New purpose for waste from Australian wineries

An Australian research project has found the clean and green leftovers from wineries can be transformed into tomorrow’s nutraceutical ingredients and sold as health supplements on pharmacy shelves. 

Led by Swinburne, Swisse Wellness and the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), the project is working to transform surplus Australian fruit and vegetables, such as grape skins and seeds sourced from wineries across Victoria, into nutraceutical ingredients.

Leftover waste from the wine production in the growing region of Yarra Valley and the Mornington and Bellarine Peninsulas are being recycled into ingredients to formulate potential Swisse vitamin supplements.

Dr Steven Lapidge, CEO of the Fight Food Waste CRC, said that this project has always been the “low-hanging fruit” of industry waste transformation, however it is not a simple project and it will only be delivered through collaboration.

“Through investing in research and development we will deliver new high-value commercial opportunities for the participants of this project while at the same time fighting food waste in Australia,” he said.

Swinburne is the research partner for this project, with their involvement led by Professor Enzo Palombo. 

The professor is aiming to utilise 250 tonnes of Victorian grape marc from this vintage in the production of grape seed extract for Swisse.

“We’ve done laboratory validation, technical feasibility and yield optimisation, therefore the next stage of commercialisation is establishing a pilot plant capable of producing the required quantity and purity of grape seed extract for Swisse,” he said.

Palombo said the work from this research project will produce wine waste into fully traceable Australian grape seed extract for supplement use. 

Justin Howden, Group Head of Global Government Affairs and Industry Development, said that this project will enable Swisse to source their grape seed extract locally for the 2020 vintage to go into the Asian Market as a premium product.

“This is a great opportunity for Swisse, the grape seed extract will be from the seeds leftover from the wine production in the growing region of Yarra Valley and the Mornington and Bellarine Peninsulas,” he said.

“Using the grape marc in our premium products is a highly sought-after ingredient in the Australian nutraceutical industry with health benefits including collagen formation, skin health, and antioxidant activity.”

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New sod for recycled alkaline batteries

New research has taken place testing the capabilities of micro-nutrients derived from recycled alkaline batteries.

Perth-based battery developer, Lithium Australia, has trialled a short duration glasshouse testing of fertilisers with added micro-nutrients derived from recycled alkaline batteries.

The company reported in its findings that plant uptake of zinc and manganese was in line with expectations for oxide materials.

According to the ABRI (Australian Battery Recycling Initiative), almost 100 per cent of alkaline battery materials can be recycled and there is a well-established infrastructure for collection and recycling.

“Our use of batteries is growing exponentially as new product types emerge,” the ABRI stated.

“While once we relied on grid based electricity and fossil fuels, we are increasingly turning to batteries to power our every day lives.”

Lithium Australia stated that more than 6000 tonnes of alkaline batteries are consumed nationally each year.

In 2019, Australia’s Battery Stewardship Council estimated that, at the end of their useful life, 97 per cent of those batteries were disposed of in municipal waste streams and reported to landfill.

Lithium Australia is aiming to supply ethically and sustainably sourced materials to the battery industry worldwide. 

As part of its commitment to a circular battery economy, the company recently assessed the use of zinc and manganese recovered from recycled alkaline batteries as micro-nutrient supplements in fertilisers.

The mixed metal dusts used in the recent lithium trial came from the company’s Envirostream Australia spent battery recycling facility in Victoria.

Major Australian organisations including Bunnings, Officeworks and Cleanaway are pick up points for Lithium Australia to sort and shred materials, and then separate cathode and anode active compounds at the battery recycling facility.

In the lithium trials, glasshouse pots were used to assess fertilisers against control samples, including traditional fertilisers.

The company told investors that the results were encouraging enough for the company to commit to the next stage of assessment.

Metal uptake occurred across the samples, with uptake from recycled materials slower in comparison to fertiliser-grade sulphate products.

Larger scale field trials are now being planned to assess alkaline mixed metal dust performance against conventional treatments.

Lithium Australia MD Adrian Griffin said recycling all the metals within spent batteries is something that’s rarely done effectively, which is why it remains a target for the company.

“We have not limited ourselves to recycling only lithium-ion batteries but, rather, have included alkaline batteries in a bid to eliminate all such items from landfill,” he said.

“We’re cognisant of the environmental implications of burying such ‘waste’ and encourage all consumers to join us in recycling every spent battery for the benefit of the environment now for the sake of the future.”

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Researchers develop concrete solution for recycled glass

Deakin School of Engineering researchers have found ground waste glass can be used as a substitute for sand when making polymer concrete – a material commonly used in industrial flooring.

Senior engineering lecturer Dr Riyadh Al-Ameri said the addition of glass resulted in a stronger product that was less costly to produce.

“This research provides the evidence the construction industry needs to see the potential of glass as a substitute for sand when making polymer concrete and, potentially, concrete,” Dr Al-Ameri said.

“Concrete is a major construction material and sand is one of its primary components, so finding an alternative to sand makes good economic sense.”

Polymer concrete uses polymers, typically resins, to replace lime-type cements as a binder.

According to Dr Al-Ameri, this produces a high strength, water-resistant material suited to industrial flooring and infrastructure drainage, particularly in areas subject to heavy traffic such as service stations, forklift operating areas and airports.

“We have found that substituting sand with ground recycled glass makes the polymer concrete stronger and is a sustainable use of one of the major types of recyclables in the domestic waste stream,” Dr Al-Ameri said.

“Any changes that reduce the cost of production will lead to significant gains across the industry, potentially on a global scale.”

Deakin Engineering student Dikshit Modgil worked with Melbourne-based Orca Civil Products as part of his masters research into the suitability of recyclable glass in polymer concrete production.

Orca Civil Products Director Alan Travers said the research partnership had produced results that would be useful in taking the concept further to commercialisation.

“The specific type of waste glass used in this project was unsuitable for recycling back into glass and the amount that is stockpiling is becoming a community problem,” Mr Travers said.

“The concept has even more appeal to us because of predicted shortages of natural, mined sands in the medium term.”

Dr Al-Ameri said the next stage of Deakin’s research would look at substitutes for the aggregate in polymer concrete, optimising the substitution rate, assessing durability, and the commercialisation of the new product.

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$4.8M boost for Victoria’s recycling sector

The Victorian Government has announced $4.8 million for 20 recycling projects as part of the third round of the Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund.

The projects are expected to create 155 jobs across Victoria and divert more than 350,000 tonnes of waste from landfill each year.

The projects, worth more than $35 million, will expand the collection of kerbside food organics, increase the recycling of plastics and upgrade major recycling facilities, including three regional resource recovery facilities.

A further $1.5 million will be provided to 10 research organisations to explore new uses for recycled materials and to work with businesses or government to maximise their use.

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The Research, Development & Demonstration Program will provide grants of $50,000 to $200,000 to each of the 10 research projects.

The projects will investigate innovative uses for glass, plastics, organics, concrete, brick and rubber, while exploring new processing technologies.

The program will work with the University of Melbourne, RMIT University, Swinburne University and the Australian Road Research Board – in collaboration with several major Victorian businesses – to increase procurement of large volumes of recycled materials in to the commercial market.

The Victorian Government has awarded $15.1 million to support 47 projects through the Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund.

The Research, Development & Demonstration grants are part of the Victorian Government’s broader $4.5 million Market Development program, which helps to build new, strong domestic markets for the state’s recovered resources.

Australians believe recyclables going to landfill: research

Most Australians across all states and demographics believe the recyclables they put into their council bins are ending up in landfill, according to new research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The series of surveys has also found that 49 per cent of people believe that green and eco-friendly efforts will not have an effect in their lifetime, with 63.8 per cent of those older than 65 seeing no benefits being realised.

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Key findings also report that 72.4 per cent of people would recycle more of the material if it was reliably recycled.

Confusion also surround which level of government is responsible for residential waste and recycling services, with some people thinking industry instead of government is responsible for waste management.

UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Director Veena Sahajwalla said rising stockpiles and increasing use of landfill, in the absence of a coordinated government solution to a waste problem, had not been lost on consumers.

“Each council is fending for themselves right across Australia and while the meeting of federal and state environment ministers earlier this year made an important announcement about a new National Waste Policy stating that by 2025 all packaging will be re-usable, compostable or recyclable, we don’t have to wait another seven years for this decision to come into effect,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“It is clear on this issue that people want action, and they want governments to invest and do something now.

“A number of councils and private business are interested in our technology but unless there are incentives in place, Australia will be slow to capitalise on the potential to lead the world in reforming our waste into something valuable and reusable.”

UNSW’s SMaRT Centre launched a demonstration e-waste microfactory in April, which is able to recover the components of discarded electronic items for use in high value products.

UNSW is also finalising a second demonstration microfactory, which converts glass, plastics and other waste materials into engineered stone products, which look and perform as well as marble and granite.

“Rather than export our rubbish overseas and to do more landfill for waste, the microfactory technology has the potential for us to export valuable materials and newly manufactured products instead,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“Through the microfactory technology, we can enhance our economy and be part of the global supply chain by supplying more valuable materials around the world and stimulating manufacturing innovation in Australia.”

Consumers expect sustainable packaging from industry: research

Consumers are aware of the problems caused by packaging waste but expect the industry to provide more sustainable options, according to research launched by packaging company Pact Group.

The research has found 91 per cent of Australians are concerned about the impact of packaging, with 76 per cent more concerned about packaging waste now than they were five years ago.

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Despite this, the research has found that less than half would be willing to pay more for a product with environmentally friendly packaging.

Pact Group, Executive Chairman Raphael Geminder said that Australia’s packaging industry needs smarter packaging waste solutions, with consumer sentiment shifting and government action forthcoming.

“We can no longer simply rely on consumers to solve the problem, we need government and industry working side by side to create scaled, standardised solutions to tackle packaging waste,” Mr Geminder said.

“In order to realise this vision, we require industry-wide collaboration to simplify the recycling process for consumers.

“An integrated approach will allow us to deliver innovation at scale so new solutions do not simply increase cost and lose value. Consumers should not be forced to choose between value and sustainability,” he said.

The company has announced its own targets to meet those outlined by the Environment Minister Melissa Price last week. Pact Group aims to eliminate all non-recyclable packing, offer 30 per cent recycled material across its portfolio and provide solutions to reduce, reuse and recycle all single use secondary packaging in supermarkets by 2025.

Mr Geminder said there are tangible, incremental changes that can be made today, with longer-term changes which will require cross industry collaboration.

“I will be calling on my industry colleagues to work together with us on common platforms, agreed standards and processes that will create a framework for manufacturers, brand owners and retailers to solve problems systematically,” he said.

Image Credit: Pact Group. Pictured Raphael Geminder (L) and Melissa Price (R)

Victorian recycling research and development grants now open

Sustainability Victoria has opened applications for Research, Development and Demonstration Grants of up to $200,000 for projects that can increase the quality of recycled products sold in Victoria.

Businesses, local governments and researchers can apply for grants between $50,000 and $200,000 to help stimulate markets for products made from recovered resources.

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Projects that investigate one or more materials which have specific supply or demand side barriers which could be overcome with support from the government are encouraged to apply.

Concrete and brick, electronic waste, glass, organic material, paper and cardboard, plastics, rubber and textiles have all been identified as targeted materials for the grant.

The grants have been designed to support the industry in commercialising new products and processing approaches and to increase the end market uptake and demand for the targeted materials.

Successful applicants will have their projects matched dollar for dollar by the state government.

Previous research projects included alternative uses for glass fines and flexible plastics in construction and manufactured products, such as railway sleepers, plastics in concrete footpaths, glass in non-load bearing concrete and roof tiles made from glass waste.

Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan said the grants would increase job creation, develop quality products for end markets and increase investment in products made from recovered resources.

“Recent shifts in the current international recycling in gives Victoria greater impetus to develop local markets for the products we can recycle,” Mr Krpan said.

“It is crucial such markets are developed so the value of recovered resources is realised.

“This funding provides industry the opportunity to develop and trial new or existing products and specifications that use significant and reliable quantities of targeted materials,” he said.

The program will also inform the industry of the possible opportunities to use recovered materials in manufacturing to support using products made from recycled content.

“Recycling is an increasingly important community issue, and we are committed to maximising the opportunities to support new markets that use significant and reliable volumes of priority materials,” Mr Krpan said.

“It’s also an opportunity for universities and industry to work together to develop practical solutions to an important, and costly, community issue, which will benefit us all.

For more information about applying for the grant, click here.

Turning coffee grounds into coffee cups

Coffee grounds could be used to create biodegradable plastic coffee cups thanks to new research from Macquarie University.

The process converts the spent coffee grounds into a lactic acid which is then turned into a plastic, however the method is still being refined by researcher Dominik Kopp.

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Because 50 per cent of coffee grounds are made up of sugars, they can be converted into bio-based chemicals.

The method was inspired by a metabolic pathway that is thought to exist in an evolutionary ancient organism, which lived in hot and extremely acidic environments.

“Australians consume six billion cups of coffee every year, and the coffee grounds used to make these coffees are used only once and then discarded,” says Mr Kopp.

“In Sydney alone, over 920 cafes and coffee shops produced nearly 3,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds every year.

“Ninety-three per cent of this waste ends up in landfill, where it produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.”

Mr Kopp sources the coffee grounds from one of the shops on Macquarie’s campus and took them back to the lab.

“We assembled a synthetic pathway to convert the most abundant sugar in the coffee grounds, mannose, into lactic acid,” he says.

“Lactic acid can be used in the production of biodegradable plastics, offering a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuel-derived plastics.

“You could use such plastics to make anything from plastic coffee cups to yoghurt containers to compost bags to sutures in medicine.”

His next step will be to further refine the conversion pathway and improve the yield of lactic acid.

“I think my project is one of many interesting approaches on how to use synthetic biology in a responsible manner for the development of a more sustainable and greener industry that doesn’t rely on crude oil,” says Dominik.

“The simple idea that we are converting waste into a valuable and sustainable product is extremely exciting!”

Planning for national solar panel product stewardship underway

Research for a national product stewardship program for photovoltaic systems, which include solar panels, is underway.

Research for a national product stewardship program for photovoltaic systems, which include solar panels, is underway.

Sustainability Victoria has appointed product stewardship consultant Equilibrium to analyse and assess potential options for a national product stewardship to help manage end of life products.

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Photovoltaic (PV) panels and associated products and equipment have been identified as a rapidly growing e-waste stream in the future. For the project, “PV systems” have neem defined to include panels and PV system accessories such as inverter equipment and energy storage systems.

Equilibrium has opened an online survey to gather input and information form manufacturers, installers, project developers, the energy industry, and peak bodies.

The information gathered by the survey along with other evidence gathered will support the assessment of potential options.

Organisations and individuals interested in the project can complete the survey here.

Deakin researchers could recycle jeans into joints

Advanced textile recycling methods could see denim jeans transformed into artificial cartilage for joint reconstruction.

Deakin University researchers Dr Nolene Byrne and PhD candidate Beini Zeng have discovered how to dissolve denim and turn them into an aerogel that can be used for cartilage biosculpting, water filtration and used as a separator in advanced battery technology.

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Dr Byrne said the denim recycling technique would also help contribute to the fight against textile waste.

“Textile waste is a global challenge with significant environmental implications, and we’ve been working for more than four years to address this problem with a viable textile recycling solution,” she said.

“With population growth and the development of third world countries combined with today’s rapid fashion cycles, textile waste is always increasing, leading to millions of tonnes of clothes and other textiles being burnt or dumped in landfill.”

Dr Byrne said Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials team used an “upcycling” approach to get around cost-effectiveness issues.

“One of the main drawbacks of textile recycling efforts is that any advanced technique requires the use of chemicals, which can then make the procedure less cost-effective,” she said.

“We use environmentally-friendly chemicals, and by upcycling our approach to create a more advanced material we can address the limitations affecting other less cost-effective methods.

“We are now entering pilot-scale trials and look to be at commercial scale within 3 to 5 years with industry support.”

Dr Nolene Byrne (left) and PhD candidate Beini Zeng (right)

She said the process worked because denim was made from cotton, a natural polymer comprised of cellulose.

“Cellulose is a versatile renewable material, so we can use liquid solvents on waste denim to allow it to be dissolved and regenerated into an aerogel, or a variety of different forms,” she said.

“Aerogels are a class of advanced materials with very low density, sometimes referred to as ‘frozen smoke’ or ‘solid smoke’, and because of this low density they make excellent materials for bioscaffolding, absorption or filtration.

“When we reformed the cellulose, we got something we didn’t expect – an aerogel with a unique porous structure and nanoscopic tunnels running through the sample.”

Dr Byrne said she believed the sticky nature of the denim cellulose solution was likely responsible for the unique aerogel structure that resulted, something ideally suited for use as synthetic cartilage.

“That’s exactly what cartilage looks like – you can’t 3D print that material – and now we can shape and tune the aerogel to manipulate the size and distribution of the tunnels to make the ideal shape,” she said.

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