Plastic waste can create resources: CSIRO

Emily Woods
(Australian Associated Press)


More than one million tonnes of plastic waste could be diverted from landfill and turned into fuel if Australia adopts advanced recycling technologies, the national science agency says.

Each Australian creates 101 kilograms of plastic waste per year on average, with about 130,000 tonnes of leaking into the environment annually.

About 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste was generated in Australia between 2018 and 2019, but only 393,800 tonnes are recycled each year – just 11.5 per cent.

The country has set a national target for 70 per cent of plastic waste to be recycled or composted by 2025, which new CSIRO research finds can be met if more recycling technologies are adopted and an advanced industry is created.

Currently, flexible or soft plastics like food packaging cannot be recycled if they are contaminated with food.

Advanced recycling – also known as feedstock, molecular or chemical recycling – converts plastic waste that can’t be recycled into its chemical building blocks and then back into plastic for useful resources such as fuel.

The report describes three advanced recycling processes that could be implemented, including purification, depolymerisation and conversion technologies, which can produce light and heavy oil, gas and char.

Not only would adopting these technologies dramatically increase the amount of plastic waste that can be recycled, the waste could then be turned into valuable resources.

“Advanced recycling could process this plastic waste to increase opportunities for the polymer manufacturing and waste sectors by supporting new industries,” CSIRO researcher Sarah King said.

“The North American market is estimated at $120 billion, demonstrating there is economic potential for adopting advanced recycling in Australia.”

It found Australia needed to have a “national discussion” about the range of technologies available, with government support and engagement required to launch an advanced recycling industry.

The nation already has the technical expertise to set up the industry, with existing infrastructure like refineries and steam crackers that can leveraged, the report said.

The research discussed the need for Australia to move to a circular economy, rather than linear, by retaining material in the economy to transition away from non-renewable and non-recyclable resources.

Several countries in Europe are adopting circular economies, including the Netherlands, which is aiming to become a waste-free economy by 2050.


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