Research council asks if technology can address waste ‘crisis’

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) is calling on waste and resource recovery stakeholders to share their thoughts on how technology can best address Australia’s waste ‘crisis.’

According to ATSE Executive Policy Director Matt Wenham, the academy has launched a project to investigate the readiness of the waste and resource recovery sector to adapt, adopt or develop technologies that will enable it to address the challenges and opportunities of the next decade.

“Fires at rubbish stockpiles, the collapse of a major recycling company, shrinking export markets, and public concern over plastic litter’s effects on wildlife are all contributing to a growing sense of urgency around how to tackle rubbish problems,” he said.

Mr Wenham said businesses in the sector are being asked to give their opinions and ideas through an online survey.

“Technology has already transformed recycling in Australia. For example, glass bottles were once sorted by hand. Then from 2014, optical sorting facilities started sorting glass automatically using light to identify the glass type and colour,” he said.

“This investigation is part of a wider three-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council, examining the technology readiness of different industry sectors. The report generated following the consultation will provide a blueprint for waste management planning to 2030.”

ATSE has identified four technology-based solutions that could help the sector make the most of these opportunities over the next decade:

— Improved product stewardship, where the consumer, manufacturers and the waste sector work together to reduce waste. This might involve manufacturers extending the useful life of their products with platforms that enable hiring, sharing or second-hand sales.

— Design for disassembly, which makes products easier to repair, repurpose, and recycle.

— Smart waste management systems, which use advanced technologies to sort and process materials, or technologies that make it easier for consumers to play their part, such as “pay as you throw” automated levies.

— Advanced resource recovery solutions that use technologies to recover energy to produce electricity, heat, gas and fuels from waste.

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