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Category Archives: Product Stewardship

Fit for Purpose Tools in Resource Recovery

Fit for Purpose Tools in Resource Recovery

Equilibrium’s managing director, Nick Harford is presenting this week at the 2018 WasteSA Resource Recovery Conference in Adelaide. It’s an excellent event typically attended by key players who know the industry and what is required to move it forward.

The current climate confronting the waste and resource recovery industry generates considerable  discussion and speculation about preferred solutions, desired outcomes, essential infrastructure and/or policy reforms.

Product stewardship – either voluntary or regulated – is often hooked into the dialogue, as a key tool for more efficient resource use, including the recovery and recycling of products and materials. And in many cases (but not all) this is an accurate assessment.

Nick’s conference presentation will highlight that product stewardship is one tool among many when it comes to waste avoidance and resource recovery. The environment and sustainability toolbox contains many approaches that need to be mixed and matched depending on the specific problem or opportunity being addressed.

Whether we are focussed on material substitution,  eliminating restricted substances, extended product life or design for disassembly and remanufacturing, the need to carefully choose a solution or hybrid of tools, should be informed and with clear justification.

In short, it is about understanding the issue, the desired outcome and the relevance of available approaches or tools. Fit for purpose thinking is essential when it comes to maximising efficiency and effectiveness with a view to delivering measurable benefit.

Contact Nick directly to request a copy of his conference presentation:

Nick Harford
Email:  nick@equil.com.au
Mobile:  0419 993 234

NSW Government moves on Circular Policy

The goal of a circular economy is being discussed across sectors, industries and communities. Much of it with substance and strong intent, but some of it superficial and simplistic.

Most importantly, there is a recognition that new patterns of production and consumption are essential. This is especially relevant if we as an economy and community are to maximise resource productivity, minimise impacts and develop a new, more benign relationship with products and the materials they are made from.

The need for effective policy reform is timely, as is the need for economy-wide attention. Rebranding  waste and recycling initiatives as circular economy initiatives certainly fails to recognise the imperative.

As a contribution towards delivering positive economic, social and environmental outcomes for the community that are ‘circular’ the NSW Government is developing relevant policies. Specifically, it has released a draft Circular Economy Policy as well as a Circular Economy Discussion Paper.

The two documents provide a useful overview of the essential principles, including examples of how these can be applied to achieve the desired outcomes. Both the policy and the discussion paper are sensible starting points for informing and engaging interested stakeholders.

Unlike European Union initiatives which identify actions holistically across industries and sectors, the NSW documents are chiefly framed through a waste management lens, which may be more doable over the short-term however at some point will need to address the structural transformation needed to achieve a truly circular economy.

The discussion paper sets an inclusive tone and asks ‘what would a circular economy look like’ and invites ideas on how interested parties could get involved and what support they may require.

Consultation on the draft Circular Economy Policy is open from 22 October to 25 November 2018.

Submissions will inform the process and be used to finalise the policy. This will be followed by an implementation plan that sets out how the NSW Government will ‘work with business and local communities.

You can download the relevant documents and have your say via the following website:

https://engage.environment.nsw.gov.au/circular

Equilibrium is working with some of its clients and partners to prepare submissions over the coming weeks. We would welcome contact from any company, council or organisation wishing to discuss the process and their response to the discussion paper.

More information

Nick Harford
Managing Director – Equilibrium
Email:  nick@equil.com.au
Mobile: 0419 993 234

Photovoltaic Systems Stewardship Study

Online survey available for interested stakeholders

Sustainability Victoria (SV) is leading a national project to examine photovoltaic systems and assess possible options for stewardship programs to potentially manage the products at end-of-life.

Product stewardship specialist Equilibrium has been appointed by Sustainability Victoria to undertake an analysis and assess potential options for a national product stewardship approach.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels and associated products and equipment have been identified as a rapidly growing e-waste stream in future years.  For this project “PV systems” have been defined to include panels and PV system accessories such as inverter equipment and energy storage systems.

As part of the project, Equilibrium welcomes input and information from manufacturers, installers, project developers, the energy industry, peak bodies and others .

Information and evidence gathered will support the assessment of potential options.

Stakeholder survey available online

Organisations and individuals interested in the project can complete a short online survey here:  http://bit.ly/PVs-survey

The deadline for completing the survey is COB Monday 27th August 2018.

For more information about the project or the survey, contact Damien Wigley at Equilibrium at:  damien@equil.com.au

 

 

Know the fate of your recyclables

Not knowing where your waste is going can lead to reputational and regulatory risks. Equilibrium explains how its networks are helping the waste industry keep track of the downstream supply chain.

In 2011-12 Australia exported 4.4 million tonnes of waste valued at $2.4 million or 0.8 per cent of Australia’s total exports, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

During that year the value of Australia’s waste exports tripled to $696 million, when compared to 2000-1 levels. While recent national figures are in short supply, the National Waste Report 2016 shows 26 per cent of Victoria’s recyclables was exported overseas in 2014-15, indicating exports still remains a key part of Australia’s waste management strategy.

Keeping track of where this waste ends up can be a challenge, much less ascertaining whether the materials were subject to environmentally sound management.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development provides a working definition of environmentally sound management as follows:

“A scheme for ensuring that wastes and used and scrap materials are managed in a manner that will save natural resources and protect human health and the environment against adverse effects that may result from such wastes and materials”.

According to Nicholas Harford, Managing Director of Equilibrium, without transparency in the downstream supply chain, recyclers leave themselves exposed to reputational and regulatory risks. The core issue is: if you’re collecting and on-selling or shipping material for recycling, do you know how it is it being recycled?

Equilibrium’s information sheet on downstream assurance services provides further detail on the process.

“Reputational risk occurs when a material that you have collected and said will be recycled is inappropriately or illegally disposed of. In the waste industry, we are all familiar with concerns about e-waste going to third world or developing nations where it’s inappropriately handled, sometimes burnt with no pollution control and at great risk to human health,” Nicholas says.

“No company wants to end up in a situation where its reputation is on the line, whether you work in council, operate a materials recovery facility or a recycling company. If you’re in local government and in collect kerbside collection, you want to be confident that the household effort is being supported by environmentally sound management.”

Nicholas explains the regulatory risk occurs through the unlawful control of hazardous material exports, and whether the end use has the correct regulatory licence or permit to operate within the country and ensure control of emissions in line with best practice.

He says it is particularly important to know where materials are going for waste streams such as e-waste and tyres. Some kerbside recyclables may also require an export or transport licence, he adds.

Nicholas says tyres may have an overlay of being potentially hazardous materials. According to the Commonwealth Hazardous Waste Act, a permit must be obtained before hazardous waste can be exported out of Australia. A basic requirement of the Act is that waste shipments may only take place between countries which are parties to the Basel Convention, except where a specific formal arrangement exists. The Australian Government has banned exports of waste for final disposal except in exceptional circumstances, therefore not knowing whether your waste is being recovered or going to landfill can leave you exposed.

Damien Wigley, General Manager, Equilibrium, explains the company offers a step-wise service to the waste industry which can help alleviate downstream supply chain uncertainty and better track waste movements.

To identify and generate downstream supply chain distribution networks, Damien says Equilibrium has used multiple platforms to inform the program and is currently considering the application of blockchain for such purposes.

“A comprehensive process is required to clearly understand the movement of waste streams initially and it can vary depending on the type of materials and where (internationally) they are being sent to.

“There may be some certification system that requires the tracking of materials and that information may be accessible by a product stewardship program or another voluntary scheme, but to understand the document trail and access it in a timely manner is complicated,” Damien says.

“We’ve invested a number of years and resources into this program, including examining numerous certification processes such as the Conflict Minerals Programme as well as the Forest Stewardship Council and how they access and develop chain of custody programs.”

An example of Equilibrium’s work is how it is assisting the Federal Government Department of the Environment and Energy and its administration of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS). Equilibrium helped the Department to develop a methodology to assess the material recovery rate of e-waste.

“We had to look at places around the world to see how the material was being recycled and ensure it was consistent with the NTCRS and specific requirements under the Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Regulations,” Nicholas says.

“We considered several certification schemes and their requirements to ensure a document trail was accessible, and to say with confidence that we knew where the material was going.”

He says it is not a straightforward process, potentially involving multiple parties who may not want to share information that they consider to be intellectual property.

Equilibrium is on hand to assist clients in developing a tailored program that is relevant to the business and meets all requirements, both internal and external.

You can download Equilibrium’s downstream assurance information sheet here.

Originally published on 13 March 2018 in Waste Management online.

Funding for resource recovery and recycling

Several government grant programs targeting resource recovery, recycling and associated activities are currently open or imminent, and worth reviewing in more detail.

A combination of recurring annual programs as well as funding triggered by the China National Sword Policy, are providing opportunities for a diverse range of projects from machinery and infrastructure, through to feasibility studies and market development.

Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have announced programs that will be of interest to councils, regional groups, businesses and social enterprises.

The following snapshot outlines several grant programs by State and funding focus.

Queensland

Detailed information is available here.

$100 million program for industry development

The Queensland Government has announced a $100 million funding program to work with business and local councils to develop a high-value resource recovery industry.

The funding will target three areas of focus:

> Infrastructure or machinery up to $5 million on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

> Incentives for the development of new large-scale facilities.

> Support for advanced feasibility studies for innovative resource recovery and waste management projects.

The funding program is planned to open later in 2018.

New South Wales

Detailed information is available here.

Product Improvement Program – Round 1
The Product Improvement Program provides industry an opportunity to identify new uses and markets for recyclable materials, and to develop local processing and remanufacturing capability to help ensure recycling services are maintained in future years. $4.5 million has been allocated to the first round of the program. Individual grants of $50,000 to $1 million are available to fund up to 50% of the capital costs for equipment and infrastructure.

Circulate, Industrial Ecology Program– Round 3
The Circulate program offers grants of between $20,000 and $150,000 to fund innovative, commercially-oriented industrial ecology projects that focus on the commercial and industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) sectors in NSW. Circulate supports projects that will recover materials that would otherwise be sent to landfill, to be used as feedstock for other commercial, industrial or construction processes. Changes have been made to this round to include projects that deal with solid waste and materials not only diverted from landfill but also materials impacted by China’s National Sword Policy. A total of $2.5 million in funding is available in Round 3.

Civil Construction Market Program – Round 1
The Civil Construction Market Program offers grants of up to $250,000 to eligible organisations to promote the use of waste from one civil construction project as a useful input into another. This program aims to reduce the amount of C&D waste being sent to landfill, reduce the amount of C&D material being stockpiled and to promote innovative resource recovery activities in the NSW Civil Construction sector. Source materials have now been broadened to include glass, paper, cardboard and plastics from MRFs in NSW civil construction projects. This change is designed to help drive end markets for post-consumer recyclate. A total of $2.5 million in funding is available in Round 1.

Victoria

Detailed information is available here.

The Research and Development Grants Program supports the aims of the Victorian Market Development Strategy for Recovered Resources to stimulate markets for the use of recovered resources, increase job creation, develop quality products for end markets, and increase investment in products made from recovered resources.

The program will support the identification of markets that have the potential to use significant and consistent volumes of recovered materials.

In May 2018 a new round of $2.5m R&D grants funding was announced. The funding will provide research institutions and industry the opportunity to undertake R&D projects such as field trials that explore alternative and more value-added uses of priority waste materials. These materials include organics, rubber (tyres), e-waste, plastics, glass fines, concrete and other emerging priority materials.

The grants are expected to open in July 2018.

The Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund valued at approximately $13 million aims to support the development of infrastructure that improves the collection and processing of recycled materials. The program seeks innovative projects that will increase jobs in the resource recovery industry while also increasing the recovery of priority materials. Projects must be completed by 31 March 2021.

The Fund began in 2017 and to date two funding rounds have awarded approximately 27 infrastructure projects in metro and regional Victoria with over $9 million. The Round 1 and Round 2 projects supported so far are expected to create over 140 jobs in Victoria’s waste and resource recovery sector and are expected to divert at least 500,000 tonnes of material from landfill each year. More information about the Fund’s achievements and progress to date is below.

Round 3 Grants – Applications Open

Round 3 has up to $3 million available for infrastructure grants. Projects located in and servicing Victoria can apply for between $40,000 and $500,000 in funding for infrastructure development. Infrastructure can be for collection, sorting or processing.

Round 3 is seeking projects that target food organics, rigid and soft plastics, paper and cardboard, and e-waste re-processing as priority materials. However, projects addressing the future resource recovery infrastructure needs and opportunities identified in the Regional Waste and Resource Recovery Implementation Plans developed by the Waste and Resource Recovery Groups (WRRGs) will also be supported.

It’s important to register your interest to apply to receive the relevant documentation to submit your proposal by 3pm, 31 July 2018.

More information

Contact Damien or Nicholas for more information about how Equilibrium can assist with grant and funding applications:

Nicholas Harford
Mobile: 0419 993 234 or nick@equil.com.au

Damien Wigley
Mobile: 0404 899 961 or damien@equil.com.au

 

 

 

Stewardship for safety and the environment

It’s always refreshing to see new product categories added to the list of stewardship initiatives being developed in Australia.

a sign that more manufacturers and service providers can see the broader environmental and social benefits of managing the impacts associated with their products.

Consumer appetite for stewardship schemes that meet a clear need and are also equitable in their coverage nationwide, is strong and ever-increasing, but not always uncomplicated and adequately funded. Some are mature and meet community expectations, while others are nascent and in development.

Recent history has also shown us that not all product stewardship schemes are straightforward to design, fund and implement.

While there are multiple definitions and models of product stewardship and extended producer responsibility, the essence remains consistent. It primarily involves product manufacturers and associated service providers (including retailers) taking greater responsibility for their products across the life cycle from design and production all the way through to consumption and end-of-life management. Of course, there is a need for consumers and other players to play their role, and the need to share responsibility is essential.

Child Car Safety Seat Recycling Program

A new product category being investigated for stewardship action in Australia is the child car safety seat. Not always associated with take-back and recycling programs, the majority of these seats go straight to landfill at end-of-life despite being high recyclable. Over 90% of a typical child car safety seat contains materials that can be recovered and reprocessed when correctly dismantled. The category includes rear facing infant carriers and bases, forward facing seats and booster seats.

A trial program has been running for several months in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, with a view to generating information and data that can inform the design of a permanent national scheme.

An important aspect of the trial is its attention to both resource recovery and recycling as well as road safety requirements. This highlights a more holistic approach to defining product stewardship with a view to addressing multiple objectives.

A child may outgrow more than two safety seats before they are old enough to sit in a car without one. While some parents may choose to re-use seats or purchase them secondhand, it is recommended that child car safety seats be disposed of 10 years after the date of manufacture.

This is to protect children due to wear and tear and degradation of the seat, and to ensure outdated products are removed from the market and replaced by child restraints that meet current safety standards. Disposing of a child car safety seat once it reaches its fixed life span or after it has been involved in a crash can also give parents and carers peace of mind that their child will be protected.

In simple terms, removing worn or damaged child car safety seats from being reused not only protects children and infants, but provides an opportunity to responsibly divert seats into an efficient resource recovery and recycling program.

The trial program has provided parents and carers with a free and environmentally-positive option for disposing of their old child car restraints. By collecting and disassembling the seats on-site, the trial aims to divert in excess of 900 tonnes of waste away from landfill and back into the recycling stream.

Damien Wigley, who co-designed the trial, thought the challenge would be to encourage families to divert used seats that are currently left on the kerbside as litter, sold in garage sales or make their way into second hand stores and onto on-line shopping sites, for recycling.

“It’s been very encouraging that the community has been so responsive to disposing their seats in a responsible and convenient way,” said Wigley.

Enthusiastic collaboration between stakeholders has been a key feature of how the trial has been designed and implemented. A strong partnership approach has also helped to maximise community engagement and raise broader awareness about the potential for a permanent program.

The trial program received funding and support from the Queensland and NSW governments (Waste Less Recycle More Initiative – NSW), Victorian Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group as well as major car seat brands including Dorel and InfaSecure, and automotive association representatives from RACV, NRMA, RAA and RACT. Kidsafe and various social enterprises have also been involved in the trial’s promotion and delivery. Equilibrium developed the initiative and managed the overall implementation.

MWRRG case-study and video

The Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) was involved in the Victorian component of the trial, which included close collaboration with seat manufacturers, automotive associations, local councils, recyclers and community groups.

MWRRG and Equilibrium jointly developed a case-study and video exploring the trial, its success and opportunities for further action.

For more information contact:

Damien Wigley, Equilibrium
Mobile: 0404 899 961  Email:  damien@equil.com.au

This story was first published in Inside Waste on 28 September 2017.

Product Stewardship at Equilibrium

Understanding the impacts and issues of a product or material across its life-cycle is often the first step towards creating smart stewardship solutions.

The production of manufactured goods brings diverse benefit and utility across all aspects of life. It serves our everyday habits, routines and lifestyles, often with great efficiency.

These products fuel economic activity, national prosperity and meet functional requirements, however they also consume materials, energy, water and a variety of other resources – some rare, some scarce and some potentially hazardous.

On the upside, the ability to create low impact, low-waste and restorative products and services in a circular economy is however straightforward, desirable and consistent with how responsible companies operate.

Enter Equilibrium advice, strategy and technical services

We specialise in all aspects of stewardship for products, materials and services. Equilibrium is much more than consulting and advice, as it covers the full range of activities necessary to design, develop, administer, implement and evaluate successful product solutions, schemes and programs.

Importantly, Equilibrium provides end-to-end stewardship services, from tailored programs, auditing methods and engagement strategies.

How we help our customers and partners

Whether it is a regulated scheme, a voluntary industry program, or an individual business service to customers, we have the capabilities and software to assist manufacturers, importers, retailers, associations and not-for-profits to develop and execute high performance stewardship outcomes.

Our services also have relevance to federal, state, territory and local governments, especially at the intersection of stakeholder engagement, consumer education and methodologies to address downstream supply chain assurance.

We implement a life-cycle or systems approach to stewardship and associated problem-solving in the resource recovery sector, specialising in materials and operational efficiency by drawing on extensive industry, environment and government experience.

Some of our customers and partners

Equilibrium provides a wide spectrum of stewardship-based services for industry and government connecting the environment, economy, policy and community in a shared responsibility model.

Our personnel have extensive experience in product stewardship – from hands-on industry roles establishing take-back programs to strategic level research and advice. Some of the stewardship projects and programs Equilibrium staff have worked on include:

> Paintback
> Child car safety seat take-back pilot
> National Television and Computer Recycling
> Mattress stewardship scheme development
> Tyre Stewardship Australia
> Australian Packaging Covenant
> FluoroCycle
> Oil container product stewardship scheme
> Australian Tyre Recyclers Association

Equilibrium’s focus is on working collaboratively with stakeholders and equipping them to implement stewardship solutions under their own Corporate Social Responsibility programs and directives.

Review of the Product Stewardship Act 2011

The current review of the Product Stewardship Act 2011, including the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, is an important opportunity for manufactures, retailers, councils, social enterprises and industry associations, to help shape the next phase of stewardship activity in Australia.

The Equilibrium team has been deeply involved in many aspects of the Act’s creation, review and ongoing implementation. That means we can help interested organisations unlock the value and benefit of what the Act can offer organisations.

In short, we can assist with the preparation of submissions, run member workshops and advise on the relevance and implications of the Act, including the potential benefits with  securing voluntary accreditation.

We welcome and encourage you to make contact with us and talk about the review process and what it means for your company, enterprise, council or association.

Remember that the deadline for submissions under the review of the Product Stewardship Act is 29 June 2018.
More information

Contact Nicholas, Damien or John for more information about our services and solutions:

Nicholas Harford
Mobile: 0419 993 234 or nick@equil.com.au

Damien Wigley
Mobile: 0404 899 961 or damien@equil.com.au

John Gertsakis
Mobile: 0409 422 089 or john@equil.com.au

 

 

Child car safety seat recycling

 

Connecting safety and stewardship

It’s always refreshing to see new product categories added to the list of stewardship initiatives being developed in Australia.

It’s also a sign that more manufacturers and service providers can see the broader environmental and social benefits of managing the impacts associated with their products.

Consumer appetite for stewardship schemes that meet a clear need and are also equitable in their coverage nationwide, is strong and ever-increasing, but not always uncomplicated and adequately funded. Some are mature and meet community expectations, while others are nascent and in development.

Recent history has also shown us that not all product stewardship schemes are straightforward to design, fund and implement.

While there are multiple definitions and models of product stewardship and extended producer responsibility, the essence remains consistent. It primarily involves product manufacturers and associated service providers (including retailers) taking greater responsibility for their products across the life cycle from design and production all the way through to consumption and end-of-life management. Of course, there is a need for consumers and other players to play their role, and the need to share responsibility is essential.

Child Car Safety Seat Recycling Program

A new product category being investigated for stewardship action in Australia is the child car safety seat. Not always associated with take-back and recycling programs, the majority of these seats go straight to landfill at end-of-life despite being high recyclable.

Over 90% of a typical child car safety seat contains materials that can be recovered and reprocessed when correctly dismantled. The category includes rear facing infant carriers and bases, forward facing seats and booster seats.

A trial program has been running for several months in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, with a view to generating information and data that can inform the design of a permanent national scheme.

An important aspect of the trial is its attention to both resource recovery and recycling as well as road safety requirements. This highlights a more holistic approach to defining product stewardship with a view to addressing multiple objectives.

A child may outgrow more than two safety seats before they are old enough to sit in a car without one. While some parents may choose to re-use seats or purchase them secondhand, it is recommended that child car safety seats be disposed of 10 years after the date of manufacture.

This is to protect children due to wear and tear and degradation of the seat, and to ensure outdated products are removed from the market and replaced by child restraints that meet current safety standards. Disposing of a child car safety seat once it reaches its fixed life span or after it has been involved in a crash can also give parents and carers peace of mind that their child will be protected.

In simple terms, removing worn or damaged child car safety seats from being reused not only protects children and infants, but provides an opportunity to responsibly divert seats into an efficient resource recovery and recycling program.

The trial program has provided parents and carers with a free and environmentally-positive option for disposing of their old child car restraints. By collecting and disassembling the seats on-site, the trial aims to divert in excess of 900 tonnes of waste away from landfill and back into the recycling stream.

Damien Wigley, who co-designed the trial, thought the challenge would be to encourage families to divert used seats that are currently left on the kerbside as litter, sold in garage sales or make their way into second hand stores and onto on-line shopping sites, for recycling.

“It’s been very encouraging that the community has been so responsive to disposing their seats in a responsible and convenient way,” said Wigley.

Enthusiastic collaboration between stakeholders has been a key feature of how the trial has been designed and implemented. A strong partnership approach has also helped to maximise community engagement and raise broader awareness about the potential for a permanent program.

The trial program received funding and support from the Queensland and NSW governments (Waste Less Recycle More Initiative – NSW), Victorian Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group as well as major car seat brands including Dorel and InfaSecure, and automotive association representatives from RACV, NRMA, RAA and RACT. Kidsafe and various social enterprises have also been involved in the trial’s promotion and delivery. Equilibrium developed the initiative and managed the overall implementation.

Stop Press! Video and case study available

For additional detail about the trial see the case study and video produced with the support of the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group.

This story was first published in Inside Waste on 28 September 2017

 

3D or not 3D

No panacea for plastics recycling

3D printing is in ascendancy, disruption is in vogue and innovators are in constant search of new applications.

These are exciting times for additive manufacturing with endless opportunities, some of them environmentally driven, some of them deeply practical.

As with many new and emerging technologies however, claims by some advocates that it has all-conquering potential is illusory. This seems especially so with current claims that 3D printing is potentially a panacea for problematic waste plastic.

The technology is of course impressive and is already achieving noteworthy outcomes in some product classes. The capabilities and increasingly attractive cost and access trajectory are exponentially expanding its use, but its practical outputs are yet to match the enthusiastic media commentary.

We’re not expert in 3D printing or additive manufacturing but have been working with several experts for a few years now. We’ve been delving into 3D materials efficiency, life-cycle management and end-of-life material evaluation. Our investigations have also extended into the potential application of Product Stewardship for both the printers and the fabricating materials.

Plastic polymers are but one 3D fabricating material, but it is a common and frequently used medium. So when it comes to increasing use of 3D printing it is also leading to increasing consumption of fabricating polymers.

When it comes to using recovered waste plastic and recycling it for use in 3D printing, there are current and emerging options. The plastic by-product of some printing is itself highly recoverable and recyclable. Relatively low-cost solutions exist to take left over plastic 3D filament, 3D printing waste and other waste plastics and create a useable 3D filament.

Recent media also shows impressive results for taking problem plastic waste and converting it into a form that can be used in 3D printing.

The issue worth checking though is not that recovered and recycled plastic can be used in 3D printing, but more so what is the recovery method and extent of volume.

Before focusing on the end-of-pipe, just a pause to note that 3D printing has an inherently positive sustainability profile.

It is in essence a short-cut to manufacturing, on whatever scale. Its environmental, economic and social profile offers reduced need for multiple prototyping, reduced transport by enabling on-site fabrication, highly specialised parts manufacturing and potential multiplier effects such as facilitating longer and increased up time for heavy plant and equipment.

Having said that, it is generally still high-end equipment needing expert handling. Many of the ‘entry-level’ or consumer retail 3D units demonstrate poor performance and reliability, and are destined for near-term hard-waste collection.

Anecdotal reports from suppliers include the view that many new users find the set-up and calibration challenging, that there is a very high failure rate of printing and that many prints are sub-standard thereby useless. Rather than fast proto-typing, this can be fast waste creation in the name of DIY.

On the upside of this phenomena, 3D polymer printers use relatively little material. Especially when design and software is properly applied as they are highly efficient in optimising material for production.

And that’s the rub. At the end of the current day when it comes to the use of plastic polymer in 3D printing in Australia there is very little material consumed – whether it is virgin raw material or a recycled equivalent. On our estimates from discussions with importers and suppliers as well as our desk-top research, it is at present and at best in the high hundreds to low thousands of tonnes per year.

Now that’s still a lot of plastic in one respect. Improved end-of-life management of waste plastic and replacement of virgin with recycled is to be encouraged. In the current global market all avenues warrant attention, but as an end-market for plastic recycling it is a very small and highly constrained destination.

As present it is reported to us that recycled content 3D filament suffers that all too frequently experienced fate: that recycled alternatives do not provide sufficient price incentive to overcome ease of access to virgin product and concerns with quality. This is a challenge that confronts many secondary materials.

That 3D printing is growing means the sustainability lens should be on its entire life-cycle. That includes material use in making printers, application of the technology, product design, energy consumption, materials choice, materials efficiency and end-of-life materials management. Tools, materials and methods that contribute to achieving a circular economy should be supported and explored but not at the cost of robust environmental evaluation.

It is a great technology that can deliver better economic and environmental outcomes. However, on current evidence it is apparent that recycling plastics for use as 3D fabricating materials is a niche and not a panacea for waste plastics.

Ultimately, high performance, low impacts and measurable benefit will determine whether 3D printing contributes to sustainable production and consumption in a real-world context.

This article was authored by Nicholas Harford, Managing Director of Equilibrium.

17 April 2018

Battery stewardship in Australia – on trickle charge or ready to power up?

Keeping batteries out of the waste stream has multiple benefits.

Many of the materials found in handheld batteries can be recycled and reused, recovering hazardous substances that would otherwise be released into the environment causing pollution and contamination.

Other countries recognise this and have taken regulatory action to compel producers to play a stronger role in collection and recycling schemes.

The European Union has had a Batteries Directive in place since 2006 and several US states require producers and retailers to offer or fund battery recycling services, including Vermont (2014), California (2006) and Minnesota (1994).

Government and segments of the battery industry in Australia have been working towards a national scheme for handheld batteries under 5kg since 2013, however a recycling program has yet to be realised.

There are battery recycling services such as MobileMuster and the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, however batteries are not the focus and battery recycling schemes are generally piecemeal. The closest we come to a convenient and free battery recycling service for residents is that offered by ALDI and Battery World stores.

The result is in Australia, we have a collection rate of used batteries of about 3% compared to 40% to 70% in Europe.

Progress or procrastination?

Handheld batteries up to 5kg (primary and rechargeable) have been on Australia’s regulatory agenda since 2013. In 2015, parts of the battery industry effectively pushed back on a voluntary scheme and succeeded in reducing the scope to rechargeable handheld batteries only.

Since then the Battery Implementation Working Group (BIWG) – funded by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (the lead jurisdiction) and supported by various industry members including the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative – has conducted numerous studies, pilot projects and stakeholder engagement exercises to determine how a voluntary handheld rechargeable battery program could work.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

There is potentially light at the end of the tunnel, as suggested by the following chronology of activities since late 2015. It demonstrates some very focused activity and decision-making by the BIWG.

>  2015 – Environment Ministers revised the scope of batteries to be covered from all handheld batteries less than 5kg to just rechargeable handheld batteries less than 5 kg as a result of initial consultation with the battery industry.

>  2016 – a two-month pilot was conducted in Toowoomba to investigate the feasibility of collecting handheld rechargeable batteries for recycling through a diverse range of collection channels.

>  2016 – a nine-month pilot was conducted in Brisbane to investigate the feasibility of collecting used power-tool batteries for recycling and to better understand market share and consumer behaviour.

>  Early 2017 – a Financial Options Study was completed to estimate the costs of a voluntary program and evaluate different funding options in terms of sharing and recovering costs.

>  July 2017 – BIWG recommended to Environment Minsters a shared approach between manufactures/importers/brands/retailers and governments that was underpinned by ‘light’ regulation to prevent free-riding and ensure industry-wide participation while minimising cost to government.

>  July 2017 Meeting of Environment Ministers (MEM) endorsed the work of the BIWG and agreed to consider approaches that involve regulatory options “to underpin a voluntary scheme … as States see fit.”

This final point is a key decision by the MEM and provides BIWG the opportunity to explore national and state-based regulatory options to prevent free-riding without creating unnecessary red-tape for government or industry.

Pivotal Meeting of Environment Ministers

Clearly there has been a greater focus on increased producer and retailer engagement, scheme design and cost-sharing. The next step in the process is determining what regulatory instrument will ensure maximum industry participation and minimal cost to government and the community.

Indeed, the prospect of realising a national scheme is looking positive. But we are at a pivotal point in the process. Anything less than a firm decision by governments to regulate may result in industry walking away – leaving Australians with little option but to dispose of old batteries inappropriately, putting our environment and communities at risk.

There is a need not only to maintain batteries on the agenda, but to design a timely solution that demonstrates clear stewardship commitment by battery brands in particular. The rapid growth in battery use (small and large), the proliferation of consumer electronics and the dramatic growth of Internet of Things devices, all underscore the need for a national battery collection and recycling scheme.

At a time when numerous overseas countries have been running battery stewardship programs for more than a decade, it places Australia in the uncomfortably unique position of being exceptionally good at inaction and inferior policy development.

The upcoming Meeting of Environment Ministers should change that. It is time to enthusiastically decide to put in place a regulatory option that will enable the battery industry to implement a national battery recycling scheme without fear of being disadvantaged. Most importantly it should support creation of an environmentally sound battery recycling scheme that is free, accessible and widely promoted.

For more information visit the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative website.

For more information about Equilibrium’s stewardship and sustainability solutions contact John Gertsakis at:  john@equil.com.au  or mobile: 0409 422 089.

This story originally appeared on BEN Onliine/Inside Waste,
2 February 2018.

 

 

 

 

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