The Council of Australian Governments recently agreed to establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high-value recycled commodities, demand and capability in industry. Australia’s waste strategy must reduce waste, especially plastic, decrease the amount going to landfill and maximise the capability of the waste management and recycling sector to collect, reuse, recycle and convert waste.
University of NSW Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla, who invented the ‘Green Steel’ technology that diverts millions of vehicle tyres from landfill, has commended the federal, state and local government leaders for their agreement, and says her newer ‘Microfactory’ technology is a ready-made answer to the council’s goals.
“The heads of governments in Australia tasked Environment Ministers to advise on a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders, and the Prime Minister said the timetable would be left up to the States, but I can’t help thinking that scientifically developed methods such as our Microfactory technology is ready to go from lab scale to commercial scale to accelerate the COAG goals,” she says.
“Importantly, this type of micro-recycling science not only addresses the waste and environmental issues, but creates a whole new circular economy where materials are kept in use for as long as possible and can help local manufacturers create new products and items from reformed waste.”
Professor Sahajwalla and her team of scientists, engineers and materials experts have invented processes that can transform waste items like glass and textiles, including clothing, into flat ceramic building products, and electronic waste into valuable plastic filament for 3D printing and metal alloys.
“This coordinated decision to ban the exporting of our recyclable materials to countries that are increasingly resistant to taking our waste is a real game-changer in terms of enabling the spread of home-grown research innovations for the benefit of local industries,” she says.
“For example, we can take almost all waste plastic and turn it into a new, highly valuable commodity, 3D plastic filament, which is now mostly imported from overseas. We can deploy this Microfactory technology in rural and regional areas where waste is stockpiled and bring local industries and councils together to create new solutions.
“In fact, we should accept from overseas selected waste resources that contain valuable materials so that we could transform them into niche materials and in turn export them by using our Microfactory technology to deliver clean and sustainable materials to the world.”
UNSW Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Nicholas Fisk says: “It’s time to rethink attitudes to all of the materials we discard and instead see them as renewable resources if we want to reduce our reliance on finite resources with major impact on the environment. This UNSW innovation promises to boost local manufacturers by providing novel opportunities through new supply chains.”