To assist Australian recyclers enhance the volume and value of tradable products in domestic and overseas markets and stimulate domestic re-use of recovered materials, the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) this month delivered the National Recovered Material Specifications for Sorting and Processing Facilities Report to the Commonwealth Government.

NWRIC, with assistance from MRA Consulting, was engaged by the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to consider and recommend national performance standards for primary sorting facilities and secondary processing facilities handling glass, plastics, metals, paper and cardboard, and organics collected through the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) stream.

NWRIC CEO Rick Ralph says by adopting a number of affordable and relatively straightforward measures it’s possible to substantially increase resource recovery rates and better meet end user demand.

“While both minimum and best practice standards are essential, best practice specifications are key to driving resource recovery rates and increasing the quality and commercial value of resources and should be used wherever possible,” Rick says.

The recommendations in the report are informed by a thorough literature review and audit of recovered resource specifications both locally and internationally, material flow mapping, and a comprehensive stakeholder consultation process.

“The review also found that key international markets are increasingly demanding higher standards for recycled products and the proper framework must be in place and easy to access in Australia to allow industry to respond,” Rick says.

“Countries such as China and Malaysia are setting higher quality import specifications which are impacting what Australian sorters and processors can export. We need to protect our trading capacity by having these minimum standards in place.”

The review identified 65 national and international recovered resource specifications for materials collected through the MSW stream: 14 glass, 25 plastic, eight metal, 10 paper and eight organics.

Of these specifications, 38 are national standards or regulations developed by different national or state governments and bodies. The other 27 are international standards developed by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) or other international bodies.

Through the Report, NWRIC has recommended a total of 49 existing sorting and processing specifications for each material type and stage of the recovery process, along with indicative timeframes, responsibilities and practical steps upstream and downstream to achieve each specification.

“Change doesn’t mean an overhaul though. We can achieve this while also ensuring steps are practical to implement, commercially sound, deliver added value back to the resource recovery chain, actually increase resource recovery, and can also adapt to changing technology and market conditions,” Rick says.

“These improvements have the added advantage of helping meet our obligations under the Basel Convention while also contributing to the implementation of the 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan.”

The recommendations include the addition of best practice specifications where minimum specifications already exist to increase the volume and/or value of the resources being recovered; proposed amendments to 11 of the recommended specifications to improve the quality of the resources being recovered; and seven new specifications to address gaps.

The recommended new specifications cover unprocessed glass fines, glass sand specification for filtration and insulation applications, liquid paperboard bale, shredded mixed flexible plastic, advanced recycled feedstock, advanced recycling output (oil) and pulp.

“Importantly, the Report identifies a number of actions, including packaging design, what is accepted in yellow bins and an expansion of container deposit schemes (CDS) that can significantly improve the quality and quantity of resources recovered,” Rick says.

Packaging design should encourage the production of mono-material packaging, ensure caps and rings can easily be removed, avoid pressure-sensitised labels and coloured PET, limit tin content, and reduce the use of metal closures on glass products.

State, territory and local governments should consider not accepting PS and PVC plastics and aerosol cans in yellow bins; only permitting washed, non-composite steel cans and aluminium used beverage cans in yellow bins; and expanding the type of glass and plastic containers collected through CDS, particularly wine bottles.

The recycling industry, with packaging companies, brands and state and federal governments, should jointly invest in upgrading sorting and processing facility equipment to remove contamination from all material types.

To increase confidence and reduce confusion, an online portal should be developed that provides sorters, processors and end users with a free single point of access to all relevant recovered material specifications.

Recyclers are also encouraged to have their outputs independently certified as part of the Australian Recycling Accreditation Program (ARAP) process, as the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) develops a national voluntary accreditation program for Australian recyclers with the Commonwealth Government. This will further increase market confidence in the quality of recovered materials.

“The quality of the resource recovery value chain dictates negotiations between individual seller-buyer contracts. These specifications are about increasing the value and volume of recovered resources and making it easier for sorters and processors to produce high quality recycled outputs,” Rick says.

The full report and its recommendations is available here