Analysis of Australia’s municipal recycling infrastructure capacity

A new government report has found collection and recycling services have limited capacity to process certain types of waste, including plastic and organics.

The Federal Government in October released an Analysis of Australia’s municipal recycling infrastructure capacity which assessed the infrastructure and capacity of local governments as well as materials recovery facilities.

The report draws on information and data from the newly-released National Waste Report 2018 and six other analyses commissioned by the Department of the Environment and Energy.

Some of the key findings are that most Australians have access to municipal waste management and recycling, but kerbside municipal waste collection and recycling services are not available to most communities in remote and regional Australia.

Australia’s recycling infrastructure is generally capable of managing current volumes of waste, but collection and recycling services have limited capacity to process certain types of waste.

For example, it notes only 10 local government areas have municipal kerbside collections that can accept all types of recyclable plastic and plastic bags. It also highlights that 58 per cent of Australian households have no access to kerbside collection of organic.

Most of the nation’s materials recovery facilities lack technical capacity to sort commingled, highly-contaminated municipal waste into specific materials types that have low levels of contamination.

Some large businesses have responded to new international waste market restrictions, but most collection and recycling operators remain “vulnerable” to changing markets.

Broken down by stream, paper and cardboard recovery is considered relatively high (60 per cent) and about 92 per cent of local government areas (LGA) provide infrastructure for kerbside collection.

Plastics is considered low with only 12 per cent recycled and 27 per cent of councils (146 LGAs) have no infrastructure for kerbside recycling of plastic waste.

Metals recovery and recycling rates are considered high, with five million tonnes recovered for recycling in 2016-17, representing a total recovery rate of 90 per cent.

Around 56 per cent of Australia’s glass packaging is recovered, considered to be reasonable given the low commodity value when compared to plastic or cardboard.

“Existing collection and processing infrastructure is generally equipped to process current volumes of Australia’s recycled materials. However, current infrastructure is not well equipped to process all forms of recyclable waste, particularly all forms of recyclable plastic and organic waste,” the report says.

“Opportunities exist to increase Australia’s capacity to manage organic waste, including through provision of new infrastructure supporting kerbside collection of organic material, and processing those organics into compost and other products.

“There are also opportunities to develop infrastructure that enables alternative waste treatment options, such as removing organic waste from the landfill bin. Better management of organic waste will also reduce contamination in co-mingled bins and increase resource recovery rates.”

You can read the full report here. 


NSW EPA to develop 20-year waste strategy

The NSW EPA, in partnership with Infrastructure NSW, is developing a 20-year waste strategy for the state.

The strategy aims to set a 20-year vision for reducing waste, driving sustainable recycling markets and identifying and improving the state and regional waste infrastructure network.

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It will also aim to provide the waste industry with certainty and set goals and incentives to ensure the correct infrastructure decisions are made to meet community needs.

Stakeholders, including local government, industry experts and the broader community, will work with the EPA over the next six months to provide an evidence base and address the key priorities for the waste and resource recovery sector.

This will include examining similar waste strategies in Australia and around the world.

A long-term vision and roadmap will include new long-term goals for waste generation and landfill diversion, new policy positions and strategic decisions that aim to avoid waste and improve resource recovery, and a plan for new or enhanced policies to improve waste collection.

A framework for the delivery of an integrated state network will be part of the roadmap, along with aims to align policy and regulation to achieve long term strategic objectives and a plan to strengthen data quality and access.

The strategy is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

Potential emergency plastic tax by 2021: report

The plastic waste crisis is expected to deepen, potentially leading to a federal response in the form of an emergency tax by 2021, according to global wealth manager Credit Suisse.

It argues that reactionary policy measures are highly likely in the short term and could include a tax on virgin resins or additional tariffs placed on imported plastic goods in its report, The age of plastic at a tipping point.

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With too much plastic waste domestically and with no large export markets available, Credit Suisse estimates there will be a sharp increase in plastic being sent to landfill and illegal dumping.

“Our headline view is that things will get worse before they get better: the policy initiatives in the National Waste Strategy won’t take hold until FY20/21,” the report said.

Credit Suisse expects bans on single use-plastics to be extended to the six most common plastic packaging and tax incentives to be provided to help hit the 2025 target of 30 per cent recycled content in packaging.

The long lead time from policy approval to implementation is problematic, particularly for new waste infrastructure, which the company said will likely lead to a more supportive project approval environment for waste infrastructure.

Waste managers are expected to benefit from this scenario, with short term potential from council re-negotiations and long-term potential to fast-track waste infrastructure approvals, according to the report.

“Plastic has infiltrated almost every aspect of human life. It is the most prolific material on the planet, growing faster than any commodity in the last 33 years,” the report said.

“Plastic packaging has become one of the most intractable environmental challenges of our age. None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable; they accumulate in landfills or the natural environment rather than decompose.

“To curtail the situation in the short run, it is a matter of when, not if, we see reactionary policy measures,” the report said.