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.

Related stories:

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.”

Related stories: 

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.”

Related stories:

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.

Related stories: 

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.”

Related stories:

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.”

Related stories:

Plastic not so fantastic

Consistent labelling and increased industry capacity would help councils identify the correct pathways for recyclable plastics, writes Australian Local Government Association President David O’Loughlin.

Read morePlastic not so fantastic

Coca-Cola announce major increase in recycled plastic

Coca-Cola Australia and Coca-Cola Amatil have announced that by the end of 2019, 70 per cent of the companies’ plastic bottles will be made entirely from recycled plastic.

The announcement forms part of the Coca-Cola group’s global commitment to helping the world’s packaging problem.

The world’s largest beverage company said the change will involve products 600 millilitre and under from brands such as Coca-Cola, Fanta, Fuze Tea as well as 750 millilitre Pump.

Coca-Cola Australia president Vamsi Mohan Thati said the company has a responsibility to help solve the plastic waste crisis.

“This is a big commitment to recycled plastic – the largest of its kind by a beverage company in Australia – and will significantly reduce the impact of our business on the environment.”

Mr Thati said Coca-Cola have a long history of supporting environmental partners in Australia, and over the past two years have invested more than $1 million towards cleaning up marine debris, improving access to recycling in public places, and developing innovative solutions to recycle plastic waste.

The company also has a 40-year history operating South Australia’s container deposit scheme, which pays 10 cents for all eligible beverage containers returned for recycling.

Coca-Cola also operates the container scheme in the Northern Territory, and is involved in the programs in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Coca-Cola Amatil Managing Director of Australian Beverages Peter West said the increase in the use of recycled plastic means the company will avoid using 16,000 tonnes of virgin plastic each year.

“We’ve heard the community message loud and clear – that unnecessary packaging is unacceptable and we need to do our part to reduce it nationwide,” Mr West said.

“It’s the single largest increase in recycled plastic use in our history, and our strongest step forward in reducing packaging waste and the environmental impact of our operations.”

Mr West said Amatil’s increased use of recycled plastic follows initiatives such as the elimination of plastic straws, support for cost-effective well-run container deposit schemes and the company’s support for the 2025 national packaging targets.

“Our landmark transition to use 100 per cent recycled plastic in bottles began with Mount Franklin Still Pure Australian Spring Water in 2018. Following extensive research and development, this will now roll out across other brands in bottles 600 millilitre and under, across Coca-Cola’s soft drink, water and juice products,” Mr West said.

Coca-Cola Australia and Coca-Cola Amatil support a number of grassroots initiatives to help collect and recycle beverage containers including CitizenBlue, Keep Australia Beautiful, and Eco Barge Clean Seas.

Both companies also support The Coca-Cola Company’s 2020 global goal of reducing waste by collecting and recycling as many cans and bottles as it sells each year.

Related stories:

Veolia and Nestlé partner to tackle plastic waste

Veolia and Nestlé have announced a partnership to work on waste collection and sorting, and recycling plastic material with an emphasis on flexible plastic packaging.

Projects will focus on eleven priority countries across Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

The collaboration will explore technologies to establish viable models of recycling in different countries, including chemical recycling technologies like pyrolysis which is capable of producing virgin quality plastic.

These potential technologies will help Nestlé increase the recycled content of its bottled water packaging to 35 per cent and its overall product packaging to 15 per cent by 2025.

Nestlé Executive Vice President, Head of Operations Magdi Batato said plastic waste is a challenge that requires an ecosystem of solutions that work simultaneously.

“This partnership is another specific step to accelerate our efforts in addressing the critical issue of plastic waste.

“Leveraging on Veolia’s technology and expertise, we will start with pilot projects in multiple countries with the intention of scaling these up globally,” he said.

In late 2018 Nestlé committed to making 100 per cent of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.

Veolia Senior Executive Vice-President for Development, Innovation and Markets Laurent Auguste said the company welcomed the partnership as part of Veolia’s quest for a more circular economy of plastics.

“Our expertise in resource recovery and recycling has positioned us to tackle this issue with global brands and other value-chain actors across all continents.

“We believe it is time to move towards more recycling of materials, and we are happy to help our clients be ever more inventive so they can keep improving our quality of life, whilst protecting our planet and its resources,” he said.

The partnership follows a series of initiative’s taken by both companies to accelerate action to reduce plastic waste.

Related stories:

X