Ahead of this year’s Australasian Waste & Recycling Expo, four industry experts share their views on innovation, best practice and future mega-trends in waste and recycling, both in Australia and abroad.
The following Q&A features Kresse Wesling, co-founder of Elvis & Kresse; David Newman, president of the International Solid Waste Association; Michael Magalhaes, regional waste and environmental manager of East Arnhem Regional Council; and Damien Giurco, Professor of Resource Futures at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney.
What are the waste and recycling trends to watch in 2017?
Kresse Wesling: I think the next few years will be about taking wastes up the value chain – far too many materials are hitting the market at their lowest commodity prices.
David Newman: Our industry moves slowly so don’t expect rapid changes. I would signal two possible trends: One, the use of robotics, microchips and data interpretation in the management of collection systems and recycling markets; and two, consolidation. Low energy and raw material prices are pressuring our industry, while falling waste volumes reduce income from gate fees. To achieve larger volumes and greater efficiencies and improve return on investments, consolidation is inevitable.
Michael Magalhaes: I’m looking forward to further developments in the creation of new national product stewardship programs and roll-over and implementation of container deposit schemes.
Damien Giurco: In Australia, 2017 will see progress in container deposit systems in NSW, then Queensland and perhaps beyond – plus product stewardship including for batteries and solar PV. Hopefully 2017 also sees the growing problem of plastic litter reaching the ocean gain more attention.
What can Australian small to medium businesses learn from larger companies or international examples?
Wesling: In the UK, most of the genuine innovation comes from the SMEs. I think SMEs need to be the leaders as incumbents are often too slow. The best thing for Australian SMEs is to be the innovators and then, perhaps, to partner with the larger companies to scale or roll-out their innovations.
Newman: Markets count. Don’t be thinking about building waste business models on “the right thing to do” unless this is backed by quantifiable and medium term markets. One example is plastics recycling. Such a fashionable business five to 10 years ago and now in deep crisis, unless supported by heavy subsidies. In the UK and US many have closed. Where governments intervene by imposing taxes or EPR schemes there can be medium-term certainty. Unless there is, stay away.
Magalhaes: Be disruptive and always try to be one step ahead of your competition.
Giurco: The international focus and “mainstreaming” regarding new business models for the circular economy, particularly in Europe but also Asia, are opportunities Australian SMEs can tap into and in fact is the focus of Australian and international research being undertaken in the Wealth from Waste Cluster.
What is the number one waste and recycling innovation you would like to see by 2020?
Wesling: I would like to see two things. First, a ban on the production, import or export of any consumer good that can’t be recycled in the market it is being sold to; and secondly, a deposit on all of these things so they can find their way into recycling systems and not into the oceans.
Newman: I would love to see our waste collected globally and taken to a safe landfill. Thirty per cent of all waste remains uncollected and dumped into the environment – the sea, rivers, lakes, backyards, fields, burnt in open dumps. Billions of tons of waste. There is a shocking level of pollution as a result, globally. So no, I couldn’t care less if we have a technological revolution in developed countries’ waste industries while waste is poorly managed in developing countries. This is the real innovation we all need urgently.
Magalhaes: I would like for waste to be billed to households per weight of waste collected, with [radio-frequency identification] tags in containers and weighting scales in the bin lift. This would really make people look differently at the amount of waste they produce and influence their decisions. There is lots of potential for small and medium businesses in the development, sales and improvement of these systems.
Giurco: By 2020, I’d like to see in-country recycling of electronic waste, lithium batteries and PV cells, for example using compact, scalable micro-factories which could take the recycling infrastructure to the waste (especially in regional locations) rather than transporting all the waste to centralised points. Australian SMEs could then export the technology and know-how to the world.
Wesling, Newman, Magalhaes and Giurco will be speaking at the ENVIRO Keynote Session at AWRE, which will be held on the 10-11 August 2016 at the Sydney Showground.