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March 1, 2021

Chinese recycling ban to hit local councils

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Lismore City Council’s waste operations co-odinator Kevin Trustum with recycled glass sand which can be used for road base.

A Chinese government plan to limit the amount of contaminated recycled products will force a major change to the way local councils, and residents, recycle their rubbish.

Both the Lismore City Council and the Richmond Valley Council have issued appeals to residents to take greater care when recycling to ensure that contaminants such as plastic are not mixed with genuine recyclable material.

The Chinese ‘National Sword’ policy is the Chinese Government’s mechanism to limit contamination rates of recycled products to less than 0.5%.

Up until last year, the majority of the first world’s recycling was sent to China for remanufacture, however, most Australian Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) simply cannot comply with the 0.5 per cent threshold.

This applies to plastics, paper and cardboard products, which make up the majority of what goes into our kerbside recycling bins.

‘The policy shift has placed pressure on recycling industries across many countries, and is forcing local councils – including Lismore – to clean-up its act, look at ways to start processing on-shore and close recycling loops.

As Lismore City Council’s Business Development Coordinator Danielle Hanigan explains, Lismore is doing better than most.

‘In July 2017 Council installed an optical sorter at our MRF and a structure to keep incoming recyclables dry. It was certainly prescient,’ she said.

‘The optical sorter allows us to sort and separate the two main plastic streams – PET (water and soft drink bottles) and HDPE (milk bottles, laundry detergent etc) – which means it is easier to find a market for them in Australia than it would be otherwise.

Danielle said staff now spend more time sorting materials to achieve clean recycling streams and the end product has dropped in price, impacting the MRF’s overall profitability.

However, she said while China’s National Sword policy was having an impact on recycling both locally and globally, it was also forcing much-needed change within the industry.

‘We are managing to find markets for most of our recycled materials, and anything that we cannot find a home for we are stockpiling as we are confident that the market will change,’ she said.

‘There is now a focus on on-shore processing of materials rather than sending it overseas, which ultimately is a better result for the environment and local jobs. Long term we are investigating how we can completely close the loop on recycling in the future.’

Danielle said that Lismore remains at the forefront of developing new ideas and solutions – glass recycling being a prime example.

‘We crush all of our glass bottles and jars into sand for use in pipe bedding, drainage and road bases,’ she said.

‘A few years ago glass recycling was the big problem that the industry was facing, and Council found a solution. Just recently, the Lismore MRF became the nominated Northern Rivers processor for the NSW Government’s Container Deposit Scheme. Danielle said it couldn’t come at a better time.

Lismore City Council is now asking residents to make some small adjustments to household recycling habits to help cope with the change.

* Keep your recycling as clean as possible.
* Do not put anything into your recycling bin that cannot be recycled. Keep it simple: aluminium, steel, glass, hard plastic, bagged up soft plastic, paper and cardboard.
* Do not put anything smaller than a business card size into your recycling bin.
* Keep stuff like hoses, pipes and anything that has many different types of materials in it (e.g. a plastic toy with bits of steel) out of your recycling bin.
* Keep contamination out. The main offenders are: dirty nappies, clothing, shoes and anything that can get tangled up such as rope, hose and fairy lights.

At the main drop-off centres in Brewster Street, the Lismore Recycling & Recovery Centre and the Nimbin Transfer Station, Council will also no longer be accepting paper and cardboard as a mixed stream.

The skip bins will be for cardboard only, as there is no longer a market for paper.

Paper can be placed into the mixed recycling skips and will still be sent for recycling, however it attracts a much lower price than a pure cardboard stream.

‘These changes are not difficult but we implore residents to please follow them,’ Danielle said.

‘Our community is one of the most aware communities in Australia when it comes to recycling and right now we need everyone to help solve this problem. We are confident that in time we can find a recycling solution that will be better for the environment, and once again we can set an example for others to follow.’

Richmond Valley Council

Meanwhile, the Richmond Valley Council is also urging residents to make some ‘small adjustments’ to the way they recycle, as outlined above.

RVC general manager Vaughan Macdonald said the Richmond Valley was lucky in the sense most of its waste was sent to the state-of-the-art Lismore MRF, however, he admitted the changes would not be easy, and the real challenge was finding homes for these products in the short term.

Mr Macdonald said he was confident the community would take on board the new changes to recycling.

He said the community had embraced changes to the three-bin kerbside collections, and continued to do a fantastic job.

He said at the start, 1971 tonnes of organics were collected. Since the introduction of the new collection service in 2016-2017, 3085 tonnes were collected and helped divert 3000 tonnes of food and garden organics from landfill (500 tonnes more than expected). This was an increase of around 2.94 kg per household per week.

‘While many people were uncertain when we introduced the changes in 2016, the recycling rates speak for themselves, and I would like to thank residents for their efforts,’ Mr Macdonald said.Â


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  1. Wonder how this will affect our ‘environmentally aware’ council’s decision to ignore their long-standing practice of rubbish-running to Queensland?

  2. The Subject of the intro is about the Chinese government plan. Their plans are in China so we are talking about China as they are Communist and have no affiliation with Australian non-Communist government.
    So when we state ‘local council” we are still in China, meaning Chinese councils.

    A Chinese government plan to limit the amount of contaminated recycled products will force a major change to the way local councils, and residents, recycle their rubbish.
    Should be changed to:
    A Chinese government plan imported from China to limit the amount of contaminated recycled products locally will force a major change to the way local councils, and residents, recycle their rubbish.

  3. The bigger picture is that councils are the ones that take responsibility for recycling using ratepayers money. The companies that create massive waste pay nothing to clean up their mess. And now its everywhere in oceans etc. The green idea is to reduce, re-use and recycle (in that order) is not happening. Its recycle first paid by taxpayers. And now China wont take the recyclables.
    Its time for Federal and State govts to act to make policies that enable our society to reduce, re-use mostly and recycle when there is not a better option. Its not just up to individuals and councils to fix this mess up although thats important too. And we have to make the makers of the waste responsible.

  4. You can’t imagine what goes into the yellow lid recycle bins up here in Logan!! It’s completely unregulated and I see them often used for general rubbish when the normal rubbish bins are full.

    The council here has failed to take any serious action in relation to this problem other than to ‘ask’ people to do the right thing. With zero policing or system of pre-pick-up inspection, it will be interesting to see how this mob is going to be able to manage the problem.

  5. Recycling should always be considered as the future in waste management. Hopefully, new markets open up for recycled products, but glad to hear that stockpiles are being made until new markets are found. At Skip Bins Gold Coast (www.skipbinsgoldcoast.co) we always encourage recycling.


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