Why our recycling recovery rate has changed

Our monthly statistics are going to look a bit different from now on. We’ll explain why, and how a short term issue is going to lead to long term industry improvements.

Plastic Export ban comes into effect

As you will probably be aware, in December 2020 the Australian Federal government passed the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act. As a result of this legislation, companies can only export waste plastics by complying with the Recycling and Waste Reduction (Export—Waste Plastics) Rules 2021 with the first stage of the rules coming into force in July 2021.

This has been an important step for the industry, and Total Green Recycling supports the increased regulation for waste and mixed recyclate exportation. 

James Coghill – Director and Evan Cocks – General Manager, showing the Minister for the Environment around Total Green Recycling preceding the E-waste to landfill and Export bans

Industry funding to stimulate domestic recycling infrastructure

The regulations were designed to stimulate Australia’s domestic plastic recycling infrastructure.  The Federal Government is investing $250m to the Recycling Modernisation Fund (Fund), which will get to $1B with contributions from states, territories, and Industry.  The Fund is a national initiative to expand Australia’s capacity to sort, process and remanufacture plastic, glass, tyres, paper and cardboard. 

Optical Sorting Machine uses colour technology to keep plastic separate from other waste streams, such as our circuit board stream. Allowing us to send a much purer stream to our downstream recyclers.

Temporary impact of new regulations

Total Green Recycling previously exported its plastic to reputable downstream recyclers in Hong Kong and Malaysia. As required by AS5377, Total Green Recycling audits all of its downstream vendors to ensure waste streams are being processed correctly. Unfortunately plastic and other waste streams have a history of being sent to overseas landfills and unsafe recycling facilities where a large proportion of plastic enters waterways. The Government export ban is welcomed to ensure all plastic is managed safely. However in the short term it has impacted our recycling recovery rate. There is currently no Australian recycling solution for mixed e-waste plastic, which contains brominated flame retardants. This is an Industry wide issue for electronic recyclers.

Through our partnership with Melbourne based Scipher Technologies, we are actively assessing different technologies that will enable mixed e-waste plastics to be sorted into their different polymer types, which can then be recycled effectively. This requires complex process engineering and will take some time, but we’re working on it.

To avoid the gamut of issues that stockpiling leads to including the increased fire risk, it was decided that Total Green Recycling would landfill the plastic output of our recycling process until there is a safe, environmentally compliant and sustainable recycling solution. 

Recycling is still the best outcome

While plastic makes up a significant portion of e-waste, Total Green Recycling is still achieving a diversion from landfill of 72%. This recovery includes important materials to keep in the circular economy, including: ferrous, non-ferrous and precious metals which can be returned to our manufacturing industry. Not only do we recover a variety of valuable assets, but we also prevent hazardous materials from being improperly managed and ending up in the environment, such as leaded CRT glass and mercury tubes from televisions.

Total Green Recycling staff picking out contamination at our second stage of processing

We also continue to play a leading role in the mitigation of battery fires within WA through our management of batteries in the electronic waste stream, ensuring they are safely handled, recycled and that the metals contained within are kept in the circular economy and out of the ground.

We have prided ourselves on diverting over 90% of materials from landfill since 2008. However on balance we believe landfill to be the best possible outcome in the present situation. Our statistics and reporting is now reflecting this interim outcome of plastic going to landfill.

Ultimately this will lead to a more active circular economy in Australia and will positively impact our manufacturing and recycling industries. 

An example of broken circuit boards that go on to provide kilograms of precious metals back into the manufacturing industry, greatly needed for the future of the circular economy.