals will help ensure our waste is managed more sustainably, creating jobs in NSW,” she said.

“Increasing state and local government procurement of recycled goods, while leveraging off existing procurement platforms, is long overdue. Local governments are also very supportive of state-wide education campaigns so everyone is able to do their bit to reduce waste and increase recycling.”

Waste Management & Resource Recovery Association Australia CEO Gayle Sloan said with plastics at the forefront of the community’s mind, it’s encouraging that NSW is looking to align with other jurisdictions to design out unnecessary single-use items.

“It also appears that NSW is prepared to go further, with mandated recycled content of 30 per cent by 2025, and emphasis on designing out waste and making producers take greater responsibility for collecting and recycling in NSW, including the possible use of more extended producer responsibility schemes,” Ms Sloan said.

“These are all positive policies that may result in less reliance on councils and householders to meet the costs of these schemes.”

Consultation closes 8 May.

Related stories: 

Pact Group announces $500M investment in plastics recovery

Pact Group, one of Australia’s largest rigid plastic product manufacturers, will invest $500 million into plastics recovery infrastructure, research and technology over the next five years.

Pact Group Non-Executive Chairman Raphael Geminder made the pledge at the first National Plastics Summit at Parliament House this week, following news the company plan to develop a plastic pelletising facility with Cleanaway and Asahi.

According to Mr Geminder, the company will partner with government and industry to invest in new facilities for sustainable packaging, reuse and recycling initiatives.

“Our stated vision is to include 30 per cent recycled content across our product portfolio by 2025. Across our business, this would be the equivalent of keeping nearly two billion plastic containers out of landfill,” Mr Geminder said.

“Just as importantly, we will be creating jobs for Australians in the circular economy – a new and growing sector where we believe Australia can lead the world.”

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the commitment was encouraging, with industry leadership to reduce plastic waste, increase recycling and create jobs a critical outcome of the summit.

“Pact’s announcement at the National Plastics Summit follows announcements from major brands McDonald’s and Nestlé, with McDonald’s committing to phase out plastic cutlery by the end of 2020, removing 585 tonnes of plastic waste per annum,” Ms Ley said.

“This adds to McDonald’s previous commitment to phase out 500 million straws every year and takes the total annual plastic reduction to 860 tonnes.”

Furthermore, Nestlé will partner with waste management company IQ Renew on a soft plastics collection trial, to be tested at 100,000 homes.

“The recycling economy starts here, this is where we take what are now seen as problems and turn them into assets that create remanufactured products, which create jobs and which grow our economy,” Ms Ley said.

Additional commitments include $650,000 from PepsiCo to support Greening the Green, a program aimed at educating consumers on soft plastics, and Unilever announcing it will halve its use of virgin plastic in production and packaging by 2025.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation announced it would lead the development of the ANZPAC Plastic Pact, a new program within the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Plastics Pact Network.

“ANZPAC will provide the significant intervention required to meet Australia’s national plastic packaging target – that 70 per cent of all plastic packaging will be recycled or composted by 2025,” Ms Ley said.

According to Assistant Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans, the summit was an important step in working with industry to drive long-term practical outcomes, such as increasing Australia’s recycling rates and domestic reprocessing capabilities.

“We are looking towards fundamentally changing the way we think about and manage our waste, and creating new markets for recycled products,” he said.

“This transformation towards a circular economy will both create jobs and help our environment.”

Related stories:

X