Kerbside Recycling Rethink
27-05-2013

Waste definitions were established for very good reasons and modified over many decades to accommodate the changes in material recovery methods and volumes as well as end user finished product requirements. Unfortunately suppliers and Government decision makers have forgotten that the end users have the final say for what recovered materials and volumes they can recycle. Finally China has had enough of trying to process the poorly sorted or even unsorted waste from other countries. China`s pollution from coal fired power stations is increasing, consequently they must be seen to be taking action in other environmental areas. China also desire more domestic waste recovery and utilisation to reduce imports, so these are all very valid reasons to raise the “Green Fence”.

The consequences have been firm and swift. Containers are being returned to origin including Australia and even a large Chinese company in America who is cancelling contracts with inferior sources of supply. Normally Muslim countries can consume some of the surplus, however with the Ramadan block out from July 22nd to August 18th this window is almost closed. Some Indonesian mills desire to reduce inventories by twenty percent and finished product prices are being discounted, meaning there is worse to come and trading companies will simply not take any risk with MRF origin paper or plastic.

Suppliers will no longer be able to legally write themselves out of any contract quality responsibility. Quality definitions will need to be enforced which most Asian mills are now painfully doing. More manual sorting must be added which will increase losses. Many MRF plants will be forced to close. A flawed comingled recovery and sorting process has now been fully exposed, and how long will landfills absorb the additional 50-60,000 tonnes per month coming back to them? Out dated  loss making MRF`s will close as they can no longer pay the $100 + per tonne processing cost and be paid lower market rates for materials. Collection tenders in the future will be negative for councils with higher charges for rate payers who will either be re-educated or face higher recycling costs.

The remedy is obvious and in the longer term more sustainable to:
*Add additional residential bins to source separate.
*Open less expensive and strategically located material (fibre/plastic/metal/glass) dedicated satellite processing plants.
*Enforce better commercial recycling by ensuring A) all business papers are isolated for confidential destruction, B) all other fibres are in its own receptacle, C) the balance of plastic and metal are placed into a third bin, D) separate glass recovery, E) all food goes into a compost bin.

Nothing new, just returning to when it did work correctly.

The benefits are secondary processing of plastics. Almost no materials to landfill. More employment with smaller dedicated processing plants located closer the waste generator, meaning fewer trucks have better utilisation. It just means back to the future and a serious rethink as the world environmental processes change.