CHOICE membership

RECYCLING : is it a farce in Australia?

In Australia, waste is a state and local government responsibility, including the collection and management of materials recovered through recycling programs. The Commonwealth government has little responsibility other than their ability to regulate exports from Australia…which is why in an earlier post the Commonwealth has intentions of banning the export of contaminated recycled materials which many other countries have already banned the import of.

It is also worth noting that at COAG, Queensland Premier Palaszczuk advised ''we’re putting in place in Queensland a Resource Recovery Fund of $100 million. We want to attract investment here to look at how we can recycle more. ’ i expect these monies will be that raised from the Queensland waste levy and will be used to maximise the quality of recyclables collected and to find a home for such materials.

It would be good if other state governments also contributed to cleaning up the resource recovery industry and providing funds for further investment in the industry, rather than trying to ‘pass the buck’ to others. They all, except Tasmania, collect waste levies which could also be used for such purposes.

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The current state of play:

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In Japan it’s illegal to throw out old appliances. They get pulled apart and recycled into new,

Then there is this https://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/fashion-beauty/best-brands-turning-recycled-plastic-bottles-into-clothes-a8774446.html

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I joined a small free tour of the e-waste microfactory last week. Photographs were not permitted, but some of the work they are doing is fascinating.

As just one example: typically, when electronic circuit boards are ‘recycled’, the parties doing the work ( almost always in third world countries ) are doing it to retrieve just one element, eg gold, or copper. The rest of the board gets burned as waste, resulting in plenty of nasties getting into the atmosphere and soil. The solution to this is explained in the video.

Another example is recovering cobalt from hard disc drives. You can imagine how many millions of these await recycling around the world. If we did more recycling here in Australia, we would buy less cobalt from the major miner ( the Congo, via China ).

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It is on my bucket list for when I am next in Sydney…along with a Choice lab tour.

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I got the impression that the tour I attended was a one-off, but it would certainly be worth querying Science at UNSW. I toured in the early evening. During the day when the microfactory is in use, tours might be too risky.

A CHOICE lab tour is, I think I can say, guaranteed, for a Consumer Defender such as yourself ! I look forward to you ticking that one off your list.

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An article regarding Australian research and development to recycle all plastics.

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This makes interesting reading. Also, as a result of reading it, I’ve ordered a pack of bamboo toothbrushes (which until then, I did not know existed)

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Looks like it could handle real-world contaminated waste.

If they can then pump the oil back underground, then the cycle will be complete.

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World cobalt production was approx 140,000MT for 2918. Australia mined and produced approx 4,700T of this, or around 3% of world supply. It might be Aust does not rely on the DRC.

Irrespective of the follow on production chain, perhaps the one key consideration is that Australia does not manufacture hard drives.

On the upside if there was less cobalt production in the DRC, and possibly also to the disadvantage of large importers such as China? There is scope for Australia to increase production subject to the LME pricing. It’s seen a fairly rapid rise from $US 25,000 to $US 30,500 per tonne over the previous 30 days. Five times the value of copper as a simple comparison. The longer term 15 month contract price is even higher, suggesting a shortage relative to supply.

Bring out your dead, - hard drives!

P.S.
Australia has the world second largest reserves of cobalt after the DRC. While hard drives are just one of many uses of the metal and it’s chemical compounds.

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I’ve not been a university student since the early 1980s, and have obviously forgotten one important rule: don’t believe everything you’re told. :sweat_smile: ( The comment re recycling was made by one of the students in relation to recovering cobalt to be re-used in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries. )

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Both scenarios are correct in part. Cobalt from Aussie recycled hard drives may end up in lithium batteries exported back to us from China, or perhaps Japan. Some of most lithium batteries supplied to Aust from China will contain cobalt from Aussie sources and or the DRC.

P.S.
Do we ever stop learning?
I started with a slide rule. It remains useful mostly for killing the conversation. Usually when invited guests overstay or have failed to bring adequate supplies of beer and wine?

Of course slide rules remain a standby inherently EMP resistant but can only add or subtract logarithmically.

While some might suggest that gives one a head start, I doubt it has any relevance.

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The Victorian premier is now the highest paid state & territory politician in Australia.

And the Victorian Government is incapable of achieving anything tangible in regard to recycling including a single use plastic ban or a container deposit scheme.

What an absolute joke.

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There have been reports that Indonesia has decided to turnaround about 100 containers of materials send from Australia for recycling. The materials have not been accepted in Indonesia due to the high level of contamination, resulting from poor domestic recycling practices (a problem which could have been potentially avoided if the nation knew or took the effort to recycle properly).

The Waste Management Resource Recovery Association (industry association) has released the following statement in relation to this latest development:

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An article regarding using recycled plastics instead of bitumen for road construction.

At least this council is actually doing something, unlike the state government.

How sure are they adding plastics to road surfaces is
(A) sustainable,
And
(B) not leading to nano plastic contamination of waterways?

One view point might be that the use of waste plastics in roadways is as useful as the recycling of depleted uranium into tank busting and armour piercing military munitions. Neither may lead to better long term community benefit.

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Ernst and Young (EY) have reviewed current issues/problems with recycling in Australia. This review can be found here…

It is worth noting the three key findings, namely…

  • EY estimates that only $4.2 million worth of recyclable material is currently captured from our waste each year. If Australia built a world-class recycling system locally, EY estimates that more than $328 million worth of recyclable material per year could be captured and used in manufacturing and construction.
  • This means that Australia is wasting an opportunity worth up to $324 million per year by not taking advantage of the recyclable material that goes in kerbside bins.
  • Australia’s waste problem is largely a behavioural problem. Reducing contamination in our recyclables requires a fundamental behavioural shift – better information for households, clearer rules on what can be recycled, and possible new infrastructure and incentives.

These finding show that Australia is wasting many materials in the kerbside collection system which could otherwise be recycled. It is lost resource which could be exploited to minimise Australia’s environmehtal impacts (footprint) and the world’s finite resources.

EY also found that most of the problems with the existing waste recovery industry is behavioural…including contamination of the streams by poor behaviour (not following recycling requirements for the collector and recycling sorting companies) and wasting many materials which could otherwise be recycled.

It is a bit of a disappointing read as many households in Australia has been using kerbside or facility dropoff recycling for over 30 years (with a lot of money spent on traning and education) and we still can’t get it right. I wonder whether households think that their behaviours in contamination of the recycling stream is not their problem…but someone elses. Possibly this is why government and industry is blamed…rather than one looking within their own home.

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Everything’s fine. The PM will fix it (with a little bit of help from his friends). How good is that?

We desperately need a truly circular economy. One in which practically every molecule that we extract is captured and reused. Somehow, I doubt that our government has the answer.

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I applaud the vision, taking my aged Athlon 64 PC processor and seeing it recycled into a sparkling new Ryzen 9 3600! All done within Australia.

Guilded lilies, changing lead into gold, or five dollar bills into fifty dollar bills; they are the dreams of every great magician.

Molecular transformation might take a little longer to perfect.

In the interim, I’d be happy knowing that every thing with a recycle number on the packaging once placed in the yellow bin, is not sent to landfill or the Visy incinerator.

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Might come into fruition the same time as perpetual motion for electricity generation.

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