Australia’s largest plastics recycling plant opens

Australia’s largest plastics recycling plant, with a processing capacity of 70,000 tonnes a year, has opened in Victoria.

Advanced Circular Polymers’ $20 million facility will recycle large quantities of low-value contaminated mixed plastic into material suitable for manufacturing new products

Advanced Circular Polymers Founder Harry Wang said the plant’s 70,000 tonne capacity is equivalent to almost half the plastics currently recovered in Victoria.

“Previously, Australia relied heavily on China to process recovered plastics. This new advancement provides a local solution, right here in Victoria, to the challenges posed by China’s import restrictions imposed last year,” Mr Wang said.

“Rather than plastic being collected, sent overseas, reprocessed then sent back to Australia, we saw an opportunity to close the loop and find a sustainable solution.”

The plant, which has been part-funded by the Victorian Government and a $500,000 Sustainability Victoria grant, will be powered by renewable energy produced from Goldwind Australia’s wind farm near Ballarat.

The facility will use advanced technology to sort and clean plastic by polymer type and to specific customer requirements.

Mr Wang said the resulting plastic flake would be sold and repurposed into new plastic products such as packaging.

“We are big supporters of reducing plastic pollution as a first step, but while there is still plastic to be recycled we should be doing our best to capture what we can,” Mr Wang said.

“We should treat plastic like gold. It is a precious resource that can be used in production again and again.”

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Coca-Cola produces first recycled carbonated soft drink bottle

Coca-Cola Amatil has produced Australia’s first carbonated soft drink bottles made from 100 per cent recycled plastic.

Following this development, the company announced all single-serve plastic bottles in Australia would switch to fully recycled material by the end of 2019.

Group Managing Director Alison Watkins said while 100 per cent recycled plastic had previously been used in still beverages, it had never been successfully used for carbonated drinks.

According to Ms Watkins, the pressure in a soft drink bottle is three times that of a car tyre, as such, bottles for carbonated drinks require stronger material than those for still beverages.

“That’s been an obstacle in using 100 per cent recycled materials for these types of drinks,” Ms Watkins said.

“I’m pleased to say we’ve overcome this challenge through innovation and design, and we are now the first in Australia to make 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles for carbonated beverages.”

Ms Watkins said the change to 100 per cent recycled plastic would reduce Coca-Cola’s use of virgin plastic by roughly 10,000 tonnes a year.

“Community and commercial pressure is driving a rapid take-up of recycled materials in bottling,” Ms Watkins said.

“The new 100 per cent recycled plastic bottle range supports the Coca-Cola Company’s aspiration for a world without waste, an ambition to help collect and recycle one bottle or can for each one it produces.”

The company’s Mount Franklin Still range was switched to 100% recycled plastic bottles in 2018.

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ALDI announces new packaging commitments

ALDI Australia has announced it will cut a quarter of all plastic packaging from its range by 2025, as part of a wide range of new packaging commitments.

ALDI Australia Managing Director Buying Oliver Bongardt made the announcement in front of 100 ALDI business partners at a supplier forum this week.

“In an act of transparency and authenticity, ALDI has committed to annually report on its progress towards this goal,” Mr Bongardt said.

“It’s our ambition to reduce the amount of plastic in our stores, while in parallel stimulating Australia’s circular economy and ensuring our business partners have commercially viable packaging options to reduce their reliance on virgin materials.”

Mr Bongardt said all single use plastics, such as cotton buds and plastic plates, will also be removed from ALDI stores by the end of 2020.

“Despite our desire, and that of our customers, to remove plastics immediately, this process will take years not weeks,” Mr Bongardt said.

“Today’s announcement is to clearly demonstrate that we are completely invested in the important journey of reducing waste, and we stand committed to quantify our progress over the coming years.”

Additionally, Mr Bongardt announced that ALDI had diverted six billion single-use plastic bags from entering the environment, the equivalent of 40,000 tonnes of soft plastic, since opening 18 years ago.

Mr Bongardt said ALDI acknowledged the pressure these commitments would place on their businesses and has resourced a team to support the transition.

In response to the announcement, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation CEO Brooke Donnelly said ALDI was demonstrating that sustainable packaging could drive a range of positive commercial benefits.

“I’d like to acknowledge ALDI on their new sustainability commitments, which represent a significant contribution to sustainable packaging in Australia and an important milestone in our work to reach the 2025 National Packaging Targets,” Ms Donnelly said.

“It’s particularly impressive to see the process ALDI has undertaken to involve their suppliers, effectively bringing a range of businesses along on their sustainable packaging journey and delivering an efficient, cost effective approach to the entire supply chain.”

ALDI’s packaging commitments:

— Reduce plastic packaging by 25 per cent by 2025.

— Actively reduce the amount of plastic packaging in the fresh produce range and transition to more sustainable alternatives where possible, producing no increase in food waste.

— Phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics by the end of 2020.

— Prioritise the reduction or replacement of difficult to recycle black plastic packaging.

— Make ALDI’s exclusive range packaging 100 per cent recyclable, reusable or compostable by the end of 2025.

— By the end of 2020, all paper and pulp-based packaging in ALDI’s everyday range will be either Forest Stewardship Council certified, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest certified or 70 per cent recycled.

— Include, at minimum, 30 per cent recycled materials in plastic packaging by the end of 2025.

— Use the Australasian Recycling Label on all ALDI branded products by the end of 2022.

— Further educate customers on the importance of packaging waste reduction.

— Publicly report against all goals from 2020.

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Recycled plastic sleepers trial at Melbourne’s Richmond station

Trains travelling through Melbourne’s Richmond station are now running on railway sleepers made from recycled plastic as part of an 18-month trial.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio and Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne were at Richmond train station on Monday to see the first of 200 sleepers being installed.

Produced in Mildura by Integrated Recycling, the Duratrack sleepers are made from a mix of polystyrene and agricultural waste, including cotton bale wrap and vineyard covers all sourced in Australia.

The recycled sleepers have a potential lifespan of up to 50 years, are half the cost of traditional timber sleepers and require far less maintenance.

The Victorian Government has invested $630,000 through grant programs delivered by Sustainability Victoria to make the project a reality.

For every kilometre of track installed, 64 tonnes of plastic waste that would otherwise have gone to landfill will be recycled.

The product is the result of more than two years of research and product development led by Integrated Recycling and Monash University, with the sleepers already up and running at four Victorian tourist railways including the iconic Puffing Billy.

Introducing the new sleepers, approved for use on Melbourne’s metropolitan rail network, are part of environmental requirements included in the Victorian Government’s current contract with Metro Trains.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the project is a great example of the circular economy created through innovation and rethinking a product we use everyday.

Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne said it’s exciting to see innovative, environmentally friendly technology rolled out at one of Melbourne’s busiest train stations.

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Waste sulfur polymers to assist plastic recycling

A new study published in Chemistry – A European Journal, suggests the problem of plastic waste could be addressed via waste sulfur polymers.

Study co-director Justin Chalker of Flinders University said researchers are working to develop a range of versatile and recyclable materials by controlling physical and mechanical properties, bringing them closer to scale up for manufacturing.

“Polymers made from elemental sulfur have emerged as versatile materials for energy storage, optics applications, environmental remediation and agriculture,” Mr Chalker said.

“Controlling their properties takes a big step towards these new polymers being able to replace plastics, rubber and ceramics that are currently unrecyclable.”

According to Mr Chalker, research found the new polymers could be broken down and reformed into new materials.

“This represents a new era in recyclable materials made from renewable building blocks such as plant oils and industry by-products such as sulfur,” Mr Chalker said.

University of Liverpool collaborator Tom Hasell said the research is another important set towards taking sulfur-based polymers out of lab, for use in every-day practical material.

“Being able to produce polymers from sulfur – a waste product of the petrochemical industry – is a really exciting opportunity, both for the environment and for creating more sustainable products and industries,” Mr Hasell said.

“Almost every household item has some kind of plastic polymer plastic in them and making polymers from sulfur, not carbon, opens doors into a new frontier of possibilities.”

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Malaysia sends back plastic waste

The Malaysian Environment Ministry has announced it will ship 450 metric tonnes of illegally imported and contaminated plastic waste back to countries of origin, including Australian material.

The waste, found during container inspections, originates from Australia, the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China and Bangladesh.

According to a 28 May Environment Ministry statement, once all containers are fully inspected, an estimated 3000 metric tonnes will be shipped back to origin countries.

“These containers are filled with contaminated, non-homogeneous, low quality, non-recyclable plastic waste, and are routed to processing facilities which do not have the technology to recycle in an environmentally sound manner. This practice is against the Environmental Quality Act 1974,” the statement reads.

To date, the ministry has inspected 123 containers from countries including the UK, The United States, Japan, China, Spain, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Bangladesh and Norway.

“The laborious and costly inspection process was necessary to identify the content of the containers and its exporting country – the inspection process is on-going,” the statement reads.

Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said Malaysia would continue to weed out international imports.

“These containers were illegally brought into the country under false declarations and other offences, which clearly violates our environmental law,” Ms Yin said.

“Garbage is traded under the pretext of recycling and Malaysians are forced to suffer poor air quality due to open burning of plastics which leads to health hazards, polluted rivers, illegal landfills and a host of other related problems. We view the perpetrators of this act as traitors to the country’s sustainability and therefore they should be stopped and brought to justice.”

As party to the Basel Convention Malaysia imposes strict requirements on the importation of mixed plastic waste, in an effort to regulate trade and transboundary movements.

“We urge the developed countries to review their management of plastic waste and stop shipping the garbage out to the developing countries,” Ms Yin said.

“We will compile these recycling companies names and send to the respective government for further investigation.”

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Timor-Leste aims to become world’s first plastic-neutral country

In a bid to become the world’s first plastic neutral country, Timor-Leste and Mura Technology will establish a Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR) plant on the island nation.

A memorandum of understanding standing was signed by Timor-Leste and Mura Technology at the University of Sydney last week.

Cat-HTR is a patented hydrothermal upgrading technology that uses water under high temperature and pressure to chemically recycle waste plastic back into oil.

Mura will establish the $40 million chemical recycling plant via a new not-for-profit organisation, RESPECT, at no cost to the people of Timor-Leste.

Mura Technology is a joint venture between The University of Sydney’s spin-out company Licella Holdings and power supplier Armstrong Energy.

Cat-HRT co-inventor Professor Thomas Maschmeyer said one Cat-HTR plant has the potential to convert Timor-Leste’s entire plastic waste stream into valuable petrochemicals – enabling self-sustaining operations.

“We are thrilled to be involved in this project to provide technology to Timor-Leste, where it will have a huge and positive impact,” Dr Maschmeyer said.

“It could allow Timor-Leste to become the first ‘plastic-neutral’ country in the world, which means no used plastics will enter the environment as waste but will instead be recycled into new products.”

Licella Holdings CEO Dr Len Humphreys said Cat-HTR is a highly efficient technology with the ability to handle virtually all plastic waste.

“Cat-HTR is much better equipped to handle plastic waste than current systems as it converts all types of plastic waste into high-value products in only 20 minutes,” Dr Humphreys said.

“This has multiple benefits, such as the reduction in costs for waste producers due to material re-use, reduced landfill and less plastic in our oceans.”

All financial surpluses from the plant will be returned to support community initiatives, as well as developing livelihoods for waste collectors.

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European Bioplastics rejects biodegradable study

European Bioplastics released a statement rejecting claims made in a University of Plymouth study titled Environmental deterioration of biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable, compostable and conventional plastic carrier bags.

The Australian Organics Recycling Association and the Australasian Bioplastics Association have endorsed the statements.

European Bioplastic Chairman Francois de Bie said the findings were misleading as most bags used for study were not biodegradable according to European Union definitions.

“According to European Bioplastic, the bag defined as biodegradable was labelled as such according to the standard ISO 14855, which is not a standard on biodegradation, but merely specifies a method for the determination of the ultimate aerobic biodegradability of plastics, based on organic compounds, under controlled conditions,” Mr Bie said.

“The study actually highlights the importance of correct labelling and certification.”

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Malaysia issues warning to plastic smugglers

Malaysian Government Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin has announced a government investigation into illegal plastic waste imports.

According to Ms Yin, the investigation follows a two-week inspection period where 111 shipping containers full of plastic were found disguised as other goods.

Ms Yin has warned smugglers that Malaysia will not hesitate to send falsely declared plastic waste back to its country of origin.

Ms Yin’s announcement follows a 60 Minutes report that claimed 71,000 tonnes of Australian recyclable plastic had been exported to Malaysia and processed at illegal facilities.

While the Australian waste management industry rejected many of the claims made by 60 Minutes, the glut of specific kinds of plastic waste with no end destination is a global hot button issue.

Malaysia saw an influx of plastic imports after China’s 2018 crackdown on contamination, with data from UK HM Revenue and Customs, a non-ministerial department responsible for tax collection, showing UK plastic waste exports to Malaysia tripled in the four months following the contamination ban.

Earlier this year, India similarly issued a total ban on solid plastic imports.

Ms Yin said Malaysia would need the support of international government’s to stop the trade of illegal plastics.

“This operation is to avoid Malaysia becoming full of dirty plastic waste from other countries especially developed countries,” Ms Yin said.

“The Department of Environment, in collaboration with other government agencies, will continue to enforce the interests of the environment and the wellbeing of the people of Malaysia.”

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