Advanced recycling technologies could turn problematic plastic waste destined for landfill into valuable resources.
Portrait of a happy woman working in a recycling factory sorting the garbage and writing on a clipboard.
About 85 per cent of plastic waste generated in Australia ends up in landfill and less than 12 per cent is recycled.

Every Australian generates an average of 101 kilograms of plastic waste per year, including 59 kilograms of single-use plastic waste. Consequently, much of this plastic is hard to recycle so often ends up in landfill.

Advanced recycling technologies could turn problematic plastic waste destined for landfill into valuable resources to tackle this issue.

It is suitable for flexible or soft ‘scrunchable’ plastics used for food packaging, such as food pouches and chocolate wrappers. These types of plastics may be contaminated with food or mixed with other materials so can’t currently be recycled. 

What is advanced recycling?

Feedstock, molecular and chemical recycling are other terms for advanced recycling. It can recycle mixed, multi-layer, contaminated and flexible plastics back into plastic or other valuable products.

The process works by breaking down plastic waste into its chemical building blocks. A range of thermal or biological processes can then turn the building blocks back into plastics. Creating fuel is another use that reduces our need for fossil fuel sources.

The importance of advanced recycling

An estimated 130,000 tonnes of plastic leaks into the marine environment each year in Australia alone. Less than 12 per cent of plastic waste is recycled and about 85 per cent of plastic waste ends up in landfill.

With new plastic waste export rules in place, innovative technologies will be critical for supporting the increased recovery and domestic processing of Australia’s plastic waste.

These technologies have the potential to generate new markets for products in Australia by turning plastic waste into another resource. This would support plastic becoming a valuable commodity rather than a waste.

Applying this technology in Australia could improve the way we recycle and help Australia meet the national target of 80 per cent average recovery rate from all waste streams by 2030, and 70 per cent of plastic packaging recycled or composted by 2025. 

There is an increased demand for recycled products. Australia could help meet global and domestic demand for recycled plastics. Advanced recycling has an estimated $120 billion annual market in North America, highlighting its economic potential.  

A blue facemask sits on a metal floor.
Mixed, contaminated, multilayer and soft plastics often end up in landfill. Advanced recycling could turn plastic waste into valuable products.

How will it transform plastic waste?

We have released a report, Advanced recycling technologies to address Australia’s plastic waste, to build awareness of advanced recycling technologies, how they apply to different plastic types, and the key factors to enable adoption and scale-up of these technologies in Australia.  

Mechanical recycling processes currently recover some of our plastic waste. This includes PET plastics, commonly used for food packaging for example.

Advanced recycling technologies complement these existing processes and can improve recycling capabilities for harder to recycle plastics. It could process plastics that might be mixed up with other materials, or contaminated with other matter, such as food waste or soil. Additionally, the products of advanced recycling products can safely make food-grade plastic products.

Another advantage of these technologies is they can complement existing plastic collection and manufacturing infrastructure.

Plastic pollution that ends up in the environment can have significant environmental, economic and social consequences. The most deadly plastics to marine life are flexible plastics, such as plastics bags. Three-quarters of rubbish found on Australian coastlines is plastic.

Our report provides potential pathways for advanced recycling technologies to tackle the challenge of plastic waste and build Australia’s circular economy.

This research is part of our Ending Plastic Waste Mission in development. Our goal is an 80 per cent reduction in plastic entering the Australian environment by 2030.

6 comments

  1. While the government flagged the need to manage waste plastics it needs to go further.

    Manufacturer’s need to forced to consider the recycleablity of ever component of their products with the ultimate goal of 100% recycleablity.

    To encourage manufacturer’s we should be looking at Tax Scheme that rewards Manufacter’s for their level of recycleablity. This could be most simply achieved with a Resouces Tax that is applied to any non-renewable or recycleable component.

    But even that won’t be enough for some Manufacturers, so we also need to require Manufacturers to own the problem of recycling by require under law that they have the responsibility of dealing with the disposal of any product, or by product, they produce.

    They may try to avoid responsibility by out-sourcing the recycling process, but the law should clearly state that they alone are responsible for ensuring the out-sourcer is doing their job.

    Yes, I can hear everyone saying, the cost of every item will increase, but the fact is that if we want a clean safe world there is a price yo be paid. Currently we’re paying the price through damage to the environment, increase health costs etc.

    I believe most Australians would consider the slight increase in cost worthwhile. With a % recyclabilty on each item and the added recycling charge shown, consumers will also be able to reward Manufacter’s doing the right thing.

  2. I liked that little throw away sentence in the section on advanced recycling:
    “Creating fuel is another use that reduces our need for fossil fuel sources.”.. Not only does it dispose of plastics, partly replaces the use of valuable hydrocarbons which should be used for their chemistry and not as a fuel, but it also disposes of the putrescibles in landfill, which eventually start releasing methane into the atmosphere, which is worse than straight carbon dioxide. I did a study of this once where all the garbage was incinerated. Oops sorry! Processed through an an energy recovery system which provided a 5% ROI based on the garbage disposal costs as charged through council rates. It also made it much easier to recover metal and glass for recycling and produced less than 10% of the original potential landfill.

    The alternative is to use it as a fuel in the older wet cement process as they do in Belgium.

  3. Great ideas. Blocktexx has been following the problem of textile recycling and recently reported that some industries overseas have been able to successfully return poly cotton textiles back into clean raw polyester feedstock and cellulose (as a rayon-like material).

  4. Interesting but only useful if someone is prepared to take the risk and go into this business. Better chance if government or big businesses like supermarket chains agree to place regular orders (assuming the final product is up to scratch).

  5. Great innovation – we should turn this into law!

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