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Australia recycles its waste onshore as China denies recycling imports

Ari Kelo

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Recycling

In response to the global recycling crisis caused by China’s recent ban, Australia has looked into new ways to combat its waste problem. Its main concern? Keeping recyclables out of the Pacific.

To do so, Australia wants to reuse and recycle its waste completely on-shore. In the past, the country exported its recycling overseas, which led to ocean pollution. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has therefore pledged to ban exports of waste plastics, paper, glass, and tires. Instead, Australia plans to handle it all domestically. In addition, Australia is finding new ways to transform its waste into long-term recycling solutions.

Why Australia’s recycling process needs reinventing

For over three decades, most of the world’s countries — including Australia — relied on China to accept and process their recycling waste. But last March, China surprised the world with increased regulations on what waste they would accept in their facilities.

These requirements for recycling imports rose to a “nearly impossible [standard],” according to More Recycling CEO Nina Bellucci Butler. Indeed, the rise in recycling waste over recent years has led to inefficient processing in China. The country’s industry no longer profits from accepting the world’s waste due to an increase in labor cost, its own waste, and processing mistakes.

So without China to rely on, Australia is now forced to rethink its recycling process — a long-overdue task.

A report published last year by Australia’ environment department reveals Australia’s lagging recycling system. Only 12% of the plastic Australians put in their curbside recycling bins actually gets recycled.

And without China recycling the 620,000 tons of waste Australia used to send them each year, Australia needs a new approach. A few potential solutions look promising: on-shore processing and engineering waste into long-term solutions.

Australia’s PM vows to recycle all waste at home

After a Council of Australian Governments meeting last Friday, PM Scott Morrison vowed to eliminate exports of recyclable waste “as soon as practicable.”

This comes in response to high levels of plastic waste from Australia ending up off its coasts in the Pacific. The PM commented that continuing to export its waste to Vietnam, Indonesia, and China “runs the risk of [it] floating around in our oceans.”

But is this truly achievable?

The current plan involves transforming waste into packaging, furniture, railway sleepers, roads, and more. But Australia’s recycling industry will need a complete make-over to do this.

Since Australia has always relied on exporting its recycling, it has no at-home method for sorting its recyclables. That’s because it was always more economically efficient to have it sorted abroad, so Australia’s curbside recycling system just isn’t equipped with a sorting process. The country also only has 21 plastic recycling plants. So for PM Morrison’s plan to take off, major change is in order.

This plan will do more than just limit ocean pollution, though. PM Morrison also pointed out that domestic recycling would boost Australia’s economy by creating new jobs. “There is the work on the science but there is also the work on the economics,” he said.

That said, the recycling economy is currently in a ditch, with the value of discarded plastic and paper almost nothing at the moment.

Australia recycling its waste in new, creative ways

Plastic Roads

Beyond enlarging its domestic recycling industry, Australia is pursuing new ways to utilize its recycled materials.

Outside of Melbourne, Australia constructed the first road in the world made of Reconophalt. This material combines recycled plastics and glass with asphalt to create more sustainable infrastructure. So far, the road has used about 200,000 plastic bags, 63,000 glass bottles, and 4,500 printer cartridges, according to the New York Times.

A National Container Deposit Scheme

By enlarging their container deposit scheme to the national level, Australia could incentivize more recycling and help its sorting problem. Certain Australian states already have the system in place, but federal supervision could increase efficiency and lower costs. The vending machine-like depots allow you to recycle plastic bottles and aluminum cans for a 10c refund.

Waste-to-Energy Plants

Taking after Sweden, Australia is developing a Waste-to-Energy (WtE) plant that will convert household waste into electricity. Although these facilities lead to air and water pollution, the effects may be offset by the benefits of waste disposal. While this isn’t a perfect solution, it would reduce Australia’s reliance on nonrenewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions created by waste.

“Micro-factories”

Traditional recycling factories are large, expensive, and only capable of manufacturing certain items. But new technology in Australia could lead to the micro-factory: a portable recycling site that’s about 50 square meters. This project is off to a good start. Two e-waste recycling micro-factories began operation last year at the University of New South Wales. The micro-factories “offer a cost-effective solution to one of the greatest environmental challenges of our age, while delivering new job opportunities,” according to project leader Veena Sahajwalla.

This is only the beginning

Despite these efforts to increase decrease waste, Australia still has a lot to do before it catches up with other developed economies. In comparison, Australia lags behind, recycling less and creating more waste.

So going forward, Australia will need to financially incentivize businesses to use recycled materials, whether through increasing landfill levies or subsidizing the cost to recycle. It will also need to invest in more recycling facilities, processing plants, and a new method to sort recyclables.

Another issue is the lack of national organization. A 2018 report revealed that only about half of Australia’s 544 councils actually accept all seven types of recyclable plastics at curbside pick-up. The country will need to set national recycling standards if it truly wants change.

Australia has something to prove.

Politics

Europe’s Ambitious Green Deal: A Plan To Neutralize Its Carbon Footprint By 2050

Grit Daily

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Through a new Green Deal, the EU plans to neutralize Europe’s carbon footprint by as early as 2050. While the plan is ambitious, it highlights the need for world leaders to work together. After all, it will take extensive collaboration to fight against climate change once and for all.

What Does The Green Deal Encompass?

The Green Deal encompasses everything from plastic bans to tightening restrictions on carbon emitting industries like oil and gas. At the same time, it will limit trade deals with countries that are not part of the Paris Agreement.

Europe is already leading the world in climate change efforts. And the Green Deal will jumpstart its position as one of the greatest initiatives for climate change thus far.

The ultimate goal for the Green Deal is to create a global response, particularly with the looming threat of trade embargo’s and restrictions on trade with countries that are not making an effort to combat climate change.

This turns attention toward places like the United States, which motioned to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017.

In other countries, particularly in places like Indonesia and throughout the undeveloped world, the needed infrastructure for the level of change has not been set up.

Things like adequate waste management and access to clean drinking water mean that beaches and oceans are often littered with plastics, while carbon emissions are high due to a lack of regulations. (Though these numbers are in-line with emissions from more developed countries as well.)

The Details of the New Green Deal

The new Green Deal unveiled at the annual climate conference in Madrid earlier this month will unite most European countries to neutralize carbon emissions by 2050.

The union hopes to reach this goal by focusing its efforts on investing in industries that want to cut their emissions significantly.

This means new innovations for the steel industries, as well as vehicle and renewable energy.

These new laws could also see tighter restrictions on goods that are imported from places that don’t put heavy restrictions on carbon emissions.

Places like China, which are leading suppliers of consumer goods worldwide, are also one of the biggest carbon emissions culprits in the world.

The EU hopes to leverage its Green Deal restrictions to incentivize other countries to make smarter climate decisions.

What The Green Deal Means For Transportation and Shipping Companies

The reality of this Green Deal is that many transportation and shipping companies will have to acquire special permits in order to operate within the EU.

Maritime shipping companies, for example, will likely need to register their vessels and acquire permits in order to dock.

The EU could limit how many vessels operate in an effort to cut back on carbon emissions.

But the new Green Deal does not stop there. The EU also plans to invest greater efforts into plants and the preservation of nature.

Initiatives to plant more trees and stop deforestation throughout Europe will begin in the near future. Recently, the EU banned all pesticides that could negatively impact native bee populations.

Meanwhile in Germany, the country is working to convert its local train operations to more eco-friendly options than coal burning.

In France, the country’s recent single-use plastic ban will see a significant change in consumer habits over the next couple of decades. By 2025, the country hopes to use at least 60% biodegradable materials instead of plastics.

Hoping To Create a Domino Effect

Europe may be ahead of the curve when it comes to adjustments for climate change. But it has grander visions.

Now, it hopes to begin a domino effect by uniting governments around the world for a greater cause.

Note: This article was originally posted at Grit Daily by Julia Sachs and edited and syndicated with permission.

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Politics

Climate Inaction: Prime Minister Morrison’s Negligence Sparks Backlash As Bushfires Rage

Rich Bowden

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Australia gets flamed for its climate inaction

The smoke blanketing the NSW capital of Sydney has highlighted the severity of the state’s bushfires — and climate inaction isn’t helping.

With the city’s air pollution reaching eleven times the hazardous level, and over 700 homes destroyed in the state, public pressure has mounted on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to link the bushfire emergency and climate change.

The Prime Minister is also facing a barrage of criticism from his ruling party.

NSW Liberal Energy Minister Matt Kean told the Smart Energy Summit that the bushfire tragedy had been foretold by scientists and fire emergency professionals.

In a strong rebuke of his own party’s climate policies, Kean told attendees weather conditions were abnormal. Yet at the same time, climate inaction continues to rage on.

“Not Normal” Weather, Yet No Action Taken By Prime Minister Morrison

“Longer drier periods, resulting in more drought and bushfire,” he said. “If this is not a catalyst for change, then I don’t know what is. This is not normal and doing nothing is not a solution.”

“We need to reduce our carbon emissions immediately, and we need to adapt our practices to deal with this kind of weather becoming the new normal.”

Kean elaborated on his extraordinary broadside on the ABC’s Radio National the next day.

“We’ve got a problem. [The emergency] is not changing my view – before the bushfires, my view was a very strong one… we need to be doing our bit to protect our environment.”

Viral Blog Post Signals Dissatisfaction With Morrison’s Climate Inaction

As well as causing divisions in his own party, Morrison has taken heat from ordinary Australians. It is partially due to climate inaction. But additionally, his refusal to assist volunteer firefighters has struck outrage among Australians.

An example of the outrage was the reaction to a powerful and engaging blog post written by author-educator Meg McGowan. In the post, she criticizes the PM’s statement that volunteer firefighters “want to be there” and therefore wouldn’t receive government assistance.

Meg’s husband Graham King is Deputy Captain in the local Central Coast brigade. He has been fighting fires in the region while making do with poor protective equipment to battle the thick smoke.

Such was the power, elegance, and timing of the article that it went viral with hundreds of thousands of views. This prompted national TV show The Project to ask Meg and Graham to film a segment with them.

Author Meg McGowan Shares That Morrison Adds To List Of Leaders Who Exhibit Climate Action

I asked Meg on behalf of theRising what she thought caused the post’s incredible popularity. Meg conceded that the answer wasn’t straightforward. She added that “Morrison is just the most recent in a long line of leaders that have failed to act”.

“Small changes two decades ago could have had a huge impact by now. The problem is now so severe that we need urgent action on a much larger scale.” 

Climate Action Fueled By Governmental Arrogance

She added that people are upset at the government’s arrogance towards firefighters and its inability to enact meaningful climate policies.

“Based on the comments I’m reading his seeming lack of empathy made a lot of people very angry, so I would say it was a major contributor, but you can never really know. It might be that people’s general frustration with the lack of action over climate change was the driver, or their frustrations at [environmental party] The Greens being blamed, or their sudden realization that firefighters are not superheroes but ordinary people doing a tough job,” she told me.

The bushfire crisis will continue as the Bureau of Meteorology predicts more dry weather over the next few months. And climate inaction won’t make that any better.

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Politics

30 States Cut Their Environmental Budget This Decade. Did Yours?

Ari Kelo

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Climate refugee

A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project found that 30 US states have cut their environmental budget since 2008. Another 40 states have also reduced the size of their environmental agency’s staff. These cuts come as a great shock, considering the rising threat of the climate crisis in the past decade. And, with every state that slashes their environmental budget, the consequences sky-rise even more. We encourage you find out if your state is one of the culprits.

The Consequences Of A Reduced Environmental Budget

The consequences of reduced spending on environmental protections seem limitless. These state agencies protect public health, limit the harms of pollution, and even enact pollution control programs. They are vital to the health of both our communities and our planet at large.

And although many states have chosen to limit funding for environmental agencies, the demand for them has only grown. With sea levels on the rise, pollution expanding by the hour, and extreme weather events becoming more and more frequent, environmental protection programs have never been more needed.

Sadly, this trend of reduced funding goes beyond state-wide environmental agencies. In the same decade, Washington cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s work on pollution control and science by 16%. They reduced the EPA’s staff size by 16% as well.

The consequences of inadequate environmental funding go on and on. Understanding these future threats, it becomes even more necessary to know where your state stands.

So without further ado, here are the statistics regarding US environmental agencies between fiscal years 2008 and 2018. (Warning: they’re infuriating.)

The report shows that from 2008 and 2018:

  • 31 states cut funding for pollution control programs. In 25 of these states, those cuts amounted to at least 10%. And 16 states imposed cuts above 20%.
  • 40 states reduced the workforce of their environmental agency. Of these, 21 states cut their workforce by at least 10%. In 9 states, their environmental agencies lost at least 20% of their workforce.
  • Combined, the US lost 4,400 positions at environmental agencies from these budget cuts. (Excluding the 2,700 positions lost at the EPA.)
  • Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin cut the most funding from their environmental agencies.
  • In terms of cutting their agency workforce, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Tennessee did the most damage.
  • 3 states in particular cut far deeper into their funding. Texas cut its agency’s funding by a whopping 35%. North Carolina follows closely with 34% cuts and Illinois trails behind with a still alarming 25%. These states ironically cut environmental funding despite allowing general government spending to grow.
  • Alaska and Hawai’i were not included in this report.

To see where you state stands, check out this map, or access the full report here.

It goes without saying that apathy towards the environment plagues the United States’ governmental institutions. What’s worse, this chronic lack of concern for our planet within US politics will have disastrous impacts on the whole globe. It’s time to ensure better environmental policies across the US. A good first step? Starting with your own state.

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