Australian leaders and recycling experts ‘talking trash’ at AWRE
The eighth annual Australasian Waste and Recycling Expo (AWRE), was held in Melbourne at the end of August, and played host to just under 2000 waste management professionals, business leaders and government representatives. The event saw experts discuss climate change, the future of plastic packaging, photovoltaics and how to stop e-waste from choking our landfills.
The expo showcases the most innovative products and technology in waste management and brings together leaders and experts focused on finding cost-effective solutions to Australia’s biggest waste and recycling challenges.
Expert speakers headlined event, including Libby Chaplin, CEO of the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative, Rose Read, CEO of MRI E-cycle Solutions, Martin Tower, executive director of the Australian Organics Recycling Association, and Aquapak Polymers’ Dr John Williams, an expert on ‘the New Plastics Economy’. They sought to answer key questions currently facing the industry, including:
- How can Australia prepare its recycling infrastructure for the future when the country is expected to generate 80 million tonnes of waste per year by 2040?
- What should we be doing with our photovoltaic panels (PVs) once the equipment is no longer useable?
- What are ‘smart plastics?’ and how could plastics that are 100 percent recyclable, biodegradable and non-toxic change the way we live?
Over the last 20 years, Australia’s population has risen by 28 percent while its waste production has skyrocketed by 170 percent. Much of that waste includes plastic, with an estimated 20,700 tonnes of plastic ending up in Australian landfills every year.
“Let’s face it – plastic is here to stay,” says Dr Williams, an expert in technologies and markets for renewable materials and advisor to the UK government. “The fact that we are not very good at disposing of it shouldn’t stop us from using it. We need to move towards much more intelligent materials which are not only designed for front-end functionality, but also for back-end ‘circular economy’ principles of recovery.
“Aquapak Polymers is preparing to launch a plastic that’s 100 percent recyclable, 100 percent biodegradable and non-toxic.”
Another hot topic issue this year is the growing movement to ban e-waste from Australian landfills nationwide and to expand the scope of products covered under government regulation.
What to do about e-waste
“Regulations requiring businesses that import TVs, computers and printers to provide free recycling options have already diverted 184,500 tonnes of e-waste from landfills since 2012 – a 40 percent increase,” says Rose Read from MRI E-cycle Solutions. “But the initiative still doesn’t include many of the other gadgets and electronics that we use every day – many of which contain potential materials that can be harmful if not disposed of properly.
“We must expand the scope of the regulations to include a wider range of electronics and ensure the safe processing of e-waste to further minimise the impact on human health and the environment.”
When waste is a wasted resource
Experts say it’s not just electronics that can cause a problem in landfills. Organic waste such as food scraps and garden waste can be among the most dangerous product in our landfills. However, as Martin Tower from Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) explains, developing a circular economy for surplus organic material represents an opportunity to many sectors of the community and economy.
“Having worked hard to produce food over the last 80-plus years, our agricultural soils are badly in need of a health boost, and appropriately composted and contamination-free composts offer this tonic,” says Tower. “The health improvements allow soils to sustain higher yields and farm profits by growing healthier crops with less fertilisers reducing nutrient leaching and retaining more moisture. The environmental outcomes include less nutrient runoff, reduced fertiliser usage, increased soil carbon sequestration and reduced organic waste to landfill. AORA is leading the industry in the development of the industry.”
AWRE 2017 attendees learned more about organics and e-waste in the event’s dedicated Industry Zones and explore the most innovative products on the market from more than 100 leading brands.
“New technology is fast-tracking growth and efficiency in the waste management and recycling industry, which now employs more than 8000 people in Australia,” explains AWRE event director Andrew Lawson. “AWRE is all about connecting industry professionals and government leaders with the best minds and innovations to ensure we help businesses reduce production and disposal costs and increase competitiveness while leaving a better world for future generations.”
For more information, including a full list of speakers and exhibitors, visit: awre.com.au.