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Federal Government releases recycling market review

Australia may need to increase plastic throughput by 400 per cent to sustain viable domestic reprocessing markets, according to the Federal Government’s Recycling Market Situation Summary Review.

To assist national waste policy rollout, the department commissioned Sustainable Resource Use to undertake a literature review of opportunities to grow markets in recycled glass, plastics, rubber, paper and cardboard.

“In summary, the local and global markets for the recyclable materials – paper and cardboard, plastics, and glass – are all volatile in 2019,” the review reads.

According to the review, this is largely due to regulatory restrictions on the import of recycled material to China and other Asian nations.

“The market security and pricing for recyclables is strongly linked to the availability of markets [to transform waste] back into new products, either as packaging or durable goods,” the review reads.

“There is a recognition that government and major brands have a role in procuring recycled content product in order to create the market pull for a healthy circular outcome.”

The review suggests local governments are facing collection and sorting price uncertainty, and are under pressure to commit to recycled material procurement.

“They are also facing calls for greater effort to control contaminants and to adjust collections to accommodate soft plastics and collect glass separately,” the review reads.

“There are also calls for funding assistance [from state and federal governments] to support new reprocessing infrastructure and modifications to sorting and collection systems.”

Identified opportunities: 

In an environment of constrained export markets for plastics, the review suggests dramatically increasing local plastic reprocessing.

“That expansion may need to be a 400 per cent increase in throughput, and this in turn will require new market outlets for recycling plastic resin, both into packaging and other applications,” the review reads.

The review also highlights significant opportunities to undertake secondary sorting of paper and cardboard, free from major contaminants.

“This approach appears to be a path forward, where source separation might be introduced selectively and progressively,” the review reads.

“This would provide scrap paper and paperboard products of ever improving quality and quantity, suitable for domestic reprocessing or for sale into export markets.”

If glass can be collected and provided for benefaction in large enough fragment sizes for sorting, the review suggests opportunities exist for additional cullet use in packaging production.

“Most sorters receive no revenue for their glass but pay a fee. This is at a level well below landfill disposal costs,” the review reads.

“With more material coming back through deposit systems, the MRF tonnes may decrease and access to benefaction will need to be assured.”

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