WA builds capacity to recycle onshore

03/11/2021 - 14:34

With several projects under way, the state also needs to develop markets for its recycled products in pursuit of a circular economy.

WA builds capacity to recycle onshore
Daniel Taylor is working on a unique circular economy model. Photo: David Henry

More than 11 recycling infrastructure projects are in the works to increase Western Australia’s capacity to deal with its waste onshore and establish a re-use economy.

According to the Waste Authority, 781,684 tonnes of recovered waste materials was exported internationally in 2019-20.

But over the next three years, the federal government is gradually banning the export of waste, plastics, tyres and paper. 

A ban on the export of glass was implemented on January 1 this year and a ban on mixed plastics came into effect on July 1.

A ban to regulate waste tyres starts on December 1.

(view a PDF version of this special report)

The export of single resin plastics will be discontinued from July 2022 and paper and cardboard exports will be banned from July 2024.

A spokesperson for the WA Department of Water and Environmental Regulation said materials already affected by the bans, glass and mixed plastics, were being processed interstate. 

To increase WA’s processing power, the state and federal governments contributed $70 million to nine recycling projects in February.

Five of the funded projects were tyre recycling facilities, three were for plastics reprocessing and one was for a pulp mill to process paper and cardboard. 

The nine projects will process a combined 240,000 tonnes of waste a year when they become operational over the next few years. 

The largest commitment was $30 million to Suez and Auswaste’s $86 million pulp mill, which is expected to be operational before the ban on exporting mixed paper comes into effect on July 1, 2024. No date has been set and a location is yet to be confirmed. 

Cleanaway and Pact Group Holdings were awarded $9.5 million for a recycling plant to process four types of plastics, HDPE, PET, LDPE and PP, into polymers to be used in plastic packaging. 

According to Cleanaway, the plant will see more than 17,000 tonnes of kerbside waste plastic processed into almost 14,000 tonnes of resin and polymer flake. 

A location is yet to be chosen for the plant, but Cleanaway said it would be in an industrial area in Perth and would be operational in the first half of 2023. 

Chairay Sustainable Plastic Company was awarded $5.6 million for a plastics reprocessing plant, which it will open in stages over the next two years. 

By December, its sorting and flaking functions will be operational.

In December 2022, it will have the capacity to flake PET and HPDE and in December 2023 it will create PET and HDPE pellets. 

The company is part of the Taiwan-based Ming Fu Group, which has been involved in the waste industry for 40 years. 

According to Chairay Sustainable Plastic Company purchase manager, Ruben Geisler, the company has established plastics markets, after exporting plastic scrap from several WA material recovery facilities and the container deposit scheme to its existing plastics reprocessing facility in Taiwan. 

The group has agreements with the Taiwanese textile industry for PET and supplied the Japanese automobile industry with HDPE.

The third plastic processing facility will be operated by D&M Waste Management, which received $800,000 to get its plant running. 

The Kwinana Beach facility will be operating by March 2022 and has the capacity to process between 1,500 and 2,500 tonnes of waste plastic a year. 

D&M Waste Management has proposed a unique circular economy model, where waste pipes will be made into pellets and given to its sister company Hydra Storm to manufacture new corrugated HDPE drainage pipes. 

“The waste pipe will go into our pipe shredder, through the granulation, cleaning and repelletisation process and will feed our HDPE pellets into their pipe production plant,” D&M Waste Management general manager Daniel Taylor said.

Mr Taylor said the company was applying for additional funding for a 3D printer to encourage the use of recycled materials in the community. 

He said the state’s access to recycled HDPE was unreliable and was often ‘off spec’, deterring people from using it. 

“We think there is a real opportunity here for local producers to have a bit of trial and error with RHDPE (plastic made from recycled high-density polythene) and see what they can come up with and create some more circular products,” Mr Taylor said. 

Several new tyre processing projects are also under way but will not be completed when the export ban comes into play on December 1.

Tyrecycle, one of Australia’s biggest recyclers, is opening two new facilities in WA: one in Port Hedland as a joint venture with Kariyarra Aboriginal Corporation to process mining tyres and one in Perth. 

Tyrecycle chief executive Jim Fairweather said the company was close to securing land for its Perth site to replace its existing facility in O’Connor. 

The site will have capacity to process between 35,000 and 40,000 tonnes and be operational by Christmas in 2022. 

He said the Port Hedland site would be able to process tyres in some capacity in a few months but the plant would not be fully operational for some time.  

When it is running at full capacity, it will be able to process about 30,000 to 35,000 tyres per annum. 

The Perth plant will use Eldan Recycling equipment imported from Denmark to shred and crumb tyres to produce tyre-derived fuel. 

With eight plants in operation in Australia, Tyrecycle has established partners to sell its product, mainly overseas.

Mr Fairweather said export markets would be important for some years to come while the domestic market grew. 

“Domestic opportunities in steel manufacturing, domestic opportunities in cement kilns, domestic opportunities in any high-energy manufacturing environment that requires thermal energy is a potential outlet for tyre-derived fuel,” Mr Fairweather told Business News

Complete Tyre Solutions has bought the same equipment from Denmark to establish its facility in Jandakot. 

The company, led by managing director Leigh Cometti, already offers tyre services, including fitting and repairing. 

Mr Cometti said as the company was already a custodian of waste tyres, it made sense to get involved in recycling them. 

Its facility is about to be built and will start to receive waste in mid-next year and start processing in July or August 2022. 

Malaga-based 4M Waste received a grant to scale up its operation processing from about 600 tonnes of tyres per annum to more than 7,000 tyres a year. 

4M Waste co-founder and director Mark Waller said the project would be at full capacity within a year. 

Mr Waller said the company had been able to produce a rubber crumb that met Main Roads Western Australia requirements and was supplying this to asphalt plants to use in the state’s road network.

“We have also been working with local universities on research and development processes to expand the use of rubber crumb into concrete products,” Mr Waller said. 

Existing tyre recycler Elan Energy Matrix received a $357,867 grant to establish a new tyre processing plant in Welshpool, due to be operational within the next six months. 

The company is using a potentially controversial technique called tyre pyrolysis to break tyres down into milled steel, crude oil and carbon matrix. 

A Tyre Stewardship Australia guide from 2020 said there was yet to be a long-term commercially successful tyre pyrolysis enterprise, processing large volumes of tyres on an ongoing basis in any jurisdictions that have regulatory and environmental requirements comparable to those in Australia. 

Projects in process 

There are several other waste and recycling projects in the works to deal with the state’s waste.

Two waste-to-energy plants are being built in Perth’s south. 

Avertas Energy, backed by Macquarie Capital, is building a waste-to-energy facility in Kwinana, which will process about 400,000 tonnes of waste annually. It will be completed in the second half of 2022. 

East Rockingham Waste to Energy is building a similar facility.

The $511 million project will process 300,000 tonnes of waste per year and will be fully operational by the end of 2022. 

Western Power has completed the substation and transmission line works to export 224,000 megawatts to the South West Interconnected System, an electricity grid in the South West of WA. 

The East Rockingham project is backed by a consortium that includes investor John Laing and technology provider Hitachi Zosen Inova, which has developed more than 500 similar projects. 

It won a public tender to process residual waste from the Western Metropolitan Regional Council in September 2021. 

In its 2020 annual report, the Waste Authority said while it supported waste-to-energy projects, it only recommended they processed residual or post-recycling waste to ensure as many materials could be recovered as possible.

Markets 

National Waste and Recycling Industry Council chief executive Rose Read said the WA government had been on the front foot in preparing for the bans and awarding grants. 

However, Ms Read said now the infrastructure was being built, markets needed to be established for the products. 

“Giving grants is really good in terms of building a processing plant but if the governments aren’t preferentially purchasing recycled materials as part of their infrastructure build, then it doesn’t happen,” Ms Read told Business News

Ms Read used Roads for Reuse, a program to use construction and demolition waste, as an example of taking recycled product and using it in government projects (see page 34). 

A spokesperson for the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation said the purchasing of products made locally from recycled plastics and tyres was being promoted in government procurement processes. 

Ms Read said some types of plastics were quite easy to resell. 

“If you have a clean, sorted bale of PET or HDPE there are markets overseas, definitely, there are strong markets for those,” she said. 

“People are looking for it, the demand for recycled plastics is high as there is more expectation to put recycled plastic into bottles and other packaging.” 

WA’s 2022 ban on single-use plastics will also reduce the number of unrecyclable plastics in circulation. 

Organics

Organic waste was not covered by the export bans or targeted with grant funding in February, but Encycle Consulting principal waste consultant Jenny Campbell said more infrastructure was needed to process the material. 

Ms Campbell said councils were delaying the rollout of the FOGO (food organics garden organics) scheme because there wasn’t enough capacity in the state to process the material. 

She said processing FOGO presented business challenges because it needed to be uncontaminated to fetch high market prices. 

“The challenge with FOGO is it can be quite contaminated because people don’t separate properly and so that then creates problems down the supply chain because people don’t want a contaminated product going on their land,” Ms Campbell said. 

Existing organics projects include C-Wise, Go Organics and Pure Earth. 

In 2016, ASX-listed Delorean Corporation built and designed a project which converts organic waste into energy and compost. 

The facility, now run by Richgro Garden, can process up to 50,000 tonnes of waste and is licensed to process 30,000 tonnes. 

Circular economy 

Ms Campbell said the state still had a long way to go in ensuring it was dealing with its waste in the most environmentally friendly way. 

“There will be solutions for materials but whether it’s the best solution is going to be the issue,” Ms Campbell told Business News

For example, she said, glass bottles could not be reprocessed in WA and while some go to South Australia, some are also recycled into road base, which was a lower-value material. 

“It’s downcycling rather than trying to keep those materials to their highest and best value,” she said. 

Ms Campbell said a circular economy model was needed, where materials are kept in good condition and could be used multiple times. 

“It’s all about trying to keep materials circulating in the economy and keeping them at their best use,” Ms Campbell said. 

“That’s really where the whole globe needs to work towards, minimising the number of raw materials we extract and keeping what we have got currently circulating in the economy around and around again.”

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