The convergence of a boom in infrastructure with a heightened focus on Australia’s approach to waste and recycling creates the perfect opportunity for progression of the nation’s circular economy.

With a committed forward pipeline of over $200 billion in infrastructure works across Australia as we attempt to keep pace with population growth, our recycling and remanufacturing sector is poised to play a significant role.

Central to that is the Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) commitment to establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

“We want this ban to start next year. In tandem with this ban, we’re also building Australia’s domestic capacity to produce high-value recycled materials and commodities,” says Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, the Hon Trevor Evans MP.

While maximising the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste will require significant upfront investment for the remanufacturing of some commodities, the tyre recycling sector is already geared up for growth.

Jim Fairweather, CEO of Australia’s leading tyre recycler Tyrecycle says the flow-on effects of a ban on the export of whole-baled tyres and casings from old truck tyres would be a massive win for the environment.

“The tyres we process are all recycled using a series of shredders, screens and granulators, to create commodities for use as raw materials in the manufacture of new products, including civil work applications such as roads and infrastructure,” Mr Fairweather says.

Unfortunately, however, other sectors of the industry continue to either landfill or bale tyres for export overseas,” he says.

Australia exports around 70-thousand tonnes of whole-baled tyres every year, which are then burned as fuel for heat drying kilns or used in low-grade pyrolysis plants, associated with high pollution and lack of compliance with health and worker regulations.

A ban on exports will see those tyres remain in Australia where the capability already exists to recycle and re-purpose those tyres into products including asphalt for road surfacing, tile adhesive, soft fall and sporting surfaces and tyre derived fuel (TDF).

“Given the markets already exist for those commodities, the transition would be relatively seamless, especially if Government regulation is accompanied by strong procurement policies, which facilitate access to Australia’s $600b annual procurement value – a large percentage of which is government procurement,” Mr Fairweather says.

Encouragingly, it’s a position supported by the Federal Government as it seeks to achieve significant circular economy outcomes.

“The COAG agreement to ban waste exports is a game-changer for our recycling and waste industry. But we also know that growing the markets for recycled products is critical. Governments, businesses and communities all have a role in growing these markets by purchasing more things that are made from recycled materials — from using recycled rubber, plastics or glass in road construction, to procuring recycled paper and packaging,” Mr Evans says.

Last year the Victorian government committed to a “recyclables first” procurement policy, using its considerable purchasing power to drive demand for local recycled products and its hoped other governments will follow suit in adopting ambitious targets.

Early next month, all of Australia’s Environment Ministers will decide on a timetable to implement the COAG agreement to ban waste exports, along with an Action Plan to implement the 2018 National Waste Policy.

“Through this Action Plan, we want to see governments in all jurisdictions commit to ambitious sustainable procurement targets, including procurement for major infrastructure projects,” Mr Evans says.

“Ambitious targets for all governments to increase their procurement of recycled products will encourage investment and innovation, create new jobs in waste processing and remanufacturing, and will be critical to ensuring that we grow the size and value of the recycling industry in Australia”. 

It’s an encouraging message for companies like Tyrecycle.

“It will certainly give private operators like us the confidence they need to continue to continue to invest and build remanufacturing facilities and to embrace emerging technologies,” Mr Fairweather says.

Tyrecycle, a division of leading re-manufacturer Resource Co, operates 9 secure processing facilities across the country, including Australia’s largest crumbing plant in Somerton Victoria and has the largest network of collection capabilities, with full chain of custody transparency.

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