One Man’s Trash

Aug 7, 2018 Recycling

China’s Recycling Ban has left Australia with new problems in the waste sector, proving the key learnings may just come from other countries around the globe.

Words by Tim Buttery

When it comes to the Australian waste and recycling industry, the age old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” fits nicely.

But, in the wake of the recent China ban on Australia’s domestic rubbish exports, it appears the novelty may be lost in translation.

Recent estimates from the Federal Government place roughly 30 percent of Australia’s recyclable waste export in China. Furthermore, China received about 1.2 million tonnes of waste in 2016-2017.

The ensuing crisis may force the hand of those in the manufacturing and waste industry to become creative. Although already good at recycling process, the manufacturing and resourceability needs revision.

In lieu of that, many nations around the world are pioneering sustainability practices, aimed at manufacturing more effectively with recycled materials.

The car case

Swedish-based Volvo is one of the world’s leading car manufacturing brands. For the most part, the country is paving the way in the remanufacturing of recyclable materials, and Volvo is no exception.

In June 2018, an official company statement given to Reuters from Volvo revealed their intentions to replace 25 percent of all plastic elements utilised in their cars with recycled materials, starting in 2025.

The release described some of the proposed replacements. Firstly, the interior tunnel consoles will be made from fibres and plastics left over from discarded fishing nets and maritime ropes.

The floor carpet will soon contain fibres from PET plastic bottles and recycled clothing cotton. Not one for letting anything go to waste, Volvo will utilise used car seats from old Volvo vehicles as the sound-absorbing material under the bonnet.

Circular chains

Back home, there is talk in Australia around the promotion and greater introduction of a circular economy: an alternative model of waste management that utilises the safe returning,reuse or renewal of otherwise wasted resources.

In the present day, movement towards this approach is far too slow, but there is light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to plastic bottles.

For example, Coles is at the forefront of this movement towards sustainability with their REDcycle program seeing more than 300 million pieces of flexible plastic saved from landfill and reutilised across the country.

Additionally, the company has managed to produce its Coles brand water bottles purely from recycled PET resources since 2014, as well as using recycled packaging for its fresh pork, beef and lamb products.

Another major name looking to join the recycling movement is the Victorian Government, who has made the recent announcement that single-use plastic bags are to be gone for good. Instead, according to the media release, the government is devoting $30.4 million of funding over four years to improve the way waste is managed, including research into new waste processes.

Meanwhile, Australian recycling giant Visy’s local plant continues to make its bottles from 100 percent recycled plastic. Visy’s Project R details the manufacturing process, where the injection moulding method is playing a crucial part in the safe redistribution of recycled product.

Ultimately, this step gives the ability to scale production en masse, all the while keeping costs down.

The conscious Aussie

In 2015, Australia produced about 64 million tonnes of waste, which is equivalent to 2.7 tonnes of waste per capita. According to Randell Environmental Consulting almost 60 percent of this was recycled.

While the average Australian has been long participating in the movement towards better recycling efforts, the government and larger bodies have only recently joined the conversation. Despite strong campaigns from Coles, Visy and the Victorian Government, there is still not enough organisations present to address the problem.

OzHarvest is leading the way when it comes to recycling food. Through their four pillars: food rescue, food education, food engagement, and food innovation, the organisation has rescued 29 thousand tonnes of food since 2004.

But, companies like this are often few and far between.

Around the globe Germany has taken the lead in this arena with their government originated Pfand system, which encourages reuse of both plastic and glass bottles. Plastic bottles are designed to be reused up to 25 times, whilst glass bottles a burgeoning 50 times. Resembling a loan system, customers pay a deposit on the bottle, which is refunded when the bottles are returned to designated checking points.

Find out more about the latest industry trends at AWRE 2018, kicking off at ICC Sydney on 29-30 August, register free