One investor in the Northern Territory has faith that the recycling industry can change in his patch. In fact he’s just invested $3.5 million in a new facility.
Growing pains have been felt by waste operators all over the country in the wake of the National Sword policy brought in by China in early 2018 but for those operating in the more remote spots, such as the Northern Territory, waste management and recycling was already a major challenge.
In fact, general manager of NT Recycling Solutions Dean Caton suspects “NT is up there with the worst in the country” when it comes to recycling rates.
This is because most recyclables, such as plastics and cardboards, are extremely expensive to ship east or south for processing, he told The Fifth Estate. He said that when recycling is so costly it’s more difficult to justify it over landfill.
Mr Caton also said that it doesn’t help that most council contracts aren’t geared in a way that incentivises contractors to improve their waste management services. But he said that some councils, including the Darwin City Council, have started to “invite the conversation” about improving waste management processes and increasing recycling rates.
Furthermore, like elsewhere in the country, the NT experiences its fair share of “rogue” waste operators that engage in illegal or inappropriate dumping.
Mr Caton said this is especially relevant for remote parts of the NT where materials have vast distances to travel so the “easy option is to bury it in a hole in the bush somewhere.”
“It’s likely there’s pits full of materials in the bush that could have been recycled.”
As such, Mr Caton’s waste management and recycling company is among many around the country in support of mandatory licences and a common platform for waste operators. No formal licensing is needed to transport and handle waste at present.
The NT has been ahead of the game in some respects and was also only the second state or territory after South Australia to set up a container deposit scheme.
Further, Mr Caton said that the tide is changing for his local waste industry with more and more people asking questions and thinking about environmental impacts.
That’s why his company was able to confidently invest in $3.5 million in a materials recovery facility (MRF) to replace its manual sorting process.
The facility is also a container deposit drop off point and the MRF was designed to isolate the containers.
The company plans to add glass processing capabilities in the near future so that broken glass can be turned into a product used in render materials and road bases, for instance.
Urgency ramping up on waste policy
The pressure is increasing for the Australian waste industry to overhaul its practices and transition to a circular economy. The chief executive officer of the Waste Management Association of Australia Gayle Sloan told ABC’s RN radio program earlier in the week that the federal government is “kicking the can down the road” on Australia’s circular economy transition.
Australian environment ministers made an “interim” commitment in April last year to make 100 per cent of all packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, or earlier. They also agreed to bring forward an update to the 2009 National Waste Policy, which was expected for release before the end of 2018.