If one wishes to see what was said at COAG in relation to recycling, the transcripts cab be found here:
While it is light on detail, there are some pertinent points which were raised. It is worth looking at some of the key points:
“PM: We’re laying it out very clearly that there will be no export of plastics and paper and glass to other countries where it runs the risk of ending up floating around in our oceans.”
As which has been incorrectly reported in much of the media, the exporting of resource recovered recycled materials has not been banned. What will be banned is the export of materials which when handled at the receiving country, is likely to result in (plastic) materials entering waterways and thence the ocean. What is interesting is in effect it is localising the ban imposed by countries such as Indonesia, Philippines and China where they have already implemented measures to ban such materials. The outcome of this is the materials won’t be returned to Australia as they would never have left under the proposal by the Coalition government.
As outlined in previous posts, the materials which both the PM and other countries willbe/have banned are those which are contaminated with other waste, such a paper and card streams containing soft plastics (+ other waste such as disposable nappies which wee highlighted by the Indonesian customs officers), plastic stream containing mixed and soft plastics and glass containing contaminants. Due to the high level of contaminants, these materials are taken to local sorting centres where more valuable recovered materials can be isolated from the received waste, with the low or negative value contaminants left exposed to the environment. In Indonesia and Philippines, some of this residual material is either burnt or pushed into waterways in attempt to get rid of the mounting problem.
These are the every materials that the PM has flagged will be banned for export.
It also appears from the information available that the Coalition government isn’t banning the export of all recycled materials. High grade/value and low contamination materials such as those which have a high value noted here will still be able to be exported as they won’t need local manual sorting leading to a localised and global waste problem. Such materials are in high demand and sought by many other countries as raw feedstock to their own industries (and also sought in Australia for the same purposes).
“PM: And you know, there’s an implied promise that when you take that plastic bottle and you put it in that little plastic bin that it’s not going to end up in the ocean somewhere or in a river somewhere or in a landfill somewhere. People think it’s going to be recycled. But only about 12 per cent of it is.”
This 12% figure is possibly the percentage of plastic waste reused in Australia, rather than that which is reflective of the recycling industry in Australia. For example, in Queensland, about 6.8 million tonnes of recovered materials were generated in 2017-18 and around 880,000 tonnes was sent overseas either for recycling or for waste to energy. This corresponds to around 13% was exported to other markets. If one looks at plastics in Queensland, about 7000 tonnes was processed in Australia, with about 19000 tonnes exported (73% plastic stream exported while 27% processed locally).
Not really, potentially political spin of numbers that the real situation (see above figures).
There is already a tax or levy imposed on the disposal of waste in many states. These are often called waste levies. The only state which currently does not have a mandatory state based levy is Tasmania, however, Tasmania has a modest voluntary levy introduced by some local authorities in some regions.
These waste levies are significant and provide a large disincentive to land filling recycled materials.
In some states (Qld is one example), the waste levy is used to provide a source of funding to enable better resource recovery practices, provide certainty and security of feedstocks for advanced technology and facilitate industry investment in resource recovery infrastructure. So in another words, the waste tax or levy which has already been introduced by many states is used to facilitate the advancement of the recycling industry in Australia.
One wonders whether the PM’s announcement is announcing old news as a response to the recent problems relating to high contaminated and unwanted/unusable resource recovered materials in Victoria. ‘Seen to be doing something which is already happening’.
ALGA PRESIDENT DAVID O’LOUGHLIN: There are a lot of jobs that can be created onshore here in Australia to recycle this material to get it into hot mix, to get into the spray seal, to get into road base, to create high-value products.
There possibly needs to be a community debate of whether the use of plastic in hot mix provides a beneficial environmental outcome.
While plastic in hot mix asphalt has shown to improve the performance of the asphalt, in effect the process spreads plastic around the countryside where over time due to road wear and tear and the weathering of the road surface, these plastics most like in the form of microplastics, are likely to enter the wide environment. This includes the same oceans that the PM has indicated above.
This form of use of plastics while it has some benefits in asphalt performance, is closer to a form of waste disposal (alternative to landfill) rather than a reuse or recycling as often consider better use of resource recovered materials. Such uses also possibly overcomes the high contaminated plastic streams, such as those currently a problem in Victoria, as such use can use in hot mix can use and ‘hide’ or provide an avenue to get rid of these problem materials.
Is it the best use of the materials, don’t know and why there needs discussion on the issue. The PM also indicated placing waste into roadbase. This potentially may be even more concerning than hot mix since roadbase is a looser, more friable/mobile product.
It also addresses the problem (contaminated plastic waste) rather than the source (preventing contamination in the plastic stream by individuals who chose to place such materials in their recycling bins. If Australia could solve such problem, the resulting recovered materials streams would be highly sought by industry (both in Australia and Internationally) and products would most likely have a positive value (rather than being a cost/negative value when it contains unwanted contaminants).
In the 1990s when recycling became mainstream Australia Australia, there was much work to keep ceramics out of the recycling stream (as ceramics have a similar density to glass and can’t be removed from the glass stream. Ceramics destroy the ability to recycle glass as it remains in the recycled product making it susceptible to failure). Maybe the same sort of education needs to also occur with the high level of contamination from some waste catchments.
All states should also roll out container deposits schemes which are convenient to the community (unlike those which exist in Qld and NSW where recycling centres are not located in convenient locations). States could also expand the program to include say wine bottles and other plastic containers to help minimise contamination (reverse vending machines would be set up to accept one particular plastic type).
As outlined in the very early part of this thread, transparent recycling containers used for collection purposes and those identified as being contaminated at collection, are not connected…this would also minimise contamination.
Possibly punitive action (infringement notices, prosecutions etc) should also be taken against those blatantly disregard current local authority recycling requirements.
Plastics are sought, but in many regional areas the cost of handling, processing and haulage of such materials makes them uneconomic to recover. It is often cheaper to use virgin materials than take in recycled materials which have travelled half the way around the country.
Not withstanding this, maybe if the plastic stream is clean, the local authority could apply to the relevant state government for a grant to collect and develop local markets for plastics. There are many uses, which are simple to do, which could be adopted. Such may include making fence posts, stock gates or polypipes from recycled plastic streams which are often in demand in regional areas.
Hopefully awareness of the problems such as that in Victoria and other states where streams are contaminated by poor behaviour of individuals will resolve some of the challenges facing the industry. Hopefully it may also encourage those with a conscious to also buy recycled products in preference to their virgin counterpart.