Recent changes to global markets and coverage of the waste management industry has created the impression that our recycling system is in crisis. There is a feeling in some parts of the community that our efforts may not be worthwhile, and that recycling is a waste of time.
While it’s true the industry is in a state of change right now and Australia’s recycling system is not perfect, disruption is a great environment to force change. Ultimately, your waste still has huge potential to be recovered, reused and recycled as a commodity or energy source.
In a recent presentation at the Macquarie Conference, our CEO and Managing Director, Vik Bansal, reiterated Cleanaway’s belief in the waste hierarchy, outlining how our business is structured to create value as high up the pyramid as possible, continuing to find purpose for material all the way down, beyond disposal to waste-to-energy.
At the top end of the hierarchy, the first step is always to be mindful and avoid creating unnecessary waste. We invest in education campaigns, resource recovery and sustainability specialists, and educational tools to help our customers and the community understand the ways they can be more mindful about the waste they create.
The next stage is reuse. This means sourcing products, packaging and services that can be used again and again. The ABC’s War on Waste gave us a watershed moment for reuse by highlighting the number of disposable coffee cups we send to landfill each day – which has seen reusable coffee cups (and carry bags and drink bottles) become more widely used across the country. The Daniels Sharpsmart collectors and the Daniels Washline are a perfect example of an innovation that means sharps and clinical waste bins can be used again and again, eliminating over 940,000kg of disposable sharps containers from landfills each year.
Recycling is the next level in the hierarchy and this is where we believe government, manufacturers, industry and consumers need to work together to take the recyclability of material into consideration in the manufacturing process, encourage the growth of viable local markets for recycled material in the manufacture of new goods and improve the quality of recyclable materials collected for processing.
To drive the creation of a viable local circular economy we need engagement and investment at every stage in the supply chain – manufacturing, purchasing and disposal. Container deposit schemes, for example, create cleaner recycling streams that improve the quality of material for reuse in manufacturing new products – while engaging the community in the process. See also our case study on waste oil as a perfect closed loop.
Where the material is not able to be recovered as a recyclable commodity, we can still extract value by using the waste material as a fuel source to create energy. This not only diverts that material from landfill but adds value back to the community by creating sustainable and environmentally friendly energy sources that reduce reliance on fossil fuels, like coal.
Treatment and disposal are at the bottom of the hierarchy, and while highly engineered landfills are beginning to generate renewable energy through the capture of landfill gas, there is a cost to treat certain materials for disposal and the cost to landfill.
This is why we focus on the waste value chain to drive sustainability outcomes that are supported by commercial viability. A circular economy that works for the community, the environment and the market is one that will truly make a sustainable future possible.