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August 24, 2010

Inside Waste Weekly

Debate raises questions over affect of CDS on kerbside recycling

We might be waiting for the release of the Regulatory Impact Statement into a national container deposit system (CDS), but the debate still rages on possible impacts on waste contractors and recyclers of such a system. Contractors and MRF operators fear that kerbside recycling could be reduced under CDS while proponents claim that the current system would be better off.

In NSW, where 96% of the population has access to kerbside recycling and the collection of comingled recyclables each year equates to around 37% of all household waste, for some there is a lot at stake.

Representing the views of the Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW, Tony Khoury spoke at a briefing on August 19.

“In some cases there may be no cost, in other cases there may be some significant matters that need to be resolved, especially where the value of that container commodity is being used to partially subsidise collection costs,” he said.

Of the 152 councils in NSW, around 80% offer a kerbside recycling service, compromising countless contracts with waste collectors.

“If you do a big matrix of all that…of all the contracts that are out there, and the lengths and conditions, and then try and quantify and put a value on that…you’d be talking in millions,” said Khoury.

Some research shows that a (CDS) can compete with the kerbside recycling by diverting materials of value away, leaving the high-volume, low-value materials to be picked up by the kerbside recycling scheme.

“I’ve got an example that one member’s given me that in 2007 a MRF (materials recovery facility) processed 25,000 tonnes of recyclables and of that…8,600 tonnes was just containers.

“If those items were to be mostly removed from the domestic system then the costs would have to be offset…so there would be a higher charge to councils over time to offset the fact that we’ve taken 8,600 tonnes out of that system,” said Khoury.

Also speaking at the same briefing, the Total Environment Centre’s, Jeff Angel, said “CDL (container deposit legislation) does not hurt kerbside, the last three studies have proven this…how many more economic studies do we need to prove that kerbside is not hurt by container deposits.

“The existence of a kerbside system does not translate automatically into opposition of a container deposit system. And in fact when you look at the actual cost of kerbside versus an efficient container deposit system they’re more or less comparable per tonne.”

He said that local councils support container deposits “almost comprehensively” across Australia.

The NSW strategy (2007) is targeting 66% recycling of municipal waste by 2014, up from a baseline of 26%.

Despite the fact that some raw material are becoming scarcer and more expensive to extract, recycling levels have plateaued in Australia since 2003 while people’s concern over climate change and littering have increased.

Proponents of CDS cite the South Australian example which has achieved a recycling rate of around 80% of beverage containers, suggesting that the same rate nationally could see 512,000 tonnes diverted from landfill.
“We used to be a leader in recycling, we’re now falling behind,” said Angel.

“I think yes, we’ve done well at kerbside but people are now looking at the next era.”

Angel said a study had shown that more than 80% of people were willing to redeem containers and did not consider it inconvenient, and using container deposits could eliminate problematic glass contamination from kerbside collections.

“Most importantly, is that container deposits set up a financial model that will support hundreds of new drop off centres that won’t only take beverage containers but will also be able to receive some of the problem materials that reside in kerbside such as e-waste and batteries,” said Angel, adding that a CDS is not dependent on government funding.

“You have a large pool of unredeemed deposits, because you rarely get beyond 80%,” he said, “they are held in a big pool under a government administration and that pool of funds…is used to also support the operation of the system.”

But Khoury made the point that if the NSW government could not be trusted to apportion some of its waste levy revenue to support commercial recycling then what would become of the unredeemed deposits from a CDS, which could be as much as $250 million.

“They’ve let us down in relation to the waste levy. How can we be sure the funds will stay in the recycling and container community?” he said.

Putting plastic bottles in landfill is OK: latest research

According to a recent report released by SRI Consulting, countries that have plenty of space but little or no recycling infrastructure for plastic bottles should not be too worried. The study suggests sending the bottles to landfill results in a lower carbon footprint than recycling or incineration. It does so by calculating the carbon footprint for PET plastic drinks bottles from production of raw materials (primarily oil and gas) through to disposal of all wastes.

The study, Plastic-Bottle Recycling: Not Always Lowest-Carbon Option, addresses two key questions: should we recycle plastics; and what are the carbon footprints of virgin and recycled PET (vPET and rPET)?

SRI, which describes itself as “the world’s leading business research service for the global chemical industry”, found three main results. Firstly, incineration creates the highest carbon footprint when it comes to the disposal of PET bottles. Even if the resulting energy from incineration generates power and heat, the net affect is still heat positive.

Secondly, shipping recyclables long distances to countries like China leaves a small carbon footprint, countering the assumptions of sustainability experts who frown on the shipping of baled PET bottles across the Pacific.

And thirdly, recycled bottles have a lower carbon footprint than virgin PET, so manufacturers that churn products like straps, films, and fabric out of recycled PET should be able to claim that their goods are lower-carbon than those made from new PET.

Community programs that include plastic bottle take-back, mandated garbage separation, or bottle deposits have a higher diversion rate. But for areas without such options, sending PET bottles to the landfill may be the best option.

Mike Arné, assistant director of SRI’s Carbon Footprint Initiative, said “the key to this is not in raising collection rates, but in improving yields, especially in sorting and to a lesser extent in reprocessing. For countries without a recycling infrastructure, the best choice may well be to landfill bottles”.

Developing nations that struggle with waste disposal often send local officials to either incinerating plants like those in Amsterdam, or to cities that have innovative recycling programs. But according to the SRI study, the best option for now would be to just have adequate landfill space; the key is if a region has enough room.

For regions that already have a recycling infrastructure, the aim should be to maximise rPET displacement of vPET, even if this involves long-distance transport to recycling plants.


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