This year’s Society for Plastic Engineers‘ Plastics and the Circular Economy virtual conference saw Cleanaway CEO and Managing Director Vik Bansal outline his plan for creating the right environment to drive closed-loop plastic recycling in Australia.
“Set against the backdrop of the recent National Waste Policy Action Plan, defined timings for the Waste Export Ban and Container Deposit Schemes having opened or imminent in every Australian state, the time is now for companies to look at the waste value chain and take action,” Bansal said.
He explained how Cleanaway has invested in collection, sorting and processing infrastructure across recycling waste streams to optimise value and environmental outcomes of these materials. Announced in 2017 and known as Footprint 2025, Cleanaway’s strategy considers waste type, volume of material and regional economic factors to determine where investment would improve resource recovery outcomes across the value chain.
“Through this lens, we see plastics as a very important material and a big opportunity. With the right investment we can improve the quality of recyclable plastic on-shore for re-use, which is why we’re extending our value chain beyond sorting into reprocessing for plastics — as well as glass and paper/cardboard.
“To build an effective domestic circular economy for plastics, the problem needs to be tackled from multiple angles across the value chain — and with support from government, industry and consumers,” he said.
Bansal laid out four areas of focus to enable circular economy growth for plastics in Australia:
1. Reduce contamination in the collection stream to improve the quality of material for re-use.
By improving recycling at the source, we reduce sorting and processing costs, reduce the amount of material being lost to landfill due to contamination and improve commodity value. To achieve this we need standardisation of rules to improve education and enable better regulation.
2. Improve sorting technology to increase the amount of material that can be recovered.
Material recovery facilities need to be able to invest in new sorting capability to adjust to changes in commodity quality standards and remove contamination through the sorting process. Technology to sort plastics into individual polymers will be critical to capitalise on the clean streams through container deposit schemes.
3. Increase domestic markets for recovered plastics to reduce reliance on export.
With waste export bans for plastics coming into effect in 2022 the time is now to drive local demand. Investment in plastic pelletising capability will ensure the clear streams of plastic being collected can be used in manufacturing new products.
4. Local demand for recycled products will ensure manufacturers have buyers.
The resource recovery industry can invest in improved sorting and processing but without an end market for products made from recycled plastic products and packaging, we won’t see the adequate technology and capability investment.
As a case study for how government policy, industry partnership and consumer demand can enable meaningful circular economy development, Bansal discussed Cleanaway’s joint venture facility with Pact and Asahi that’s targeting the recycling of the equivalent of one billion plastic PET bottles each year.
Fed by the clean plastic being collected from the NSW container deposit scheme and Cleanaway’s plastic recovery facility in Melbourne, the new $45 million facility in Albury will leverage the plastic processing expertise of Pact, with Asahi creating the pellet offtake demand for use in their bottle manufacturing.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then the right environment has been created to drive forward the circular economy for plastics in Australia. Cleanaway is ready to embrace the opportunity and looks forward to the next stage in its mission of making a sustainable future possible for all Australians.