Tech upgrades, innovation needed to keep control of waste

TGL News

China’s ban on waste imports could kick start a creative and sustainable recycling industry in Australia.

Two years after China cracked down on waste imports, Australia faces a serious recycling crisis.

Last month, Victoria’s largest recycling provider, SKM Recycling, was forced to declare insolvency and is now relying on a $10 million loan from the Andrews Labor Government to bring its facilities back online.

The company, which holds contracts with 33 Victorian councils, predicted its collapse would result in 400,000 additional tonnes of recyclable waste ending up in landfill, every year.

Australia generates about 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. Even with 193 onshore material recovery facilities, more than 85 per cent of it ends up in landfill.

What can be done?

Australia will need more incentives and financial help to develop a viable domestic recycling industry, according to Jeff Seadon, waste expert and senior lecturer at Auckland University of Technology.

“As worldwide demand for high-quality, clean recycling material increases, Australia must upgrade its technology,” said Mr Seadon.

He pointed to nine modern facilities in Australia that are using automated optical sorting systems, which can detect anywhere between three and eight varieties of material.

It is critical Australia considers a variety of solutions to deal with the 87 per cent of waste currently going to landfill.”

For example, in NSW, one facility uses light beams to discern eight different types of material – aluminium, cardboard, glass, HDPE plastic, mixed paper, newspaper, PET plastic, and steel – and then uses high pressure air jets to direct the material into the correct collection bin.

But even this technology isn’t sufficient to handle Australia’s recycling requirements, said Mr Seadon.

However, a number of technologies that have emerged in recent years offer exciting alternatives to traditional plastic recycling methods and landfill.

“It is critical Australia considers a variety of solutions to deal with the 87 per cent of waste currently going to landfill,” says chief executive officer of Bioenergy Australia, Shahana McKenzie.

Bioenergy Australia will host a conference in Queensland later this month to showcase some of the technologies leading the way towards a cleaner, circular economy in Australia.

Among these is an innovation by the Australian-based technology company Licella, which uses heated, pressurised water to break down plastic into its original components.

“The result is a synthetic crude oil, which, like the original fossil crude from which the plastics came, can then be fractionated and used to make new plastics, low sulphur fuels, waxes and bitumen,” said Licella business development manager, Steve Rogers.

Southern Oil Refining is offering another technological solution. It turns end-of-life products such as used mining tires, industrial waste and non-recyclable plastics, into fuel.

“Non-recyclable plastics and commercial and industrial waste is where the rubber will literally hit the road next in terms of converting waste into a range of fuels,” said director of corporate and regulatory affairs, Troy Collings.

Greenlister Interface’s sustainability and lean manager, Aidan Mullan, will also give a presentation about driving an offtake market for green gas.

These and many more technologies will be discussed at the Bioenergy Strong 2019 Conference in Queensland next month.

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