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Tag Archives: Plastics

China’s National Sword and Australia’s Response

Following the decision by China in 2019 to introduce extensive new quality requirements on the importation of recyclables,  the global trading environment for secondary materials has changed dramatically.

Rick Ralph from Talking Garbology catches up with Nick Harford – Managing Director of Equilibrium, and together they discuss the decision by Australian State, Territory and Federal Environment Ministers to introduce export bans on recyclables over the next few years.

In a post COVID -19 business environment what does the ban on glass, tyres, paper and cardboard and plastics mean and where are the business opportunities?

This candid discussion between Harford and Ralph is not only informative; it also highlights the complex dynamics of the waste and resource recovery industry in Australia and abroad.

You can download the podcast here.

You can also listen to a previous chat between Ralph and Harford here.

The Future of Waste and Recycling in NSW

Waste and recycling are firmly on the agenda at all levels of government. Various industries and sectors are also confronting the challenges and opportunities head-on, including an increasingly informed and aware public.

In response, the NSW Government has commenced consultation on the development of a 20 year waste strategy as well as some very focused planning in response to plastics pollution. The NSW approach stands out with a view to addressing core challenges while also being pragmatic and mindful of community expectations.

The consultation process is comprehensive, timely and underpinned by expert advice, analysis and future-oriented thinking and planning. In many respects it demonstrates some considered thinking about where and how waste and recycling fits into the circular economy ambitions. The figures and statistics outlined by the NSW Government are compelling:

Public consultation on the issues paper – Cleaning Up Our Act: The Future of Waste and Resources – is now open and submissions from all interested stakeholders are encouraged. For more information about making a submission and sharing your views look here.

The issues paper outlines four key directions which seeks to test a number of options that represent specific stages in the circular economy. This approach and thinking reflects some of the more advanced work being conducted at a State Government level.

The four directions are:

1: Generate less waste by avoiding and ‘designing out’ waste, to keep materials circulating in the economy.

2: Improve collection and sorting to maximise circular economy outcomes and lower costs.

3: Plan for future infrastructure by ensuring the right infrastructure is located in the right place and at the right time.

4: Create end markets by fostering demand for recycled products in NSW (particularly glass, paper, organics, plastics and metals) so that recovered materials re-enter our economy and drive business and employment opportunities.

A diverse range of options sit under each of the directions and reflect a sound and holistic view of what the solutions and actions might entail. The ‘Future of Waste and is asking the right questions and posing solutions for consideration. It also has the potential to achieve next level change at scale if and when implementation is adequately resourced.

For more information about the 20 year waste strategy and providing feedback look here.

Redirecting the Future of Plastics in NSW

The NSW Government is also acting on plastics. Their discussion paper,  Cleaning Up Our Act: Redirecting the Future of Plastics in NSw, provides the basis for reform and solutions to help advance the management of plastics in NSW.  The discussion paper sets targets to:

> reduce the amount of plastic generated;
> increase recycling rates;
> reduce plastic pollution; and
> make NSW a global leader in plastic research and solution development.

The NSW Government is consulting with the community and stakeholders before finalising the NSW Plastics Plan. Input from the public is invited with a particular interest in the proposed targets and  priority directions, with a view to this feedback informing the development of the NSW Plastics Plan.

As we know, plastics saturate our existence like few other materials. They have become a recurring topic of discussion at many levels, and while we can acknowledge their unique characteristics and benefits, the public has developed a distinct distaste for plastics and their application across diverse product and packaging categories.

In many ways, the NSW Government is considering how we can produce and consume plastics within a context of environmental and social sensitivity, while also remembering practical and functional value of plastics. NSW acknowledges public anxiety, ecological impacts and industry concerns and highlight why action is required on plastics pollution.

This discussion paper sets out the following four key outcomes for each stage of the life-cycle of plastic, each supported by a proposed target and priority directions.

Outcome 1: Reduce plastic waste generation
Proposed target: Phase out key single-use plastics 

Outcome 2: Make the most of our plastic resources
Proposed target: Triple the proportion of plastic recycled in NSW across all sectors and streams by 2030 

Outcome 3: Reduce plastic waste leakage
Proposed target: Reduce plastic litter items by 25% by 2025 

Outcome 4: Improve our understanding of the future of plastics
Proposed target: Make NSW a leader in national and international research on plastics 

The deadline for feedback on the discussion paper until 5.00pm Friday 8 May 2020. For more information about NSW Plastics Plan and providing feedback look here.

Do you need help with your submission?

Equilibrium will be assisting its clients in the preparation of submissions to this important strategy consultation process.

If you have any questions about the 20 Year Waste Strategy or the Plastics Plan and how your organisation can benefit from making a submission, please contact the team at Equilibrium:

Nick Harford on 0419 993 234 or Damien Wigley on 0404 899 961.

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