Recycler group raises concerns about lack of plastic processing capacity

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council has called 2021 a “foundational year” for reusing recovered resources, as well as a test for its industry, which is “particularly concerned” by pressures caused by a lack of plastic processing capacity.

NWRIC, an industry representative group, said that the introduction of export bans last year created a testing time for recyclers. At the same time, federal and state government-level initiatives and funding helped make 2021 notable for “supplying recovered resources to the packaging, manufacturing and infrastructure sectors” and for energy generation.

The first phase of the federal plastic ban from July 2021 required waste export licenses and only permitted export of waste of single polymer types or that had been reprocessed into fuel. The second phase limits exports to those “single resin or polymer type and further processed, for example flaked or pelletised” or converted into fuel and comes into effect this July.

“There have been challenges for companies in getting permits approved in a timely manner which has been further complicated by delays in building additional sorting capacity for mixed plastics,” said NWRIC CEO Rose Read of bans introduced through 2021.  

“These delays have placed significant short-term financial and stock management challenges on companies.” 

Read also said that based on the federal-funded Recycling Modernisation Fund (which is being matched with co-funding from states and territories) it was unclear that capacity existed to locally process the 50,000 tonnes of baled plastic (mainly PET, HDPE, LDPE) exported in 2020-21. This would be worth approximately $15.5 million.

“This is a significant loss of legitimate export revenue for Australia if the baled plastics can’t be processed commercially in country,” said Read.

The priorities update also cited potential issues around the scheduled waste mixed paper export ban (July 2024) and said the group advocated for a ban on exports of unprocessed scrap metal “that can contain up to 30 per cent of non-metal wastes”.

Picture: Pact Group

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