Sussan Ley tours Wetherill Park PEF facility

As Australia moves towards banning international waste exports, ResourceCo’s Process Engineered Fuel site is fulfilling an important role in Australia’s resource recovery framework.

Governments around the world are seeking to establish effective ways to preserve the Earth’s limited resources and deal with surrounding issues of waste.

It’s within this landscape that facilities such as Cleanaway ResourceCo’s resource recovery plant in New South Wales are demonstrating what’s possible.

The Wetherill Park facility, which is Australia’s largest plant of its kind, has processed more than 100,000 tonnes of dry commercial and industrial and mixed construction and demolition waste since opening in July last year.

Waste that would have otherwise been diverted to landfill is now being converted into a range of commodities including the baseload energy source – Processed Engineered Fuel (PEF).

The plant’s role in advancing Australia’s circular economy is generating interest both in Australia and overseas, including a recent visit from the Fijian Prime Minister.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley also recently toured the state-of-the-art resource recovery facility to see first-hand the scale of the operation.

“We have a clear focus on reducing waste to landfill and increasing the nation’s recycling capacity and within that context, the operation at Wetherill Park is impressive,” Minister Ley says.

Chief Executive Officer Sustainable Fuels at ResourceCo Ben Sawley says the plant can divert up to 50,000 truckloads of waste from landfill, while also reducing a reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and gas.

“In one year alone, it can replace 100,000 tonnes of coal usage and takes the equivalent of 20,000 cars annually off the road in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” Ben says.

As developed countries move away from the make, use and dispose model in favour a circular economy, the importance of supporting and establishing new markets for re-manufactured products is critical.

To that end, the Federal Government has committed to working with industry leaders to decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of the waste management and resource recovery sector.

At the recent Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) meeting, leaders agreed Australia should establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, while building the nation’s capacity to generate high-value recycled commodities and associated demand.

They tasked environment ministers with advising on a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

That strategy will draw on the best science, research and commercial experience, including that of agencies like the CSIRO and the work of Cooperative Research Centres.

“We are at a point where the circular economy needs to be the mainstream economy.

“There are some fantastic individual industry examples and concepts in the market and our focus is on working with industry as we broaden our approach,” Minister Ley says.

“This is going to require government and industry working together to ensure greater consistency across local, state and federal regulation and a sensible approach to supporting markets for remanufactured products.”

Ms Ley says the feedback from industry to date has been extremely positive and the clear message is that the ideas and the opportunities are there, along with the investment potential.

“What we will seek to address during the Meeting of Environment Ministers and the months that follow is a policy framework that gives the recycling industry a greater sense of direction and the comfort it needs to invest,” Minister Ley says.

It’s encouraging news for companies like ResourceCo, which is committed to playing a key role in Australia’s sustainable energy mix by reducing waste and lowering carbon emissions through production of a commercially viable sustainable energy product.

“The plant transforms waste from selected non-recyclable waste streams that would otherwise go into landfill into a range of commodities including a baseload energy source known as PEF, which is used as a substitute for fossil fuels in both domestic and offshore markets in the production of cement and energy,” Ben says.

“The opportunity to tap further into this market makes good sense, both environmentally and economically.”

ResourceCo operates a suite of 22 plants across Australia and South-East Asia, and has been at the leading edge of resource recovery for 25 years.

“Investment in resource recovery and innovative waste-to-energy solutions is critical to achieving a sustainable future,” Ben says.

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NWRIC discusses export ban with Minister Ley

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has asked Environment Minister Sussan Ley to bring the ban on whole bale tyre exports forward to July 2020, in parallel with glass.

According to an NWRIC statement, the potential harm to humans and the environment by exporting whole baled tyres is significant, with ample capacity to process the material into value added products domestically.

NWRIC members made the request at their quarterly meeting in Canberra this week, which Ms Ley attended to discuss export ban execution and the implications of the proposed timetable.

At the meeting, council members indicated their support for the intent of the ban, and welcomed the strong leadership of the Federal Government, according to an NWRIC statement.

In reference to mixed plastics, NWRIC advised Ms Ley that more time is required for industry to purchase equipment and scale processing capacity. The council also argued for the need to fast track local plastic demand through packaging.

Additionally, NWRIC called the export ban on baled paper and cardboard “illogical,” given local demand is limited and strong existing markets exist overseas.

“This also applies to the export of single resin polymer plastics, such as clean bales of PET and HDPE. The vast majority of this resource is going to legitimate licensed overseas manufacturers,” the statement reads.

How to build local demand for recovered materials for packaging, products and infrastructure was another topic of conversation.

“The minister emphasised the government’s commitment to increase the uptake of recovered materials by changing their procurement practices,” the statement reads.

“She also stressed that businesses must step up too, especially the packaging industry, manufacturers and retailers, by ramping up the use of recycled materials. This program is especially needed in plastic packaging and products.”

NWRIC also argued that for the ban to be successful, new obligations must extend beyond the waste and resource recovery sector, to include organisations importing products to Australia.

“A circular economy requires all parts of the supply chain participate. This also includes consumers who must buy recycled, along with households plus businesses sorting recycling better,” the statement reads.

“Importantly, the minister acknowledged that Australia is a net importer of plastics and paper, so this needs to be considered in implementing the export ban.”

NWRIC members also requested Ms Ley consider banning the export of whole crushed car bodies, white good and waste motor oils.

“All of these products, when exported unprocessed, are causing serious harm to human health and the environment in locations across Asia,” the statement reads.

In addition to the export ban, Ms Ley and NWRIC members discussed the challenges of diverting organics from landfill, and the need for nationally consistent landfill levies.

According to the statement, NWRIC told Ms Ley that there needs to be greater transparency and investment of levies back into developing recovered materials markets, community education, compliance activities, research and data collection. NWRIC members also highlighted the importance of state investment being matched by the Commonwealth.

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ACOR calls for battery product stewardship

Handheld batteries are a major fire risk in established recycling facilities and immediate action is needed to remove them from the general recycling stream, according to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel is calling on environment ministers to establish a national battery product stewardship and recycling scheme, with robust manufacturer participation.

“As a result of the digital age, battery consumption is going up by about 300 per cent per year and millions of post-consumer batteries are ending up where they don’t belong, which causes not only environmental harm but increasingly fires and occupational health and safety risks,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Analysis by ACOR shows that a national battery recycling scheme would cost less than one per cent of a typical battery’s retail price, and that seems a very small contribution for manufacturers to make to ensure better environmental and safety outcomes.”

According to Mr Shmigel, only three per cent of batteries are recycled in Australia, compared to 70 per cent in Europe, which has long-established, government-mandated schemes.

Mr Shmigel added that many batteries end up in household kerbside recycling bins as a result of “wishcycling.”

“Batteries that wrongly end up in our industry’s established materials recovery facilities for packaging or scrap metal recycling operations are known to explode as a result of heat and pressure from normal operations,” Mr Shmigel said.

“We are now consistently experiencing the operational and cost impacts, and should not wait to see somebody hurt.”

Outside selected retailer initiatives, Mr Shmigel said there is no alternative, comprehensive or accessible way for Australians to present used batteries for recycling.

“What we have in Australia is not recovery but malarkey. For nearly a decade, there’s been chain-dragging from major battery manufacturers and governments on setting up national programs, where all consumers can easily recycle their used batteries, just as they can their computers, TVs and mobile phones,” Mr Shmigel said.

Mr Shmigel said battery recycling solutions were put forward by industry and NGOs at the last two Meetings of Environment Ministers, however no substantive decisions were made.

“In the meantime, insurance premiums in our industry are known to have increased by five-fold per year in some cases due to increased fire risk,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Because we have very limited to no control of batteries coming into our facilities, that’s a totally inappropriate cost shift when producers are not taking appropriate responsibility.”

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Transport and Infrastructure Council supports recycled roads

Transport, infrastructure and planning ministers are asking Transport and Infrastructure Council officials to support the use of recycled material in road construction.

According to Environment Minister Sussan Ley, the request was made in a bid to support the forthcoming export ban and National Waste Action Plan.

“The 12th meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council has focused on practical steps to support our economy and protect the health of our communities, by better harnessing recycled materials, returning them to productive use,” Ms Ley said.

Specifically, officials have been asked to identify significant procurement opportunities over coming months, such as major road projects that could use recycled material.

Ms Ley said council was also asked to prioritise the development of standards to support the use of recycled materials in road construction.

“Establishing viable markets for recycled products is critical to our recycling future, and Australia’s infrastructure boom can play a major role,” Ms Ley said.

Officials will report on progress at council’s first meeting in 2020.

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Federal Government to reform environmental tracking

The Federal Government has announced plans for a national digital transformation program, to provide greater progress transparency for major environmental projects.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said projects will be more clearly tracked, with quarterly results published on the Department of Environment and Energy website.

The program will initially commence through a partnership with the West Australian Government.

“This will mean access to one online portal to submit an application through both tiers of government, and access to a single database of biodiversity studies that can, in turn, be rolled out nationally,” Ms Ley said.

“The biodiversity database will provide better access to information, allow faster and more comprehensive data for project assessments, and provide a baseline that can be used by government to better measure conservation outcomes.”

According to Ms Ley, the partnership will lay the foundation for a national system that reduces the current 3.5 year assessment time frame.

“At the same time, we are investing $25 million in reducing unnecessary delays within the existing assessment system, including the establishment of a major projects team to ensure assessments can be completed efficiently and thoroughly in accordance with the act,” Ms Ley said.

While not specifically waste or resource recovery focused, the program will work in tandem with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999), which is currently under review.

The review’s discussion paper, released 21 November, examines whether the act remains fit for purpose, and fit for the future within the context of a changing environment.

The paper suggests the act could be amended to move towards a national standard setting approach linked more closely to outcomes.

As an example of how federal and state governments could agree to harmonised national standards, the paper cites standards for waste and site contamination under the National Environment Protection Council.

Under the review’s terms of reference, the independent reviewer must provide a report to the environment minister within 12 months of the review’s commencement.

The discussion paper is open for submissions until 14 February.

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Sussan Ley warns against ‘greenwashing’ recycling

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley says a meeting with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (CGIQ) QLD branch has highlighted the importance of practical recycling initiatives, and the risks of ‘greenwashing’ recycling.

Greenwashing refers to a form of marketing that deceptively persuades the public that an organisation’s products and practices are environmentally friendly.

According to Ms Ley, greenwashing gives Australian consumers a false sense of assurance around recycling.

“Today I was joined by Assistant Minister Trevor Evans and a number of small to medium-sized businesses at the CGIQ headquarters in Brisbane, to identify the issues particular to their sector and the ways we can work together to build a circular economy that is less wasteful and more resourceful,” Ms Ley said.

Ms Ley said business participants said it was important to identify and develop recycling streams that people could see were delivering real outcomes

“Everyone accepts achieving these deadlines (export ban) is going to be a journey rather than an overnight outcome, and the commitment to work together is gathering momentum,” Ms Ley said.

“An example today was retailers seeking a common national standard to ensure that a reusable plastic bag is genuinely reusable, and that consumers are not buying products thinking they can be recycled when they can’t.”

Ms Ley said the Australasian Recycling Label is a step in the right direction, and would soon be carried by more and more products.

“A discussion paper on the waste ban timetable and growth opportunities to remanufacture our waste into recycled product has been circulated to industry, and consultation will continue in the lead up to COAG confirming the export phase out,” Ms Ley said.

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New product stewardship scheme to launch

Environment Minister Sussan Ley says she intents to add child car seats the Product Stewardship Act Priority List, following the establishment of a new stewardship scheme for the product.

The new scheme will work to provide convenient solutions for old, unwanted and potentially unsafe child car seat disposal.

“More than 1,400,000 new child car seats are sold annually in Australia,” Ms Ley said.

“The Memorandum of Understanding signed today (13 November) sees car seat manufacturers, retailers and motoring associations coming together for the first time to adopt the SeatCare program, which makes it easy for parents and families to dispose of old and potentially dangerous child safety seats for recycling.”

The industry led scheme is being co-designed and built by sustainability and environmental management consultants Equilibrium.

According to an Equilibrium statement, there is currently no Australian program to support the take-back of old child car safety seats.

“Simultaneously, there is a growing public expectation that producers and retailers are well placed to demonstrate their corporate social and environmental responsibility in a very practical manner,” the statement reads.

“As a result, SeatCare is a timely solution that will address both safety and environmental objectives in a practical way.”

Based on the 10-year recommended maximum life span of child car safety seats, national birth-rates, estimated changeover rate of units per child and per family, trials have found that up to one million child car safety seats can potentially be captured and removed from the market per year.

Equilibrium ran a trial in 2017 throughout Queensland, NSW and Victoria, which according to the statement, successfully collected 1921 seats for recovery and recycling and diverted 10,342 kilograms of material including plastic and steel from landfill.

“It is estimated that over 200,000 child car seats are disposed of every year, with the majority being sent to landfill,” the statement reads.

“This is despite the fact that over 80 per cent of child car safety seats can be recycled once dismantled. A product with such a significant percentage of recyclable material should be considered a valuable resource that is wasted when sent to landfill.”

Equilibrium General Manager Damien Wigley said SeatCare will provide a unique community service that can improve road safety while also reducing waste to landfill.

“SeatCare is an excellent example of how manufacturers, auto associations, safety advocates and environmental specialists can create positive waste reduction programs that meet consumer expectations,” Mr Wigley said.

 “SeatCare demonstrates how voluntary approaches to product stewardship can be achieved in a timely and outcome-oriented way. Multi-stakeholder involvement from the outset is the key to such programs, as is equitable co-funding, transparency and environmental sound processes.”

Once established, SeatCare intends to progressively roll out collection sites in mid-2020, with an initial target of 25 locations.

“As the program expands, this number will grow and potentially could build to around 60 collection sites in both metropolitan and regional areas, and involve a number of accredited dismantling organisations and plastic and metal recyclers,” the statement reads.

SeatCare will accept:

Rear facing carriers

Forward facing seats

Booster seats

Car seat and carrier frames

Car seat and carrier strapping

Items that attach directly to the seat or carrier supported by the manufacturer

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Government launches review of Environment Protection Act

The Federal Government has launched a once in a decade review of Australia’s environmental law.

The decision aims to deliver greater certainty to business groups, farmers and environmental organisations.

Led by Monash University Professorial Fellow Graeme Samuel, the statutory review will examine whether the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) remains fit for purpose, and fit for the future within the context of a changing environment.

According to Environment Minister Sussan Ley, Professor Samuel will lead an expert panel including Bruce Martin, Wendy Craik, Erica Smyth and Andrew Macintosh.

“This review is not about ideology,” Ms Ley said.

“The one thing all sides of the environmental debate concede is that the complexities of the act are leading to unnecessary delays in reaching decisions, and to an increased focus on process rather than outcomes.”

Ms Ley said decision making delays are estimated to cost the economy roughly $300 million a year, which frustrates business and environmental groups.

“The act has been a world benchmark in environmental protection, but needs to be adapted to changes in the environment and economy,” Ms Ley said.

“I’ve asked Professor Samuel to look at how we can improve efficiency, and make clear and simple decisions that deliver strong, clear and focused environmental protection.”

Ms Ley said Professor Samuel will be releasing a discussion paper in November and begin initial stakeholder meetings shortly thereafter.

Under the review’s terms of reference, the independent reviewer must provide a report to the environment minister within 12 months of the review’s commencement.

Terms of reference include examining the act’s current operations and the extent to which objectives are being achieved. Furthermore, the reference aims to make recommendations to modernise the act, including considerations of Australia’s international environmental responsibilities and the implementation of relevant agreements between the Commonwealth, states and territories.

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Moving the Needle targets textile waste

The Moving the Needle campaign has set up a reverse retail kiosk in Sydney, in an attempt to address the amount of clothing sent to landfill over the holiday period.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley joined Salvo Stores General Manager Customer and Strategy Edwina Morgan, Australian Red Cross Head of Retail Richard Wood and Vinnies NSW Executive Officer Retail Transformation Susan Goldie at a reverse pop-up store at Chatswood Chase, where shoppers deposit, rather than purchase clothes.

Moving the Needle aims to reduce textile waste by 20 per cent by 2022.

According to Ms Ley, the average Australian buys 27 kilograms of new textiles and sends 23 kilograms of textile waste to landfill each year.

“Moving the needle is about re-purposing the not so old clothes that you no longer wear and donating them to a local charity,” Ms Ley said.

“For every new outfit, donate an older one that might hiding in the back of the closet to help raise funds for those in need.”

National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations Chief Exectutive Omer Soker said Moving the Needle encourages customers to extend the life of their clothing by donating to one of 3000 charitable donation points across the country.

“Charitable donations can extend the life of pre-loved, usable products by keeping them out of landfill,” Mr Soker said.

“Giving your clothes a second life for even nine months could reduce carbon, water and waste emissions by up to 30 per cent, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your donations make a huge social impact.”

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Environment Minister discusses export ban with industry

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has hosted a waste and resource recovery roundtable in Sydney, with Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

According to a WMRR statement, executives from Australia’s leading waste, recycling, and resource recovery firms shared their insight with Ms Ley on current barriers to growth and success, including the lack of a nationally consistent and harmonised policy and regulatory framework.

“The minister was keen to hear about the current challenges and opportunities, and importantly, the key elements that would give the export ban, announced at the COAG meeting in August, the greatest chance at success,” the statement reads.

The roundtable was attended by executives from SUEZ, Cleanaway, Veolia, JJ Richards, ResourceCo, Tyrecycle, Visy Industries, Re.Group, Bingo Industries, Alex Fraser, and O-I.

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said industry certainty is lacking in Australia, due to different policies, strategies, regulations and specifications across jurisdictions, and the lack of markets.

“The goal posts are constantly changing and often, our industry is a political football which exacerbates the challenges because it causes greater instability and uncertainty,” Ms Sloan said.

“The minister listened intently and said she had a clear idea of the current landscape and need for greater harmonisation, which we appreciated.”

Ms Sloan said Ms Ley advised that the forthcoming export ban on waste paper, plastic, glass and tyres would be on the agenda at the 8 November Meeting of Environment Ministers.

According to the WMRR statement, industry leaders said they would applaud the ban if it was coupled with the expansion of reprocessing and recycling, and the development of domestic remanufacturing.

“Sure, we can stop shipping these materials, and industry does not want to export – we absolutely want to reprocess and recycle right here in Australia – but if there’s no buyback or take up of the recycled products, where does that leave us?” Ms Sloan said.

“The ban must be supported first and foremost by sustainable and mandated procurement at all levels of government, with the Commonwealth leading the way.”

In a separate statement, Ms Ley said the Federal Government would work with Australia’s leading recyclers to achieve the earliest possible export ban time frame.

“The Prime Minister has agreed with all state and territory governments that a ban will be put in place, and we want to establish a clear timetable and clear strategic priorities by working with both industry and the state environment ministers,” Ms Ley said.

“A ban on plastic exports should not lead to higher levels of stockpiling in Australia, and I will be challenging all parties, the states, the industry participants and the community to embark on genuine change in tackling waste.”

Of her meeting with WMRR, Ms Ley said it was clear that policy consistency was needed across the states.

“We need to give industry the confidence to invest in recycling and remanufacturing, and an assurance that markets are being created for their products,” Ms Ley said.

Ms Ley also meet with industry leaders at the Australian Council of Recycling in Melbourne, including senior executives from Visy, Veolia, Orora, 0-I, PACT, Sims Metal Management, Reconomy-Downer, Close the Loop and Tyrecycle.

“The clear message from this and my previous meetings is that the re-cycling industry is in no doubt about the opportunities for re-manufactured products or the ability to generate future investment for expansion,” Ms Ley said.

“Concerns remain, however, about excessive or inconsistent planning regulations that could hamper that growth and the disparate range of collection strategies across local government.”

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