Australia Climate action and sustainable development, Transport and infrastructure

Driving a circular economy approach to soft plastic recycling

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Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

While countries across the world operate various structures to incentivise the return of recyclable goods, the collection of these goods is just one step in the broader circular economy supply chain. This blog uncovers how the City of Greater Bendigo’s new partnership with Close the Loop implements a circular economy for recyclable materials.

The importance of taking a Circular Economy approach to recycling

The number of countries that operate a form of deposit return scheme is increasing and while the exact implementation of schemes varies, the purpose is largely the same – to incentivise the recycling of goods that would otherwise end up in the landfill.

Like many other Australian local governments, the City of Greater Bendigo struggles with processing end-of-life materials. With the Eaglehawk Landfill, due to reach capacity and become a full-time transfer station in 2023, Council’s Circular Greater Bendigo project advances three circular economy goals:

  1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by current waste management practices.
  2. Reduce sending valuable resources to landfill.
  3. Create jobs and investment and keep resources in the region.

In line with the City’s One Planet strategy to reach net Zero Carbon emissions and Zero Waste output by 2036, the project supports Council’s aims to “get its own house in order” and “practise what it preaches” by reducing waste output in all work through internal or community work.

The creation of circular economy solutions offers a new approach to how the Council views waste seeing it as a material resource, with the aim of keeping resources in use for as long as possible, as well as an opportunity to create local jobs.

The role of local government in driving demand for recycled products

In Australia alone, more than 400,000 tonnes of soft plastic are dumped into landfills every year.

Applying a Circular Economy approach to the delivery of projects and services ensures no/minimal waste is created through the use of materials and products. The products and materials used in these projects and services are either recovered for reuse or have been designed to be fully recyclable when no longer required i.e. projects and services result in zero general waste, with only recyclables or organic “waste” being created.

However, a consistent issue in recycling schemes is the lack of demand for products made from recycled materials. Recent European Environment Agency research confirmed this and outlined the challenges which include; a small market, weak demand and a lack of common specifications.

In response to this lack of demand for products made from recycling the City of Greater Bendigo has committed to using the product in our roads, in order to create demand for the products of recycled soft plastics.

A partnership approach – City of Greater Bendigo and Close the Loop

The partnership between the City of Greater Bendigo and Close the Loop, a global sustainability solutions provider, began on 1st January 2023.

Part of the City’s wider plans to reduce some 95,000 tonnes of waste materials each year, the City of Greater Bendigo’s partnership commits to buying the recycled product back for use in its regional road projects.

Brooke Peace, Resource Recovery and Education Manager at the City of Greater Bendigo outlined the role of Close the Loop as to recycle baled waste soft plastics collected by the council. The waste is turned into TonerPlas, an asphalt additive used in road building with zero waste.

Specifically, Bendigo’s partnership with Close the Loop Group sees the reuse of soft plastics to create TonerPlas, which is designed to melt into, extend and modify the bituminous binder in asphalt to improve the durability and lower carbon footprint over the lifecycle of the road.

For every one km of a 2-lane road trail that uses TonerPlas, a similar recycled product, the following materials are re-used:

  •  530,000 recycled plastic bags.
  • Waste toner powder from 12,300 used printer cartridges.

Soft plastics are available for free drop-off to all residents at the Bendigo region’s 4 ‘Transfer Stations’ (resource recovery centres/hubs). During the first three weeks of the operation, almost one tonne of soft plastics was collected. For context, the recently ‘paused’ national soft plastics scheme ‘REDcycle’ was collecting roughly 14-15 t/y from the Bendigo region via drop-off points at supermarkets. Infrastructure upgrades open up the possibility of processing commercial soft plastics later in 2023.

There has been a strong positive commentary from the community regarding this initiative, likely also partly due to the collapse of the national soft plastics “scheme” ‘REDcycle’ in the months prior.

Closing the Loop on soft plastics in Greater Bendigo

What sets this scheme apart is the recognition that recycling schemes only work if there’s demand for the recycled product.

Through the City of Greater Bendigo’s partnership agreement with Close the Loop, the incentive approach is to use their recycled (upcycled) mixed soft plastics product in all future road infrastructure projects. The benefit of this is that over time, the City’s use of the products on roads is projected to reach an equivalent level to the soft plastics collected, meaning the cost for “recycling” will converge as we will effectively be buying back the end product.

If you want to find out more about the soft plastic deposit scheme, you can contact the City of Greater Bendigo’s Circular Economy Coordinator, Scott Bryant, here

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