The past few years have been a transformative period for the waste management sector. When China and other Asian countries closed the door on the import of contaminated recycling, industry and governments across the world had to look within their borders to find solutions for ever growing waste management needs.
In this article, we take a look at recent developments in the sector and present our top three picks for the trends that will make the most impact in the years to come.
Local solutions for recycled materials
The Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) ban on the export of waste glass, mixed plastics, tyres, paper and cardboard over the next two years is galvanising the industry to reduce waste to landfill while maximising domestic capability to reuse and recover recyclable commodities .
While the plan’s implementation is still under consultation, what’s clear is that the successful commoditisation of recyclables depends on clean, uncontaminated material streams and a healthy demand for recycled products in end markets.
On the supply side, expect more incentives to be given by regulators and waste services providers to encourage high quality recycling. Contracts with councils such as the Geelong Region Alliance (G21) are being structured to encourage low contamination rates and include a commitment to finding innovative local uses for recycled materials.
The Federal Environment Department is also currently considering exemptions to the export ban for materials sourced from container refund schemes as an incentive for clean, well-sorted collection systems.
Consumer education will play a key role in ensuring uncontaminated materials are fed into recycling systems. On-the-spot feedback through bin tagging programs and recycling labels, tailored recycling education, and container refund schemes are just a few of the tools that are expected to drive better behaviours at the bin.
The conversation is also heating up around dedicated bin systems for waste streams such as organics, paper and cardboard. While larger commercial businesses are leading the way with source separated streams, the opportunity is for small and medium sized organisations such as schools, restaurants, retail and manufacturing businesses to improve recovery rates and reduce contamination through single-stream recycling.
More recycled material on the shelves
The development of sustainable circular economies for recyclable material is the end game of an effective recycling ecosystem. The objective being to manage material as saleable commodities, retaining quality higher up the value chain and maximising market access. This means more recycled material used in production, innovative applications for hard-to-recycle waste and government/industry collaboration to build demand and markets for recycled products.
Procurement guidelines that encourage the use of recycled material in production, manufacturing and construction will assist in building markets and increasing demand for recyclable resources.
Manufacturers will be critical for driving markets and designing products that maximise recycling opportunities. Already, industry groups such as the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) and their members who sell packaged goods are working to develop packaging that is easily separated and recyclable in line with the 2025 National Packaging Targets for 100% of Australia’s packaging to reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier.
Similarly, larger corporations such as Coca-Cola Australia are also working towards using 100% recycled materials in production, joining other big brands such as Procter & Gamble with ambitious targets to have all packaging 100% recyclable or reusable by 2030.
By choosing products that contain recycled materials, individual consumers can also generate bigger markets for recycled goods. Initiatives to change consumer behaviours through education campaigns will continue to be a key trend well into the future.
Innovative solutions to reduce red bin waste
Expect even greater focus on recovery of Food Organics and Garden Organics (FOGO) from the general waste bin with dedicated organics bins and innovative solutions for the more than 7 million tonnes of food waste produced in Australia each year. FOGO is typically wet and heavy material that adds weight to the bin leading to higher cost of disposal in landfill. It’s also a missed opportunity for resource recovery as FOGO is nutrient-rich and perfect for recycling into compost, mulch and beneficial soil conditioners. FOGO diverted from general waste also means less dependence on landfill and less gases in the environment such as the methane produced when organic materials decompose.
Businesses with large volumes of food waste are in a prime position to increase landfill diversion with a dedicated FOGO service or use of food depackaging technology. Large volumes of packaged food or liquid can be separated from aluminium, plastic, liquid paperboard or cardboard for the organic material to be recycled.
Energy-from-waste (EfW) is another solution that promises to recover material that would otherwise end up in landfill. Already used in other countries around the world, the technology would use unrecyclable red bin waste, like mixed plastics and sanitary items, to generate electricity to power homes and reduce greenhouse gases by eliminating landfill..
Which trends do you see as being change-makers in the coming year?
Contact us today to learn more about how we make a sustainable future possible for communities and businesses across Australia.