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Waste Not Wanted

Kerbside recycling programs around Australia have been thrown into crisis with China recently banning waste imports.  This ban includes waste paper and plastics, of which Australia exports a significant quantity to Asia, particularly China, where it can be processed cheaply.  In response, Australian recyclers are stockpiling these materials, local councils are looking to hike rates, and the future of kerbside recycling has been thrown into doubt.  In addition to threatening the viability of environmentally beneficial recycling programs, waste stockpiles represent a significant fire hazard and air pollution liability;  just last year for instance a recycling plant fire sent plumes of toxic smoke across inner city Melbourne.

Of course, there is one simple way to reuse paper and plastics: burn them for energy.  Waste to energy incineration is commonplace around the world, and with proper pollution controls and ash management it can be done cleanly.  However, there is little appetite in Australia for waste incinerators.  On April 11 for example a large waste-to-energy plant planned for Sydney suffered a major setback, due to "unknown" air quality impacts, following significant community protests.  Waste-to-energy is also being considered in Melbourne, and promoted at the Federal level.  Given the changing recycling environment it will be interesting to see if the "Not in My Backyard" mentality can keep waste incineration off the table in Australia for much longer.




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