Manufacturers continue to have a growing role to play in ensuring that waste is diverted from landfill and used in the creation of new products.
After the joint meeting of Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Environment Ministers, a tight timeframe for a resolution to the waste crisis was agreed upon.
The ministers agreed to phase out problem waste exports from July 2020. This will mean that manufacturers and other businesses will have to find alternative disposal mechanisms.
Specifically, waste plastic, paper, glass, and tyres will be banned from being exported. Waste glass has the shortest timeline, with all waste glass to be banned from export by July 2021, mixed waste plastics will follow in July 20201, all whole tyres in December 2021, and other waste products such as paper and cardboard by 30 June 2022.
While this is a challenge for Australia’s waste disposal industry, the decision has been hailed as a potential for manufacturers, who will have access to new material streams. In addition, manufacturers of these materials will be encouraged to institute stewardship schemes, to ensure that when a product reaches the end of its life it can be repaired, re-used, or recycled.
Already, technologies to turn waste products into building materials, plastic filament for 3D printing, and metal alloys, has been pursued by UNSW Scientia professor, Veena Sahajwalla.
“Importantly, this type of microrecycling science not only addresses the waste and environmental issues, but creates a whole new circular economy where materials are kept in use for as long as possible and can help local manufacturers create new products and items from reformed waste,” said Sahajwalla.
Sahajwalla sees the ban on the export of waste materials as a chance for local industries to step up in their use of recycled materials.
“This coordinated decision to ban the exporting of our recyclable materials to countries that are increasingly resistant to taking our waste is a real game-changer in terms of enabling the spread of home-grown research innovations for the benefit of local industries,” she said.
Adding to the interest in alternatives to waste for glass was University of Queensland PhD candidate Rhys Pirie wining Young Innovator of the Year award for his process that turns waste glass into sodium silicate, used in the manufacturing of building products and fertilisers, among other uses.
“The transition towards circular economies is a movement which is gaining momentum and something I’ve always been interested in,” said Pirie.