The road to a circular economy

Cleanaway welcomes the move by government to ban the export of recyclables. What else can be done to support a domestic recycling economy?

Industry Updates

October 15, 2019


“For the first time ever, COAG has put waste at the forefront of the agenda. This represents a fundamental shift in how we as a society are thinking about waste.” – Vik Bansal, Cleanaway CEO and Managing Director


“For the first time ever, COAG has put waste at the forefront of the agenda. This represents a fundamental shift in how we as a society are thinking about waste.” – Vik Bansal, Cleanaway CEO and Managing Director

Updated: November 2020

The Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) ban on the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres while developing Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities is a win for the circular economy in Australia. COAG recently announced it would establish a timetable to implement the plan following consultation with industry stakeholders.

“For the first time ever, COAG has put waste at the forefront of the agenda. This represents a fundamental shift in how we as a society are thinking about waste – from a linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model to a circular model instead,” said Cleanaway CEO and Managing Director Vik Bansal in welcoming the announcement of the export ban.

“It’s important that consumers and industry see waste as a high value commodity that has tremendous potential to be reintroduced into the economy.”

“The use of modern resource recovery facilities and alternative waste treatment technologies are coming to the fore, and rightly so. It’s time to have the conversation not just about “what is the dream for Australia’s recycling?” but “what do we do to get there?” The creation of a domestic recycling economy is the only way Australia’s going to manage our waste, and now’s the best time to do it,” Vik added.


What does a recycling export ban mean for recycling in Australia?

Industry stakeholders agree that more has to be done to make a meaningful impact including:

  • federal and state-level support in reprocessing and remanufacturing infrastructure
  • procurement targets for government spending on recycled materials
  • public sector purchasing of recycled content products
  • incentives for domestic use of recyclable commodities, including tax credits for manufacturers and removing regulatory barriers
  • standardisation of waste levies and recycling rules
  • reducing contamination in recycling bins through public education

According to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), if the 4.5m tonnes of recyclables currently sent overseas could be integrated into a domestic circular economy, it would create an estimated 5,000 extra jobs, a 10% increase on current numbers.

ACOR’s CEO Pete Schmigel said, “If there are no new and sustainable markets established for the 4.5 million tonnes of currently exported material, there will only be the option of domestic disposal – which is highly undesirable.”

“Ministers must also remain open to alternative waste treatment and waste-to-energy where Australia only uses some 2% of its waste, which is massively below European countries, who also have much higher recycling rates.”


Is a domestic circular economy possible?

The opportunity is to scale existing efforts to a level where a clean, high quality supply of recyclable materials is met by ready domestic demand for its use. On the supply side, source separation is key. By sorting recyclables into common materials at the point of disposal, we prevent contamination like food, liquid and soft plastics from degrading the quality of the material in the recycling stream. Quality input equals quality output, which is a further incentive for manufacturers looking to use recycled materials in remanufacturing.

Container return schemes

Container return schemes such as those implemented in WA, South Australia, Northern Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT (and Victoria by 2023) allow consumers to separate materials at the point of disposal, which produces a clean, high quality stream of recyclables to be used in the manufacture of new products.

New South Wales’ container deposit scheme has collected more than 4 billion containers since it began. Containers collected are sent to Cleanaway’s Eastern Creek Container Sorting Facility. 100% of the material going through Eastern Creek is sent for recycling and depending on the markets for recyclable commodities, up to 75% of all materials received are sold domestically which feeds into the local recycling economy.

Recycled material in onshore production and manufacturing

Source separated material through container return schemes is perfect for reuse. Glass is 100% recyclable and can be turned into new glass bottles for consumers when recycled correctly with remaining material available to be used in road base.

Increasing manufacturing of plastic containers or packaging onshore increases the demand for onshore recycled material by using pelletised plastic from locally collected plastic waste. This will incentivise the quality of plastic being collected to improve the commodity for reuse. For companies like Cleanaway, it represents an exciting opportunity to move up the resource recovery value chain.

Extracting maximum value from organic waste

Food Organics and Garden Organics (FOGO) recycling diverts organic materials from the general waste bin by providing a dedicated service. The material is collected, decontaminated and shredded to be reused as fertiliser or compost. With 14 million tonnes of organic waste coming in each year from households, commercial and industrial activities, and the construction sector, the opportunity is to recover even more than the 52% currently being recycled.

Advancements in sorting and recovery technologies have made it easier to recover nutrient-rich food waste from packaged products that were previously destined for landfill. Wholesalers such as South Australian Produce Market have increased their diversion rates by up to 70% using a combination of source separation and food depackaging technology.

A commercial packaged organics recycling service collects, separates packaged foods such as expired bread and wrapped vegetables from its packaging, and recycles the organic material into compost, mulch and other beneficial soil conditioners for reuse in agriculture.

How we help make a sustainable future possible

As sustainability partners, we work with our customers to understand their waste profile and working with the waste hierarchy to maximise waste avoidance and resource recovery. By investigating ways to reduce waste before considering disposal options, we help customers deliver not only environmental but also social and economic benefits through reduced operational and recycling costs.

Our waste health checks help customers identify wasteful practices, unlock opportunities for new revenue streams and reinforce sustainability programs within the organisation. By diving deep into rubbish bins, we identify what is being wasted and the corrective actions needed to ensure better recycling outcomes.

The waste we collect is processed in our state-of-the-art sorting, treatment and resource recovery facilities to extract maximum value before being sold to end-markets.

Learn more about our investment in resource recovery infrastructure.

Contact us to find out more about how we make a sustainable future possible through our partnerships with government, industry and communities.