INSIGHT: Australia, UK investing in their sustainable futures

Author: Matt Tudball


LONDON (ICIS)--Since the beginning of July, both the UK and Australia have announced significant investments in reaching their own individual sustainability commitments, taking steps that will bring each country closer to meeting its sustainability goals.

Australia is committing to a very ambitious waste reduction plan, while the UK is investing £1.4m in grants in its UK Circular Plastics Flagship Projects, overseen by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

On 6 July, Australia’s  environment minister, Sussan Ley, and assistant waste reduction minister, Trevor Evans, announced an AUS$1bn waste and recycling plan to help transform the waste industry in the county.

The government stated it will commit AUS$190m to a new Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) that will generate AUS$600m of recycling investment and drive a billion-dollar transformation of Australia’s waste and recycling capacity.

“As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy,” Ley said.

Australia has a national resource recovery target of 80% by 2030. The country also implemented a National Waste Policy Action Plan in 2019, banning the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia exported around 1.4m tonnes of plastic, paper, glass and tyres in 2018-19.

It is also looking for brands and the industry to help meet its targets.

“As we pursue National Waste Policy Action Plan targets, we need manufacturers and industry to take a genuine stewardship role that helps create a sustainable circular economy,” Ley said.

The country is looking to grow its recycling capabilities, with companies such as Asahi Beverages and Pact Group Holdings leading the way with investments in a plastics recycling facility.

Evans said:  “Companies are already moving with The Pact Group announcing a $500 million investment in facilities, research and technology, Coca-Cola Amatil committing to new recycling targets, and Pact, Cleanaway and Asahi Beverages establishing a $30m recycling facility in Albury.”

In February, Pact and Asahi, together with Cleanaway Waste Management Ltd., announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to develop a local plastic pelletising facility with the capacity to process up to 28,000 tonnes of plastics bottles each year. The facility is anticipated to be operation by December 2021.

Speaking of the challenges and opportunities Australia faces when it comes to recycling, Senior Analyst for Recycling at ICIS, Helen McGeough said: “Australia is a market that has been a net exporter of plastic waste [so it has] very limited capacity to reprocess plastics domestically.

“With the ban on exports this poses real challenges in terms of building sufficient capacity within the designated timeframe both in terms of sorting and recycling, as well as the end markets to use the recycled products.”

However, this new policy could put Australia ahead of some European countries in terms of building a domestic recycling market.

“[The change in policy and waste exports] does provide plenty of opportunity to develop the waste sector and leapfrog to the a truly circular economy with the best systems and technology in the market, either learning from best practices elsewhere in the world or establishing new practices of its own.  It would appear that the challenges are as great as the opportunities,” McGeough added.

In the same week as the Australian government’s announcement, the UK’s WRAP announced the second round of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) competition, allocating £475,000 for Refill Infrastructure projects as part of its wider innovation project to find solutions to plastic waste.

WRAP and UKRI are investing in a £1.4m grant programme to support the delivery of the UK Government’s target of achieving zero avoidable plastic waste by end of 2042 and the objectives of The UK Plastics Pact.

These include:

  • 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable;
  • 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted;
  • Take actions to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging items through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery models;
  • A minimum of 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.

The first round of the UKRI competition saw the announcement in May of four successful projects get funding totalling nearly £1m.

More details can be found on WRAP’s website, but in summary, the four projects included developments to  remove colour and additives from polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) plastic while also preparing it for end users; develop a novel packaging solution for a UK bleach product that includes a higher percentage (>70%) of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic in high density PE (HDPE) bottles; and an innovative, contaminated film separation technique to achieve full recovery of PE, PP, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and aluminium from multi-layered packaging waste.

Speaking in May at the announcement of the winning projects, the Director of WRAP UK, Peter Maddox, said:

“We have been very impressed with the diverse range of inventive and creative solutions submitted to the competition. The four winning projects will make a significant contribution to reducing the harmful effects of plastic on the environment, as well as increasing the amount that can be recycled.”

Duncan Wingham, the Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council, part of UKRI, said:

“Plastic pollution is extremely damaging to our natural environment and a major issue for society. UKRI is funding a broad range of research that can contribute to solving the problem. These successful proposals offer exciting, innovative ideas that could help us recycle plastic and reduce waste.”

As the coronavirus pandemic has has spread , sustainability has been sidelined in light of more pressing health issues, but these two announcement show that governments have not eased up on the matter.

With less than five years until the EU’s target for 25% recycled content in all PET (polyethylene terephthalate) beverage bottles comes into force in 2025, EU member states need to ensure they do not drop the sustainability ball during these difficult times. It is encouraging, then, to see recycling investment still receiving the attention it requires.

Click here to see regulatory targets and a list of chemical and mechanical recyclers on the ICIS Circular Economy topic page.

Click here to keep up to date on the latest news about COVID-19 and its impact on the petrochemical markets

Insight by Matt Tudball